Monday, August 18, 2008

a touch of grey

To steal a line from an op-ed on journalism ethics I wrote for the CSM a few years back: "when it comes to reporting, there are some things journalists should always do, some things they should never do, but most of the day-to-day decisions reside in a vast landscape of gray."

Here's a good example of that thorny terrain: In a letter to his readers today, Sioux City Journal editor Mitch Pugh discusses the decision to run a photo of a grieving mother, caught in a moment of raw emotion by the paper's videographer, on page one of last tuesday's paper. I'm not sure I agree with his decision, but I like his analysis of the process.

You also have to wonder if the ability to add video to news sites adds a whole new layer of complexity to the ethical decision-making process. Just because you can, should you?

On a lighter note, if a certain song is on mental replay right now due to the title of this post, go here. Tie-dye optional. bk



Jack said...

That is a tough decision, and I'm sure editors got pretty heated about this.

The ordeal reminds me of a photo my paper, the Arizona Daily Star, ran in June that showed Tucson police officers helping a falling officer who had been shot in the head. The photographer happened to be along the path that a man, who was brandishing an assault rifle, was running from police after a shooting spree.

Here is the PDF of the front page, which has the image:

The photo led to many angry calls and letters to the editor. It also further strained relations between the Star and the police. Our public editor weighed in here and said it reminded us of the dangers cops face.

I say it goes more than that. The bottom line is journalists make decisions every day that aren't going to please people. And there was certainly balancing individual privacy with reporting the news, as I'm sure the Sioux City editors discussed. I'm inclined to believe that both photos were rightly published.

barbara kelley said...

it's always a hard question. i think i agree with the decision to run the photo of the police officers in the Daily Star because, as in the case of the caskets coming back from iraq, there's a public interest here that trumps the privacy issues. but the grieving mother? i'm not as sure. bk

Jack said...

You do have a good point, now that I've thought about it more. Perhaps sometimes it's OK to pass on a "good" photo. In fact, with the cop photo at the Star, there were "worse" ones that we chose to hold -- including one of his sergeant pulling him out of a patrol car while the wheels were still spinning.

It all comes down to the "what-do-you-gain?" question, if it can be equated that way. With the cop, a lot; it shows the at-times brutality of police work and how our public servants are being treated. With the mother, though, I think many could see it as simply the artistic value of showing raw emotion.

As always, we have to be careful with people who unwittingly find themselves in very public situations.