Media Matters: Reporting Death

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There has been much discussion over New York Post’s cover photo yesterday, which, in case you missed it, shows a man’s last moments of life. Ki Suk Han, the man featured in the photo (not shown here), was pushed onto the subway tracks moments before the train’s arrival.

Free lance photographer, R. Umar Abbasi, spent this morning explaining the origins of the photo on NBC’s The Today Show, in The New York Times, and, of course, in the New York Post. What is interesting, of course, is that the focus is on Abbasi’s actions (here, how the picture got taken) rather than the decision of editor-in-chief to run the picture with its sensationalistic headline, which also included the word “doomed” in capital letters.

It seems to me that this would be a good time to pause and shake our heads at what this photo represents – how low media corporations will go to make a buck and the willingness of legitimate news outfits to ride the coattails of tragic, but potentially profitable, events. The first point is not particularly surprising to most. The Post, after all, is a tabloid and its function is to make money off of the sensational. However, the willingness of legitimate news outfits to run with the story without seriously questioning the ethics of such a picture is sickening. The New York Times, for example, in its piece asks “Were There No Heroes?” (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/05/nyregion/suspect-in-fatal-subway-push-is-in-custody.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0), rather than doing a gut check and questioning the value of including Ki Suk Han in the photo.

What makes this incident particularly annoying is that our news is generally visually sanitized. U.S. news coverage rarely shows the victims (aka collateral damage) of the wars in our neighborhood or abroad. Photographers, in fact, have found themselves in hot water for photographing the caskets of our fallen soldiers. The rationalization for this picture, I imagine, was that death is imminent but not shown. Consequently, the editors reasoned that the picture is sensationalistic, controversial, and, hence, profitable, but not profoundly upsetting. That rationale, of course, is completely absurd, but serves as an important reminder that profitability, indeed, trumps educated, civil discourse.     

 

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About Double take Sociology

I am a professor of sociology at Florida State University. I research (and write about) social movements, mass media and politics. My new book is "Abortion Politics, Mass Media, and Social Movements in America" (2015, Cambridge University Press). Be sure to visit my website at www.DeanaRohlinger.com!
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