Drawing the Line: Photojournalism vs. Sensationalism

Tragic disasters that claim the lives of numerous human beings are often prime fare for most media outlets and part of what makes them a palpable experience for the reader/viewer are photos and videos of the disaster and it’s aftermath. Bringing up the old adage, inherent in the news industry, “If it bleeds, it leads.” However in the article by Arielle Emmett, “Too Graphic?”, the question is raised in regards to what extent is the graphic coverage of these events news worthy and where does it become a spectacle.

Most photojournalists would argue that their coverage and its graphic nature is motivated by a philanthropic attempt to shock the average person into taking notice of the horrific events that have ruined and changed the lives of people in a country that, the typical person, may not typically give a second thought to on a daily basis. In a hope that be viewing these images, people may be compelled to provide aid and support to those effected most by the tragedy.

However, others who have been directly effected by the disaster itself may not see this as an attempt to garner attention for the victims well being, but rather an attempt at exploiting the event in order to boost sales of news papers and increase viewership of news programs.

I would say on a personal level, I agree that to some extent, there should be some discretion made in consideration to the victims as to what images are shown, and to what extent. Yet on behalf of the photojournalists, I understand that they are part journalist and part artist as well. They take and choose certain photographs because they feel that they will evoke a certain emotional response from their audience. As stated in the article, “You could write a million times that 100,000 people are dead in the streets…But if you don’t see it yourself, or in pictures, you won’t believe it, it just won’t register.” It is true that a picture is worth a thousand words.

Yet, with this in mind, photojournalists should be aware of the impact of what they publish and rather than being self indulgent, and publishing what they may personally find to most evocative. They first must make a conscientious choice about why they are publishing an image. Is it to shock, is to inspire, it to frighten or is it simply to gratify one’s self.

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