NOTE: This post first appeared on Medium.
It’s an argument for the ages: how far is too far when it comes to the news? And who is to blame when it does? Case in point: a freelance photographer takes photos of a man pushed in front of a speeding subway moments before he is struck, later dying from his injuries. He says the 50 some odd clicks were attempts to attract the attention of the train conductor with his flash. The photo is splashed across the front page of the New York Post. (Ok, so it was the NY Post, but stick with me.)
The 24-hour news cycle demands fresh content and evolving perspectives however does that mean that content must be used simply because it is fresh or exclusive? In this case there can be a strong argument made against using the photograph according to the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. In the section titled “Minimize Harm” it states, “Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect.” Among the many examples of minimizing harm is “Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.”
In other words: no rubbernecking journalism.
However in a time when the “real world” is packaged and misrepresented by reality television, have we as an audience shown a demand for satisfying our “lurid curiosity”? You may not personally wish to see this but the numbers don’t lie. Yet, shouldn’t we demand more of our news? Isn’t it an institution that should strive for a respectable air? Or have we already reached the future predicted by The Running Man. Some could argue that they can see that moral future in their rear view mirror.
So who is to blame? Well it seems that everyone has his or her finger pointed in one direction or another. Some say the blame rests with the photographer for producing the content while others find fault with the newspaper for deciding to run the photo. Perhaps we, the public, are culpable by showing that we will pay for lurid details in a time when money shouts rather than talks. Before you answer you just need to ask yourself why you clicked on the link above.