COM 240— Media Law & Ethics
REFLEXIVE ESSAY #5
— PHOTOJOURNALISM ETHICS —
Getting a dramatic photo for an equally dramatic story is important in journalism. Photojournalists are trained to capture those necessary, sometimes emotionally charged images that add clarity and context to the stories that accompany them. Sometimes, however, the images are so disturbing that we question why they were taken and why they were published. How far should a publication go to achieve the best emotional effect, be it through a story or photograph? Should a family’s right to grieve privately be violated because it is considered newsworthy? These are the questions asked in this case study. Employing the S.A.D. process (as outlined in class lecture & readings), students will INDIVIDUALLY assess the ethical situation, write their analysis and render their decision based upon sound judgments and ethical principles consistent with the ethical philosophy/theory used in making the decision.
✓ The Case
In 1984, photographer John Harte of the Bakersfield Californian captured the moment when 5-year-old Edward Romero, whose drowned body had just been recovered from a lake, was shown to his family. The published photo showed family members grieving over Edward’s body. The photo feels raw, intimate, horrific… The Californian had a policy of not running pictures of dead bodies. Robert Bentley, the Managing Editor of the Bakersfield Californian defended his decision to run the picture based on the fact that he thought the picture could serve as a potential warning to families about the dangers at the lake. At the time of the incident, the Californian had a circulation of 80K and ran the photo on an inside page. After publishing the photo, they received 500 letters, 400 phone calls, 80 subscriptions cancellations and 1 bomb threat. Not all readers objected, though. One letter read, “…my own two-year-old son drowned… If maybe just one parent saw that picture and (takes] more precautions around pool and beach areas because of it, then that picture may have saved another child’s life.”Two months prior to the Romero drowning photo, 14 people had drowned at the lake… one month after the picture ran in the newspaper there were only 2 other drownings reported. However, Bentley later decided that the photo should have never been published (although, he did nominate it for a Pulitzer Prize—which it won). He realized that sometimes journalists are not in touch with their readers’ sensibilities. Any number of different pictures (see the alternative photos) could have illustrated the same point—the high number of drownings and their seriousness—without disturbing the readers or risking the privacy of the family. The one thing that is emphasized in journalism is to respect the dignity of the subjects. The issue is whether the Californian should have published that photo.
Photo as originally run on Associated ROSS wire service. 1984, John Haile
DUE 31 October 2022 before 11:59pm on Blackboard!