Exposing the truth or Exploiting the victim?

On September 24, 2009 Derrion Albert was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The 16 year old high school honors student unknowingly walked into a fight between two rival groups, and was beaten to death with railroad ties.  A witness video-recorded the entire incident, and then brought it to a Chicago news station and offered to sell it to them for a very steep price.  Ultimately the station agreed to the terms, and released the video to the public.

There has been much ethical debate over the purchase/ release of the video, which shows in graphic detail Albert’s last moments and his cruel and violent death.  Was it necessary for the news station to air the video, rather than releasing a written report of the heinous crime?  What was the motive behind releasing this video?  Were they just in it for the money they knew they could make off of the video, or were they genuinely interested in sharing this tragic story?

As our technology becomes more and more advanced, and it becomes possible for these types of “multi-media” journalism, we as readers/ viewers begin to expect more.  We don’t want to read an article when we can view actual live footage.  Sometimes, even though these videos and pictures may seem borderline unethical or inappropriate they are more powerful and better serve to capture the audience’s attention.  I think the issue comes down to the motive of the news station.  Obviously finding and sharing the news with the public is how they earn a living, but capitalizing on the vicious murder of a 16 year old boy seems unethical and heartless.  Journalists walk a fine line in terms of ethics, and as our technology advances the line is getting thinner and more blurred.

Benny’s Got His Hand on a Hard Body

The major themes we decided to cover were:

  • Mind games/ Competition
  • Sleeplessness/ (In)Sanity
  • Camaraderie

Anecdotes:

  • Mind Games: There is a man who cannot figure out what to eat on his next break, and Benny attempts to get in his head by saying he knows exactly what he wants to eat and if you don’t know what to eat that means you’re losing it.
  • Sleeplessness/ (In)Sanity: Benny tells the story of watching his son and another boy throw a baseball and he said he could see the trace of the ball as it was being thrown.
  • Camaraderie: He tells the man next to him not to give up and that if it comes down to the two of them, Benny would take his hand off the car and let this guy win because he needs it more.  When the man tried to give up Benny grabbed his hand and slapped it back on the car.

Quotes:

  • Mind Games: “You’re standing next to the Devil and you’re riding the road to Hell. I’ll stand there ’til ya die, you might as well quit now.”
  • Sleeplessness/ (In)Sanity: “They say it’s about stamina, but it’s who can maintain their sanity the longest, that’s what it comes down to.”
  • Camaraderie: “It’s like the guys that come back from the space program, they’ve got a camaraderie that they share; it’s a closeness that nobody else can really understand, because they had been in space.”

I think it is really important to capture the essence of who Benny is, for the reader’s sake.  I would probably add his quote about wearing the tightest jeans he could find, and the quote comparing the car contest to shooting his first deer.

Doctors as Reporters?

Entertainment isn’t exactly in sync with ethics and morals. In fact the things most people would view as “good entertainment” are usually far from ethical. People find amusement in the off-color jokes; movies aren’t considered worthwhile unless they are borderline offensive, etc. Just because something is entertaining, doesn’t mean that it is ok to print or film or even say for that matter. Just because the bullys on the playground thought it was “good entertainment” to beat up and make fun of other kids, doesn’t make it right. In the same sense, just because live footage of a young girl’s life threatening surgery might be interesting and boost a network ratings, doesn’t make it right from an ethical standpoint. Does it?  Doctors go to medical school to learn how to save lives, not to exploit them.  The focus of these doctors-gone-reporters’ stories should be the individuals they help, but instead it becomes a game of self-glorification and heroic status.  The legendary Sanjay Gupta isn’t the only M.D. treading this fine line of Doctor/ Reporter.  CBS medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton performed surgery live in Haiti and that video was also streamed to the public.

The issue is not whether these doctor-reporters are saving lives, because they are essentially providing miracles for these victims, but journalism shouldn’t be about the journalist.  Their job is to tell the story, not to boost their own egos nor to draw attention to themselves.   Doctor/Journalist Nancy Snyderman said it best:  “Morally, I have a responsibility to help people,” she said. “From a journalistic standpoint, I have a responsibility to tell stories. And in between is a very delicate balance that I wrestle with.”  It’s when this line becomes blurred and the story becomes less about the subject and more about the writer that these moral and ethical lines are crossed.