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photojournalism-ethics -...

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http://commfaculty.fullerton.edu/lester/writings/chapter8.html Chapter Eight: Juggling journalism and Humanism by Paul Martin Lester From Photojournalism An Ethical Approach (c) 1999 A MURDER/SUICIDE INVOKES SIX PHILOSOPHIES In the October 1989 issue of FineLine, editor Robin Hughes (1989) described a news picture that sparked controversy at the Louisville Courier-Journal. In "Anatomy of a Newspaper's Decision," Hughes reported editor and reader reactions to a staff photographer's photograph. The medium-distance picture shows an unidentified victim of a shooting spree by a disgruntled employee of a printing plant. The gunman killed 8 and wounded 12 with his AK- 47 military assault rifle before he turned a pistol on himself. The picture by staff photographer Durell Hall Jr. shows a victim lying on his back with arms outstretched. The image had been described by an editor as "a photo that had to be used" and by a reader as "obscene." The newspaper received more than 580 calls and letters, most opposed to the picture's use on the front page. The victim's family filed a suit "alleging that the newspaper intentionally and recklessly inflicted mental distress on the family and that publication of the photo was an invasion of their privacy." Several weeks later the suit was dismissed. Although not invoked by name, editors and readers used all six of the major philosophies to support their positions. C. Thomas Hardin, photo and graphics editor, most likely used the Categorical Imperative philosophy to defend his printing of the image. When Hardin saw the picture, he knew that it was "a photo that had to be used. In 25 years, I don't remember a situation in our coverage area where an event was so tragic or public." Hardin continued, "Coupled with the national debate on automatic weapons, the use of the photo was validated." Hardin used the journalism principle of newsworthiness. A dramatic, local tragedy combined with a national concern for gun control, compels the editor to use the picture. The Utilitarianism philosophy was probably voiced by the editor and two readers as a justification for printing the disturbing picture. Editor David Hawpe said that one of the reasons the picture was published was "the need to confront readers in our community with the full consequences of gun violence." Don Frazier, president of the Graphics Communications International Union, called the picture "obscene" and "was shocked to see it." he later conceded that "maybe the picture did raise the consciousness of some about gun violence like [the editor] said he meant to do." A widow of one of the victims wrote, "I would want people to remember that my husband died violently- senselessly-and I don't want anyone to forget it." All three positions indicated that the public at large is served by the picture's powerful message.
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