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New York Post’s subway death photo

by on December 2, 2015

Almost three years ago, the New York Post published a front page news story with a photograph of a man, Ki-Suck Han, who was pushed onto subway tracks and was killed moments later by an oncoming train. The headline read: DOOMED: Pushed on the subway track, this man is about to die.” This photograph calls into question a major ethical dilemma that the photojournalist, R. Umar Abbasi, faced and received criticism for. If a news photographer witnesses a potential tragedy, should they make any efforts to stop or help the victim, or should their obligation be to document what is happening?

Although the photographer “claims he got the shot only incidentally, as he was firing off his camera in hopes the flash would attract the attention of the train driver,” the question still remains because someone lost their life. Even more so, the image was published with an extremely controversial headline to draw in readers. In situations like this, there are many factors that come into play. For example, the distance between the photographer and the victim is important. It is unknown whether or not Abbasi could have actually helped the man off the tracks if he tried, although the paper has said that he would not have been able to. Abbasi was quoted by the Guardian, saying “I just started running, running, hoping that the driver could see my flash.”

In my opinion, speaking in terms of morals and ethics, there is an obligation to help those in need rather than completing a photojournalism job. The headline and subsequent article is not as important as saving, or at least trying to physically save, someone’s life. The proper thing to do would have been to drop the camera and responsibilities as a photojournalist, and complete the ethical ‘job’ as a human being helping another human being. It is an important job to document the news for the New York Post, as news outlets have an obligation to publish horrifying images that will affect the public debate on societal issues, but it does not outweigh the moral obligation to potentially save someone’s life.

This picture is not something that positively affected anyone. The paper and photojournalist received a lot of negative comments, and I don’t think it should have been published. The goals and objectives of this paper were obviously not to be subtle about what happened to the man who died on the subway tracks, but simply to gain more viewers. I think that the photojournalist should have stopped reporting and started to act for the greater good in trying to save the man’s life.


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  1. bbowker2014 permalink

    I agree with your point that the combination of the front page story, the headline “DOOMED” followed by the controversial image did significantly cross just about all lines of journalism ethics. But I may disagree with the opinion that the photojournalist should have necessarily dropped his job to physically intervene. When looking at the photograph, we see a still image of a man about to get killed by a train 20-30 feet away from him. By looking at this image, it does look like the journalist could have run over and tried to pull him up quickly, but there are also several things about this situation that we don’t know.

    We don’t know how fast the train is moving, we don’t really know how far the journalist is from the man and we don’t know how dangerous the situation was in real-time. Maybe standing there and snapping the flash really was the best thing that could have been done when a train is flying through a platform at 20-30 mph(?). It’s a disturbingly powerful and sensitive photo that may actually never been captured by a person ever before- and that may hold some significance behind it. But publishing it as a news story was a choice that I find completely inappropriate. The photo may be okay to have, but it shouldn’t be used, publicly shared and especially shouldn’t be printed as front page news.

  2. Interesting topic! Even if the photojournalist were to drop everything and help, I wonder how much he would have even been able to accomplish. Who knows if he would have had enough time to jump into the tracks and save the man, or if his efforts to alert the train conductor would have even worked. It’s impossible to say “oh this man should have dove in there and saved the victim’s life” because majority of us can’t say we would do the same. I think it’s unfortunate that the photographer was so scrutinized for this because how many of us can say we would have jumped in there and risked our very own lives? I wish I could say I would help, but in a panicky quick situation like that, one that would be putting your own life in danger, how do I know how I would react?
    In my opinion though, there is an even bigger problem than just whether or not this photojournalist should have helped. I don’t feel that the newspaper should have posted this picture to begin with. I see how it is important to the story, but isn’t this extremely insensitive to the family? I don’t think this photo is absolutely essential for the story.. People know what subway stations look like and I’m sure they can imagine what a man struggling to his death would look like. I know if this were one of my family members I would be devastated to see his death broadcasted this way.

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