Addicted to novelty since 2001

Bleeding and Leading

I’m conflicted. I just wrote this post, but I can’t decide whether I’m right or not (a rare thing for an egotist like myself). I was arguing that photojournalists ought to be respectful of victims. However, I also imply that if the photo they capture is truly great–if it resonates like great images do–then they should use it. In this case, it’s clear to me that the photo’s use is gratuitous, but it’s difficult for me to extend that judgement into a rule of thumb. Give it a read and see what you think: [more]

Tragically, a two-year-old Canadian boy was killed yesterday in northern Cambodia during a hostage incident. Both national papers and both local papers featured a photo from this sad event on the front cover. Three of the four papers lead with the story–the Vancouver Sun led with the provincial cabinet appointments. Here are the photos the papers ran (I’m skipping article links because they’re all subscription, eventually) :

  • The Vancouver Province displayed this photo of an APC at the scene.
  • The Sun ran this photo of a Cambodian father running away with his uninjured daughter.
  • Both the Globe and Mail and the National Post ran this blurry frame captured from a video, of the distraught father Martin Michalik carrying his dead son from the school.

Both local papers ran the Michalik photo inside.

Why is this story on the front page? Obviously, because it involves the murder of a Canadian child in an exotic country. It bleeds, so it leads. Should that really be front page news? Absolutely not. It’s worthy of reporting, but its front page position is gratuitous and reflects the waning standards of our media.

More pressing, though, is the photo. It’s a lousy image compared to the Cambodian father and daughter, which is crisp and well-composed. It has no artistic or metaphorical value. There are times when photojournalists can show us things that words cannot capture, no matter how horrific. This, clearly, isn’t one of those images.

Instead, the gap between the media and the paparazzi narrows, and the media fails to respect to the victims of this crime. They should be ashamed to exploit this family at its coarsest moment of suffering. Their unwillingness to extend this father any dignity is abhorrent.

14 Responses to “Bleeding and Leading”

  1. Dean

    God.

    I’ve been avoiding this story because I have a son who is only a little older than this boy. (My two girls are older, and they don’t look like that any more.)

    That photo was probably used because it is wrenching. I feel physically ill. I cannot imagine that man’s anguish. His life will never be the same.

    Right now I can’t get past my own reaction to decide whether or not the photo should have been used.

  2. Lovewine

    I have to say that I avoid mainstream media because of stories like these. Photojournalists are present in most world events and capture the mundane to the morose. It is the editors that choose these photos…and like you mentioned ‘if it bleeds it leads’. This style of journalism is lacking integrity and feeds on a sensationalist audience. Photojournalists are able to capture events and can provide the world with images that are almost unimaginable to most people…yet it is unscrupulous editors who believe these ridiculous images/stories, of no importance, should be front page news. I’m kind of going off on a tangent here but I feel strongly about news that isn’t really news. I’m sad for everyone involved in the situation mentioned. I’ll continue to avoid mainstream media.

  3. col

    sadly, mainstream media standards have been waning for a long, long time. look at the cover of any province newspaper. the cover story/picture is never the most newsworthy.

    i don’t really know about a rule of thumb, that’s a stumper.

  4. Paolo

    Hasn’t it been said that Jack the Ripper’s killing spree was the birth of today’s sensationalized news style? Nevertheless, it seems to me to be a case of needing to deal with the bad in order to become more aware of the world around us.

    I’m not fond of the media’s usual scare tactics of trying to make us all believe the sky is falling but at the same time I’m equally uncomfortable of the notion that we should all be sanitized and only read/see news that doesn’t upset us.

    People have a tendency, if allowed, to pretend that horrible things aren’t happening right beneath their noses. Sometimes, it’s important to wake the populace up to the suffering of others in order to evoke sympathy and action.

    In this case, I believe these photos teach us to cherish every moment with our children.

  5. Cyn

    If the photo was not a photo but rather an illustration of a fictional scene, i would agree that it’s purpose might be to teach us to cherish every momnet with our children, BUT, the people in this photo are real. A real father with his real son who have been exploited by the media for the sake of sensationalism.
    It’s deplorable.

  6. JohnB

    “If it bleeds, it leads.”

    “Above the fold, below the fold.”

    Media has absolutely nothing to do with making moral judgements about which photos to use or not use. It has everything to do with the financial results. To believe otherwise is as naive as it is fatuous and mere posing.

  7. alexis

    We discussed this in journalism school in ethics. I personally believe that human dignity and feelings should be preserved, and I wouldn’t have run the photo on the first page. This attitude was encouraged in our j-school courses.
    Unfortunately, major news media doesn’t seem to agree with this.

  8. Lisa

    I bet the Sun and Province editors had this very discussion…which led them to run the father/son picture inside the paper — not visible in newsboxes.

    And the closer they are to the victim’s hometown — the boy was born near Victoria, I think — the more sensitive the papers were.

  9. Lisa

    JohnB:
    Media have (it’s a plural noun) to make moral decisions every day.

    I get so bored with the argument that journalists are only interested in selling papers and attracting advertisers.

    How do you know?

    I hear it all the time on the job…and I work for a radio station that doesn’t sell ads.

  10. JohnB

    “Media have/has” … the pedant’s revenge: style over substance; spelling over content.

    How do I know: my father (who was employed by various broadsheet newspapers, contributed to a national “no ads” radio network, and made his living through his writing for his entire working life.)

    You and he would have had some interesting debates (you’d have lost just as I did) but … requisite literary-or-biblical reference … Acts 9, v18

  11. Darren

    JohnB: Can you explain the relevance of Acts 9:18? It reads:

    “And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.”

    I follow, I think, that Jesus grants this guy his sight, but how does that apply to this discussion?

  12. Anonymous

    no one has mentioned this argument yet, so i’ll throw it out there.

    the stories full of blood and guts and no news are actually a sort of “sugar” that helps the boring but important stories get read/seen/heard.

    the editors figure that a picture on the cover will get people to buy the paper and then free time on the bus will get them to read the story on page three about the national budget.

    the editors know that they are going head to head with hollywood movies and sony playstation for the public’s attention, and they act accordingly.

  13. Anonymous

    It was a subtle reference to Lisa’s comment that she has experience at a radio station that doesn’t sell ads. Given that my late father had similar experience — but a lot more of it than Lisa has — any debate between the two (which would have been interesting to watch from other chairs around the dining room table) would have swiftly disabused her of her conclusion … and, thus, my reference to the metaphorical scales falling from her eyes.

    (And, yes, I could simply have written in my turgid prose that she has a lot to learn and, when she does, she will see things in a new light. But the Bible — and English literature in general — have so many defter ways to express many metaphorical sentiments that it seemed a good opportunity to make use of the citation.)

    Perhaps my argument was too terse or obtuse.

  14. bree

    I disagree. The image evokes empathy for the father in a way that a text description of the event just can’t. When I see that image I don’t feel an exploitative thrill, I feel sadness and sympathy for that father and grief for his son. I don’t think that it’s better or somehow more noble to hide or bury evocative images like this one.

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