Defining a line and when to cross it is a tough call for photographers, journalists

Journalists are taught to be a “Fly on the wall” observer who records but doesn’t make the news. Well, that’s nice in theory and there are times when journalists should be just that, but there are other times when a journalist overcomes the shyness of the observer and ends up getting involved. Here are two examples…

The Sun Journal newspaper reported that photographer Russ Dillingham was credited with helping police capture 35-year-old Norman Thompson as he tried to flee from local police and federal agents.

via News Photographer Tackles, Apprehends Fugitive on the Loose –

And in the recent coverage of Haiti’s Earthquake recovery…

Several media ethics scholars have criticized the broadcast and cable news networks for allowing their medical correspondents to be shown performing emergency treatment in Haiti. via Contactmusic.com

The way I see it is that it’s more a matter of the purpose of the journalist’s intrusion into the story. If it is to get more viewers or to promote the journalist’s company or commercial interests, then I think it is completely inappropriate. If it is a human responding to a need or reacting to a situation, then I’m really quite accepting of the intrusion. It should still be reported clearly that the journalist was involved, but I don’t see this as a case of unethical behavior. I see it as human behavior kicking in. Honestly, it’s refreshing to see that journalists out there still have humanity’s reactions working in them! Remember Kevin Carter? He became notorious for not getting involved after he left an emaciated Sudanese girl under the watch of a vulture after photographing the pair in Africa. Even after winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1994, the things Carter saw especially in Africa be came too much for him to deal with and he took his own life. While I worked as a journalist/photographer for the Fort Scott Tribune, I found myself feeling like I knew the details but could do little to make a difference. Yet, those times when I did “only” write about things, the encouraging words of a reader or the public official who later told me of the response they received after an article I wrote were excellent reminders that even an unbiased report can stir people to action simply because a journalist did his or her job…informed the people. Thoughts?

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