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As a journalist, to aid an official investigation?

by on April 17, 2013

On Monday one of my friends set up camp near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. He got there early, used three cones to block off an area where he and a film crew could work from, and spent the morning and afternoon getting the footage they needed for a documentary they’re making on a South-Sudanese runner set to run in the 2016 Olympics as that country’s first Olympian. My friend and his fellow filmmakers were set up in front of Lenscrafters, the store adjacent to the site of the first explosion. They packed up and left 45 minutes before the first explosion occurred.

When I spoke to him yesterday he told me he’d just got off the phone with the FBI. He had more than 700 pictures he’d taken throughout the day of that location, and law enforcement officials had called on the public for any media that may aid in their investigation. Regardless of the usefulness of the footage (initial reports indicated that a bag was dropped into a trashcan 15 minutes before the blast, after my friend had already left the scene), I couldn’t help wonder if there was an ethical dilemma at play here: Should a journalist – or documentarian – aid state investigators? Is that a journalist’s role? Or is a journalist’s role anything but?


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  1. I find it hard to believe that I would not give the FBI any documentation of this particular event, simply because I am a journalist. I understand this may interfere with ethical standings of journalism, but I am an American citizen first. If I captured evidence or any information that could lead to the end of this investigation, I would absolutely hand it over to the FBI. Handing over this information may be a conflict of interest, making the journalist in this predicament no longer a journalist but rather an investigator. This may be interfering with the duty of a journalist, but I do not see how I could refrain from handing over my documentation just because my job requires me not to.

  2. I agree. Before I am a journalist, I am a human being. I would put anything behind me in order to help officials track down a criminal. In your friend’s case, I don’t see how that would be a conflict of interest by offering possible evidence to the FBI, they are pictures of a crime scene. In another journalist’s case, say they were filing or taking photographs for another reason, I would still hand over anything i have. What ever project I am working on is not more important than the investigation of a terrorist in this country, especially if that terrorist is attacking my home city. In my opinion, there’s no question that you hand over whatever you have, it can help save lives; more important than anything you were planning on doing.

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