Thursday, May 29, 2008

I just don't get it

I'm going to start right off the bat stating that I'm sure by the end of this post there will be people upset and offended. But this is something that bothers me greatly and since this is mine and Rob's blog I have the right to speak my mind.

I have been following a story out of Halifax about 2 fishermen that went missing and were unfortunately found yesterday. An investigation is underway as to the cause of their sinking vessel. Here's my problem. The way it was reported in the paper. Well, not so much the story, but the picture that is attached to the story, which is on the front page of the paper. It's a picture of the rescue team carrying the body of the son (it was a father/son tragedy) IN A BODY BAG. For the love of all that is holy. There have been many pictures over the past couple of days of the search vessels and the rescue / recovery team. Could they not have used one of those pictures? There are many comments online about it, everyone with the same opinion as I. There is a "moderator's note" attached to one of the comments that says

Moderator's note: Editors, not reporters, choose the photographs that appear with stories, as well as write the headlines

Does that excuse it? Hell no. So, if I am intrepreting this right, it's not the reporter to blame, but the editor. Was the editor there on scene WITH the reporter and photograher when these pictures were taken? Nope. Someone had to take the picture and submit it. I think it's shameful. Not only does this family have to deal with the tragedy of losing 2 loved ones at the same time, a father and a son, but they need to be slapped in the face with this!? What a way to remember a family member.

As I said in the beginning, I know there are many people who read this that are involved either directly or indirectly with journalism up here. I mean no offense to anyone in particular. I just think photographs like this on the front cover of a major newspaper is not only inappropriate but shameful and morally wrong.


Kellie said...

I completley agree - well said!

Jackie S. Quire said...

Hey Tina,

First, as one of those journalists you speak of... I really don't think you will have offended people with the content of this post. Most reporters see this kind of thing as one of the great debates of our profession: how far do you push the drama?

As a reporter, I do have to side with the moderator's note ... because it's true. Reporters write stories. And in medium-to-large newspapers, photographers take photos... and editors edit/do layout.

And they direct the whole orchestra of reporters and photographers. In my humble opinion, I would be blaming the editor. But that's just me.

But it does raise an interesting point: I can imagine they used the photo because they wanted something "fresh" - not the same old ones that everyone had already seen. But it does seem a bit insensitive. At what point do you sacrifice "good taste" for "big impact."

And without that dramatic photo, there is a decent chance the story would have been relegated to A3 or something. Or at least below-the-crease status.

Having not actually seen the paper's front page, I can't really say much more than that. But it's certainly interesting. And it does make you wonder "what were they thinking" eh?

Good post.

Trudie said...

I totally agree with you. It seems to me that this happens more and more often - pictures of the same type appearing on the front page. Jackie, being a journalist herself said it better than I can - so I'll leave it at that!

c'est moi said...

Sensationalism sells. The mass media is about bottom lines these days and journalistic integrety is an oxymoron. I'd say thank god for public broadcasters but they've become the haven for a left of centre agenda whereas the privately held companies are the mouthpiece of the right. I say render your verdict on their work by refusing to pay for it. We can't do much about the CBC, but should the Tories ever get their majority, they fix 'em alright. With the commercial media just don't subscribe to their stuff. You can get whatever news you want off the net for nothing.

jen said...

This is also something we discussed in class when I went through for photography.
At first I was whole heartily on your side, but over time I came to see that this topic is a very blurry area. If no one ever took these kinds of photos we would not have some of the most powerful images in the world today.

For example the famous photo of the little girl running away from her village after it had been Napalmed in the Vietnam war. Her clothes had completely melted off from the toxic chemical. You can see the image here, but remember it's graphic (

At first when I saw this photo, I thought why didn't the photographer put down his camera, pick this child up and help her? Then I realized that without a photographer taking a second to capture an image, no one would ever know what really happens in the world. A photo speaks a million words. It makes you feel and empathize.

These kinds of photos will always test us in terms of whats moral and ethical. But I do believe that there is a place for them. I am not however trying to justify the editors choice in the paper you speak of in Halifax, or appropriateness for the newspaper. Maybe just that the photographer is there to see everything, and the editor should then filter out what's necessary.

Way Way Up said...

I totally agree. Perhaps the photographer and editor should have paused long enough to rub the dollar signs out of their eyes to ask themselves how they would feel if that was one of their loved ones in that body bad. I'm curious to know how they would answer that little question.

I'm not really sure that this picture can be compared to the iconic image of the young Vietnamese girl running away from her napalmed village. In this case, it only really serves to re-victimize the family.

Photographs, like words, can also be twisted to project a certain viewpoint. Example, recall that famous picture of the Chinese man standing face to face with the tank during the 1989 Tiannamen Square fiasco? The West read the picture as one man facing off against communist agression (my, how American). The Chinese media however, passed it off as an example of how an all-powerful leadership shows restraint against its citizens. (twisted logic, yes , I know).

The point I'm trying to make here, I suppose, is what message is this frontline picture trying to convey? Is it really necessary to plaster it on a front page? Unfortunately, this editor was more concerned with making money than making sense.

jen said...


I was not trying to compare these two photos. Obviously. Especially because I have NOT seen the other photo.

I was merely making the point that shooting something that taboo on film isn't always a bad thing. Also at the time the Napalm photo was published it wasn't iconic, it was probably looked at as being immoral and unethical to publish a photo of a naked little girl. Again I am not trying to compare these photos, I am just trying to say that sometimes photographers shoot things that people might not agree with.

Also I don't think I was trying to re-victimize the family in that photo. The little girl that was in that photo, now grown up, does frequent talks on that image, the photographer, her life now and so on. I was only using it as an example because it's a well known, discussed image.

I also don't think it's fair to say that they had dollar signs in their eyes. I am pretty sure that a Halifax newspaper photographer probably makes a crap wage, regardless if the paper used the one photo vs another. I especially steered clear of going down that road because they make crap money, and have hard hours.

Again I am not trying to agree with what the Halifax paper did. And am in no way siding with the paper. So we can all be clear my position here is that if taboo photos weren't taken, the world wouldn't be the same place.

Mongoose said...

My first thought really is that they probably didn't even see the paper anyway. Someone in my life dies, the last thing I'm after is reading the newspaper.

Second thought, that's not the picture they will remember of their loved ones. They will have a funeral or a tribute with the good pictures of their loved ones and remember them that way. That's why we have funerals, really, to say goodbye in a good way.

Of course we sell "disaster pouches" (that's what they call body bags) at my work and I volunteer for SAR and my boss is also the coroner, so maybe I'm a little more at home with the concept of bodies in bags.

In any case, it's always a good thing when opinions vary.

Megan said...

You haven't offended me in any way. In fact, this is the sort of thing that is often discussed within the journalism industry.

I blogged a few days ago about the fact that there is no real consensus about certain things in journalism, and this is one of them.

Most publications have a rule about shooting while in the field: you shoot everything, and the editorial decisions will be made back at the office. I was in my last year of journalism school in Halifax when the Swissair plane crashed off Peggy's Cove. I remember that the CBC crew decided to turn off their cameras so no editor would ever be able to broadcast the footage of body parts floating in the water. This was a big deal at the time. Several of my classmates did their theses on the ethical issues related to covering the crash.

Many newspapers have a rule that they will not publish photos of people who are dead or obviously dying. I think this is a good general guideline.

Interesting that they'd include a note about who picks the photos. I'm not sure why they would think that's relevant. The issue is whether it's proper to publish photos of individuals in body bags, not which member of the team makes the decision to publish them.

OHN said...

The most recent image of a person in a body bag was that of Heath Ledger when he died in NYC. When they were rolling out the guerney with him in the bag, all I could think of was how horrible that this was being shown over and over and over on all the "entertainment" shows and his family had to see that image multiple times. It is horrid enough to lose someone without it displayed as a profit making venture. (my two cents).