Home » Uncategorized » For a journalist, when does it stop being about the story?

For a journalist, when does it stop being about the story?

It has been over 24 hours since the tragedy in Boston occurred. As much as I did not want to, I found myself glued to my computer most of the day reading most of the articles that had been released. Now we know some of the names of the people, like Martin Richard, the 8-year-old who was watching his father run the marathon. Or we have seen videos of those racing into the barricades to help those that were injured.

These videos also show what the media did, and even as a journalist, I was frustrated. In this one, which was clearly taken right after the blasts, you can hear people crying for help. While others rush to their aide, you see the media taking picture after picture of the gruesome site. In class, we say all the time that the job of the news and the media is to report the news to the people. With situations like this, however, I also feel like it is the job of the journalist to get the story but then help as much as possible if they can.

I have never been in a situation similar to that of the Boston bombings, and hope that I never am. Should I be, however, I feel as if I would be compelled to drop what I was doing and help anyone I possibly could. The most common photo or story coming out of yesterday’s incident is that of Jeff Bauman, the runner that is in many publications today seated in a wheelchair and being rushed to receive medical attention by a man wearing a cowboy hat. His story is also that of Carlos Arredondo,the man in the hat. Arredondo was not running the race but handing out flags in memory of the son he lost in Iraq. When the blasts went off, he immediately jumped over the barricades to get to Jeff, and it is because of him that he is alive today.

To a new journalist, getting the story and writing it well is possibly the most important task you have. In incidents like Boston, however, the story should take second precedence over helping someone who is right in front of you. I look at the videos of the photographers snapping pictures of the wounded and think, “How many more people could have received attention if they were not so focused on getting the picture?”

We journalists have a responsibility to people to tell the story of the day, but then we also have a responsibility to help our fellow man should they need us. This is when our jobs become more than just getting the story, it is about being a part of the story and doing whatever we can to help.

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3 Comments

  1. spencerbuell says:

    Where I come down on this is that we’re human beings first, journalists second, of course. However, that’s not as cut and dried as you think. It’s crucial in the midst of chaotic, tragic moments that journalists stay focused on getting their jobs done – reporting the news as they see it, taking photos as the events happen, without hesitation.

    At the finish line of the Boston Marathon, dozens of citizens and first responders rushed to help the victims, tending to the wounded by stopping bleeding and helping whisk the most badly injured into the nearby medical tent.

    Boston Globe photographer John Tlumacki told Poynter that although his first instinct was to help, he realized his help wasn’t needed – that “Our job [as photojournalists] is act as professionals and to show the world images that they can’t see because they aren’t there.”

    ( http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/top-stories/211010/globes-tlumacki-i-am-dealing-with-trauma-trying-to-keep-busy-following-boston-tragedy/ )

    I wouldn’t be too hard on those media folks you saw reporting instead of helping – the victims had plenty of assistance (that is, in fact, what’s so uplifting about everyone’s response in the aftermath), and the world needed people who were clear-headed, professional, highly skilled and observant to tell them what happened. It may be hard to reconcile with our humanistic instincts, but that really is our role as journalists, especially during tragedies.

    • meganwrappe says:

      Totally agree! I think when I wrote that blurb, the aftermath coverage wasn’t widely available yet so I hadn’t seen the media that came out of it. The stories and photos that I have seen though, my favorite being Jeff Bauman and Carlos Arredondo, I know would not be available if it not were for the journalists that happened to be there. And knowing what we know now versus the day of the bombings, I have to give extra credit to those that did stay behind. I’m mostly an A&E reporter, so breaking news stories are not my strongest suite. I would hope though that if I were covering an event such as the marathon and then something tragic like this happened, I can only hope I would have the same frame of mind when getting the stories they did!

      • spencerbuell says:

        It’s definitely a challenging topic, and there are a lot of smart journalists on both sides of the issue.

        As kind of a benchmark, I keep thinking back to this one video of the bombing aftermath that I kept seeing on loop. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but there’s this young girl helping carry her injured mom on her back, and the camera person is just fixed on the two of them making their way down the sidewalk. At one point, the girl turns to the camera and mouths “stop,” with this desperate look in her eyes. The camera man graciously turns away, and films more of the chaos in front of him. He totally could have kept on shooting, but didn’t, because he’d been asked not to, and didn’t want to make this girl’s experience any more traumatic than it already was.

        I think the takeaway is that, in a time of crisis, if someone who’s injured or shocked REALLY doesn’t want a camera in their face, you should oblige. If someone REALLY needs help, and you’re the only one who can, you should. Usually, though, it’s a grey area. And probably always will be.

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