The role of photojournalists

The role of photojournalists is to use photos to report a story and I believe this is the primary and the most important role they play no matter when they report regular stories or when they cover combat situations or humanitarian crises.  In Converging Media, page 140, there is an article which discusses a New York Times photojournalist, Kevin Carter, who reported a starving Sudanese girl but later suffered an “ethical dilemma” of whether he should save the girl instead of positioning 20 minutes for the best shot. Carter was greatly influenced by the case and sadly, he committed suicide one year later. This invokes a question about what ethical responsibilities do photojournalists have in helping those subjects he or she captured?


This is Carter’s famous photo also available from the textbook on page 140.


Theoretically, I don’t believe they have responsibility for helping those they cover. Their responsibility is to capture those crucial moments and use them to report unbiased stories.  Photojournalists who go to chaotic situations already suffer a potential possibility of danger and sometimes they can do nothing about the situation.  Take the Sudanese girl for example,  there are political and social changes going on in the country, so there would be a lot of children starving to death every day. Carter’s photo is a snapshot for all the starving children in Sudan. He could help the girl, but he could not help the situation. Assume that if he saved the girl, he might have realized there are hundreds of thousands of other children starving in Sudan. I believe these reported photographs serve as a link between the situation and the unknown public, which can draw more people to pay attention to the issue and lead political or social decision makers to take actions. However, if there is a photojournalist who is willing to help and can handle the situation,  then he or she is the most suitable person to offer help.  If photojournalists are involved in the situation, the results may be different. The public who saw the touching photo could know the continued story of the news. It might encourage more people to take actions as well.

I believe that it is not photojournalists’ responsibility to take care of the subjects of their photographs, but they can do that if they are willing to.  Returning to Carter and his photo for example, if he tried to help the girl first and carried her to the feeding station, there is still a question mark for whether that girl would survive in the end. Moreover, the rest of the world would never see the photo and know the story accurately. Thus, I think the ethical responsibility of photo journalists is to deliver just and unbiased news and stories with their camera.


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