Should the New York Post have ran on its front page the photo of a man moments before his tragic death when he was pushed in front of a subway? Should it have run the photo at all?
Those are two questions several of my friends and peers are discussing on social media today, no matter if they’re in journalism or not. But the bigger question is: Why didn’t anyone help the man? The Atlantic Wire raises the question today too. The Atlantic also reviews the details of why the Post’s freelance photographer didn’t actually help the man (instead he was using his flash to try to signal the subway).
To quote several people: This story is a media ethics professor’s dream.
Journalists don’t want to be part of the story, but where do we draw the line? When is it O.K. to get involved? Clearly when someone’s life is on the line is a point when any human should decide to get involved. But do you snap the photo first and then help or help and then snap the photo? I think that’s a judgment call in how dangerous and imperative the situation is.
I was put in a situation where I had to get involved in a story a few years ago. A man who appeared to be drunk was driving through the middle of town and crashed into a car. I was the one who called 911 in the gathering crowd. The police later said he had hit a sign and other cars in the area. How did I resolve the issues that I was now part of the story? I told a co-worker what I saw and he got the information from the police.
But there are bigger issues with this story than journalists’ integrity or if the photo should run. Why aren’t people helping in general when incidents like this happen?
The subway story reminded me of an incident in the Washington Metro more than a year ago. A man was beaten by a group of teens and it was captured on video. Of course the video ended up on YouTube. But no one in the area, including those videoing the incident, did anything to help. No one stepped in to stop the beating (though I don’t blame people for not wanting to do that). But why didn’t anyone hit the big security buttons that are all over Metro stations? Why didn’t someone run to the station manager to get help?
But it’s not like it’s an isolated incident. There are other times when you see video and photos of beatings and fights happening at sporting events. There was a beating after the 2012 Winter Classic in Philadelphia that made its way onto YouTube, which sparked a police investigation. And in any of those incidents you don’t see anyone helping or trying to get security or police.
Are people more concerned about take a photo or video of something rather than trying to help people? Is this a new level of the bystander syndrome where people don’t want to get involved in an incident? It’s a somewhat disturbing trend.
There’s some interesting follow-up reading on he Post’s photo and the choice to publish it as it was. Gawker caught up with some photographers — including Pulitzer Prize winners — on what they would have done in the same situation. As an aside: I don’t think anyone is blaming R. Umar Abbasi for Ki Suk Han’s death. I think people don’t understand why he didn’t try to help Han more than he did.
The Society of Professional Journalists ethics committee chairman also weighed in on the debate in an enlightening interview. He raises issues I hadn’t thought about. His comments made me think differently about the photo.