Has Journalism Broken Our Moral Compass?

  • December 5, 2012
  • INK Team

This post comes from INK alumna Rachael Genson.

If you live in New York, you may have seen the front page of the New York Post yesterday morning. If you don’t live in New York, you’ve likely heard about it on national news. You know, the cover photo of a man seconds away from being hit by a subway train and a headline that read, “Pushed on the subway track, this man is about to die. DOOMED.”

New York Post cover

The photo is chilling, to say the least, and the fact that it was taken at all begs the question of whether a good journalistic scoop has become more important than a human life. New York Post freelance photographer R. Umar Abbasi is receiving much criticism this week for his decision to capture the tragic event on camera rather than use those critical seconds to try and save the victim.

New York Post cover twitter

Abbasi defends his actions, saying that his hope was that the conductor would notice the repeated camera flash and stop the train in time, maintaining that even if he tried, he was too far away to help the man. You can see his interview about the incident on this morning’s TODAY Show.

The photographer’s choice to snap the image is one thing – journalists have been capturing tragedy for years. Take Kevin Carter’s 1993 Pulitzer-winning photo of a young Sudanese famine victim, being approached by a vulture, or photos of 9-11 victims jumping from buildings. Many believe it is a journalist’s duty to inform the public of tragedy. Others disagree. While it can be said that it was a poor choice for this freelance photographer to even capture the scene, the more important question is whether the New York Post should have ran the story. With the arrival of social media, and the public’s instant access to news in today’s world, there seems to be a game of one-upping throughout the media, each outlet aiming to publish a story that will receive more public interest than their competitors.

But, did the Post take it too far? Should they have maintained a moral standard and refused to post the picture or were they in the right to publish the graphic image in the name of journalism? In the future, will the Post’s decision to run the photo encourage citizens to snap a photo rather than helping a man in need or will it create movement to act more heroically in times of danger?

The debate remains heated, but one thing is for sure – Monday’s event was indeed a tragedy, and is creating a huge discussion on the future of journalistic standards. One that only time will tell the answer.

Where do you stand on the matter? Share your opinion in the comments below.