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by on February 8, 2013

A little off-topic, but:

During last Thursday’s discussion, somebody brought up the incident where a man was pushed in front of a subway in New York City and photographed just before the train hit and killed him. The picture was subsequently published in the New York Post as a full-page front cover with a large caption that read “Doomed: Pushed on the subway track, this man is about to die.”

Was the nature of the photograph inherently unethical, or was it the way in which it was presented? Would publication of the photograph have been considered more ethical had it ran in a more reputable news outlet, such as the New York Times or Washington Post, in a less provocative and sensationalist manner? Should the photographer have made more of an attempt to rescue the man?

Here are a few articles that provide various viewpoints on the issue:

Forbes: New York Post’s Subway Death Photo: Was It Ethical?

Forbes: New York Subway Death Photo: A Real Life Final Exam

And here’s another controversial photo, also showing a man moments before his death, which did run in the New York Times.

 

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4 Comments
  1. Liz Sinclair permalink

    I am immediately reminded of the picture that was published in the New York Times of a man who was shot to death at the Empire State Building during the summer. The graphic photo shows the victim dead on the sidewalk surrounded by a pool of blood. Many complained to the Times because they found the photo extremely offensive and unethical. Eileen Murphy, the New York Times spokeswomen, explained that although the photo was graphic, it was published to present to the public the effects of such violent acts. Like the photo discussed above, I believe that both although they may be newsworthy, are far too graphic to publish.

    I do not think that the place of publication makes any difference. Whether published in the New York Post or the New York Times, stories run and pictures get published continuously. Journalists may claim that these events are published because the public has the right know. I think this claim only justifies what is published sometimes. However, when pictures, such as the two mentioned, are published they violate people’s right to privacy and compromise ethical proceedings.

  2. Both of these referenced articles are so disturbing, I think. I think this goes along with media ethics perfectly, and the published photos really speak towards how out of control the media is getting with today’s world of journalism. I wouldn’t consider these photos to benefit these stories in any way. It’s hard to decide whether or not these photos SHOULD be published, but I think it’s an ethical decision of whether or not these kinds of photos NEED to be published. Do the disturbing images benefit the public in any way? I would argue that the photos actually turn people away from the story more than attracting them. The ethical decision to photograph the incident begins with the photographer, but the decision to publish them varies from each journalists ethical decisions. I definitely don’t think these photos should be published because they put the victim and their family in a difficult situation, but the violent photos don’t seem to be in the public interest.

  3. Kristina Kulyabina permalink

    In terms of the subway photo, you consider an excellent question in this situation – Should the photographer have made more of an attempt to rescue the man? Although I’m not sure if the photographer in this situation was a photojournalist or if it was a random man on the street but this question raises another ethical dilemma for journalists. Should we be getting the shot and quickly writing down notes or should we put on the Superman cape and save someone’s life in dangerous circumstances? How guilty would you feel if you knew that if you just put your camera down for a second you could have pulled the man up just in time? I guess it would have to be a spur of the moment decision – based on your gut. Personally, if I knew I could help someone without risking my own life, I would drop my notepad and my camera, forget about the potential devastating story I could write, and help the person. In this instance, my personal values would determine my actions. I know I would feel guilty if I didn’t at least try to help the person and I would not be able to live with that.

  4. Thomas M. Relihan permalink

    Good call on the Empire State Building photo, I forgot about that one. That’s an incredibly graphic photo, but I think it’s interesting that both the NYT spokeswoman and the tweet above the link agree with the decision to run the photo on the grounds that it provides an intimate look at the “consequences of gun violence” for the public.

    You could argue that both the shooting photo and the subway shot serve to bring public attention to real issues: gun violence and what some could consider inadequate precautions in the New York subway system (if there had been some sort of barrier between the platform and the tracks, perhaps the incident wouldn’t have even happened). I may be playing devil’s advocate here, but I’d consider depicting reality as it is as one of the primary functions of photojournalism, and these shots are about as real as reality gets. I do not, however, agree with the manner in which the subway photo was published.

    As far as dropping the pad or camera and helping someone who is in immediate danger, I agree. He was a photojournalist, and he claimed that the photo resulted from his attempts to repeatedly fire his flash off to warn the conductor, but it’s tough to say if that’s really what happened or just his attempt to justify his actions. Personally, I’d have to say I agree with this quote from one of the articles I linked to:
    “If you have placed yourself in a situation where you can help, you are morally obligated,” he says. “The proper thing to do would’ve been to put down the camera and try to get the guy out. I can understand why people are upset. Your job as a human being, so to speak, outweighs your job as a photojournalist,” he adds.
    Also in that same article, Long weighs in on the issues of objectivity discussed in class: “I don’t think it’s possible to be totally objective,” he says. “Your presence at an event changes the event, at least somewhat.”

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