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Is it ethical to help during a tragedy?

by on October 26, 2014

One of our required readings for last week really got me thinking about conflicts of interests and ethical dilemmas. In the wake of a devastating tragedy, would you as a journalist help people when you are supposed to be covering the story, or would you stay out of it and just report what you see? In the reading, “Off the sidelines” by Rachel Smolkin, this dilemma was addressed according to the Hurricane Katrina tragedy.

If I was a journalist covering New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, I know that if someone asked me for help and I could aid them, I would not be able to live with myself if I didn’t assist them. How ethical is it to come out of reporting mode and to essentially dive into your own story? In doing so it could alter the outcome of what you are reporting on. Journalists are told to be objective and to report what they see, so would it be unethical to help people who have just experienced such devastation? I think where ethics are concerned, these situations should be a free pass for journalists to aid people in need.

However, some people feel that it is unethical to report on a situation and help the people in the situation at the same time. They believe that journalists are simply observers who are sent to tragedies to get the word out to the world, and to broadcast what is occurring. I understand this way of thinking, but ethically if I was in a situation like Hurricane Katrina I would help if people asked for water or food.

Is there a right or wrong answer for this dilemma, does one choice make you less ethical or less humane? What will your readers think if you help the people you are reporting about, and where is the line between bragging and being humble?


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  1. I do not think that there is a right or wrong answer for this dilemma because every person will have different morals or ethics for how they handle a situation. In this situation, there isn’t anything legally wrong with either not helping or helping, but depending on what your deontological ethical duties are, you may find something morally wrong with not helping a victim of a tragedy. If you do decide to help someone (because it is human nature to help those that are in danger or in need) then there will be those people who side with reporters and say you may have duties to strictly report the story. On the other hand, I think that a good amount of your readers will commend you for helping people you are reporting about. You could even put a first hand perspective on the story when you report about it and state what happened and how you were able to help.

    I would say that I also would have a hard time simply standing there while on the job if someone was in need of help, so I believe that I would also go to help a victim in need. I think there is a line where your human instincts kick in even when you’re on the job as a reporter.

  2. This is a really difficult issue, which is obviously why you’re bringing it up in this class. I know I would have a hard time standing by and reporting on the issue when instead I could be helping. I don’t think that you can report on a story and be involved in it in the same time. I guess you need to consider why you’re there and what your mission is. If you’re supposed to be reporting, you need to be doing that. If you’re not on duty, though, would there be an issue with helping people? I’m not sure. I guess that’s something you’d need to discuss with your employers beforehand and see their views on it. I think that reporting on the story is really important because it can help more people learn about the issue and they might be willing to help out and get involved. In that way, you’d actually be helping more people by reporting the story than by using your own two hands to help. I just believe that I would have a difficult time watching people in need and not doing anything about it.

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