prof. e.

Mass Communication, [multi]media, methodology and much, much more!

Someone’s about to die

Posted by prof e on December 12, 2012

Two photos, taken within a few days of one another in NYC, of men about to die.

In the period of a week these two photos were taken and published in newspapers and online. In each photo you can see the final moment before a life is snuffed out. In the first photo the victim is about to be hit by a New York subway train. In the second, the victim is about to be shot point-blank by the man approaching from behind. The first image was taken by R. Umar Abbasi, a freelance photographer for The New York Post. The second was a still from a surveillance camera.

The ethics of shooting, publishing, and captioning photos such as these are complex and difficult. You can find plenty of blogs and essays that attempt to dissect the issues involved (here’s one and here’s another) and they make many excellent points. It can be argued that I’m just as guilty by posting the pix on my blog and using the power of these very compelling images to draw you into a conversation about their appropriateness.

I hope that you will be prepared, if and when the day comes, to make the difficult choices that may be facing you. Do you take the picture? And if the picture is taken, do you print it? Which picture do you print? Which caption do you run? When does the public’s right to know trump the family’s right to privacy?

The best that we can hope for is that our choices come from ethical foundations that understands and appreciates the complicated, and often conflicting, values at play.


19 Responses to “Someone’s about to die”

  1. Lutz Braum said

    Can’t believe the photographer wouldn’t rush to help the man on the subway tracks! S/he was obviously more interested in having a great story/photo. Thanks for posting. Definitely thought-provoking.

  2. Jon Clincher said

    Three things to know about why pictures like these make way to media dissemination:

    I.) As a base-level instinct, the photographer (subway photo) can justify his behavior as self preservation. Was there enough time to take action? Was it worth himself possibly dying in the process? Also, the photographer will get to eat for having sold his photo.

    2.) The media producers will attract an audience, using whatever angle necessary to make the material palatable, thus connecting marketers to their prey — a turmoil-distracted, reactionary public. So they (the media and marketers) get to eat too, in a manner of speaking.

    3.) Media studies pro’s get to pretend that the moral dilemma of publishing such material is complex, ambiguous, and ethically subjective — a line of reasoning that is completely barren to any thoughtful soul. But they get to eat too, in a way, because making careers arguing the inarguable is fairly safe, because ethics are relative (so they claim) and there is no clear answer to be found.

  3. Emily Nicolopoulos said

    It amazes me that no one especially the photographer of this picture did not try and help the man on the subway tracks. Makes me think that we really don’t have true and honest people in this world, if someone could just watch as this was going on but couldn’t stand up and help an innocent person but could easily whip out there smart phone in a second and capture what could be a great news story and possibly could make some money. Of course there may be things us the readers do not know about like was there even enough time to take action or if the bystander tried to save him would he be in the risk of getting hurt himself? We don’t know and we never will but I always believe in trying to do what’s right because if you or someone you loved was in that position you would want someone to help them out not just sit there watch, and take a picture. The other picture on the right is very different than the one on the left. The picture on the right where this man is pulling out a gun from his pocket minutes before he shoots the man in the back of the head. This probably all happened in a matter of seconds where I don’t know if someone could have done anything if they saw this happening. Both pictures especially the first one have a lot to do with our advanced technology that in the first picture may have been hurtful but the second since the surveillance cameras captured the guy on video, it is somewhat a good thing.

  4. LaToya Jones said

    The first photo seems so unethical for many reasons: the fact that someone took a photo rather than choose to save a life, it is exposing in nature, and the word “doomed” is printed in large font. It’s almost like it’s not true because of the content – but it’s real. And that person really died this way. This reminds me of Yellow Journalism because of how exposing the photo is, as well as the way the words are put on the page. It’s certainly eye-catching, and I was drawn in by it. This tragic story can be interesting for readers. But it’s not just a news story, and some viewers may feel it shouldn’t be treated this way.

    On the other hand, the photo taken by the surveillance camera seems more ethical because it wasn’t intentional. It automatically records. The publication of this image is ethical because it is a way of identifying who the suspect is. It exposes someone for the right reasons, so that the suspect would recognizable. At the same time, it does hit our emotions as we look at the seconds before someone’s life will be taken. It makes us more eager to identify whoever this was so that justice is served. I think that’s the major difference from the first photo – there is no suspect in the first picture.

    Both of these photos make us wonder why someone would want to hurt another. But the second photo serves the public more of a purpose than the first one because it gives us a chance to participate in stopping the attacker to attack again.

  5. Zac Shisler said

    These two pictures taken have many differences in each other. The first picture on the left should have not been published i believe. For someone to take a picture instead of helping them get out of the way of the subway and possibly saving there life is crazy. I do not believe this should have been published at all due to the fact of the outcome. On the other hand the photographer could have been from a far away distance where he could have not helped the man out. Its hard to give opinions on somethings when you are not in the situation that they are in. The picture to the right has a whole other story. This man was probably going to die either way someone was watching the security cameras. Im sure it happened in seconds and no one could stop that. I believe this picture should be published for the simple fact that someone might come out and recognize the shooter or know information in the case.

  6. Kelsey Siegel said

    I would have to agree, completely, with everyone’s comments above. How are the media supposed to respond with pictures moments before death? Of course these tragedies wouldn’t have taken place if security cameras would have been monitored 100%….right? These are all unanswered questions that others along with myself will never know. The picture on the left, taken place in the subway most definitely could have been prevented. Especially with a high crime rate in New York City, cameras and security should be monitored 24/7. The picture on the right is hard to justify. A man putting a gun to someone’s head and pushing the trigger seconds later is hard to put a stop to. Although, once again cameras were there to capture the moment which in my opinion is some-what disturbing. Again, SOMEONE should have been behind the cameras at that very second to stop the crime from happening. I think the fact that there are pictures seconds before death were published to the pubic eye and no one was there to stop it from happening is wrong in many ways. Just shows that the media is more concerned about getting the “perfect” shot for a disturbing news story.

  7. Earnest CJ Roberts said

    Based on my philosophy i feel the publisher is just trying to do his job by capturing viewers attention by posting life before death pictures. Although i think its wrong to post such pictures but tragedies like this happen all the time in the united states and it has to be brought to the attention of the people in our country whether its posting pictures of deathly crimes or even video footage. The first picture was a prime example of our society today because people will take a picture to claim fame or attention from having a picture of a uncommon death rather then attempting to save someones life. The second picture is also something that happen everyday, even though its caught on camera doesnt mean the law enforcers can do anything about it because they have no leads or witness to even make a case because todays society want speak up to a murder because there own lives can be in danger. These two pictures compliments what we talk about in class because there using images to make viewers want to get deeper into what the photo stands for to produce mass media across the world.

  8. Preston Pacheco said

    I don’t think these pictures should have been taken or printed. There has to be some type of ethical standard that the people who published them should have been aware of. I think that who ever took these pictures should have tried to help the victims out, or in the gun picture, call the cops. I think the publishers knew they would sell issues if they put these pictures on the front of the cover. These pictures were right before death and that is obviously really wrong. I am really not surprised they published or submitted the pictures because the photographers probably need money. I also heard that the train photographer was not paid, but I’m sure he got some type of compensation. I think it will relate to the class because we are going to look at ethical practices of media.

  9. John Melton said

    I feel like both of the pictures taken above have many meanings to media, but also both pictures have completely different meanings to society. I don’t see how the person taking the photo of the man almost getting ran over by the subway didn’t run over to help him get out, instead he was worried about taking the picture and getting the perfect shot. I also don’t understand how no one else was running out to help the man get up, subways are usually crowded places so someone had to see the man down in front of the subway. I feel that the picture on the left could have been prevented. The picture on the right I feel has a completely different meaning to it. It is hard to stop someone from going up and shooting someone because the trigger of the gun is pulled a lot faster and sometimes people aren’t able to stop that. I also feel that since the second picture was taken by a security camera someone should have been behind the security camera at least watching what is going on so then they are able to call the cops to report what has happened. Sometime people taking the pictures are wanting to get the right photo that they need and that’s all that they are concerned about and how it helps them in the end.

  10. Aaron Tafoya said

    I feel that it is ok for the photographer to be critisized due to the fact that he had the chance to help save a life but didn’t. In a matter of morals the photographer has almost none while whoever posted the photo of the murder has some being that said person is hoping to find the murder. I believe that there should be some sort of punishment to the photographer because he valued money(which he probably recieved for the photo) over someone’s life

  11. Tara Halpin-Zimmerman said

    If I was the photogrpaher in either of these situations I don’t think that my mind would tell me to take of picutre of someone about to loose their life. As talked about in class many people have the reponse to cature an even such as a concert or another excited event. I do agree with however that it would be hard to stop the someone that was about to shoot another person and maybe capering that even would be helpful when detectives try to find out who it was. Although people have different ideas about what it right there should be clear as to what is ethical and unethical. The picture on the right is unethical to capture knowing that photographer could possibly have saved his life. The way an audience responds to that meida could probably make or break this photographer. In fact the reasons for media is to cause a response from an audience.

  12. Dynelle Abeyta said

    I don’t agree with the fact that the photograph on the left was printed and sold to the public. A photographer has a job to complete and must take any opportunity they can to capture news, but in this case I don’t believe that it was morally correct to choose between capturing the moment before that individuals death or trying to save their life. We are a passive society and wait for others to react; we have to take it upon ourselves to do the right thing and personally I would not choose a snapshot over a life. Also, the fact that they wrote “DOOMED” in enormous letters across that photo really shocked people. The photographer who snapped this photo outraged many individuals in society because of his questionable morals. The cover definitely caught the eye of readers and made that photographer and company money. The second photo on right is not as questionable as the first photo. Both individuals in the photographs passed but I feel like the first photo was to increase revenue and the second photo was to warn individuals and aid in the capture of a murderer.

  13. Jordan Chavez said

    It’s shocking to me that the only thing going through R. Umar Abbasi’s mind is to pull out his camera and get the perfect shot of somebody’s moments on this earth instead of attempting to save that person’s life. If he was looking to be recognized in the eyes of the New York Post for a great shot, he was sadly mistaken. Not only was his decision wrong and immoral, he published the image with the most coldhearted caption, DOOMED. With the shot on the right, there is not much that could have been done to avoid the tragic situation since nobody was around and the photo was taken from a surveillance camera. This picture is more or less published in order to ask the public for clues of the killer’s whereabouts. The other photo was an example of the lack of emotion for another life in order to receive credibility.

  14. Tyler Castle said

    To me these pictures, particularly the photo from an actual photographer, are the epitome of human nature. A constant debate between what is right and what we find interesting, with a mix of what we hope we would do and what we would actually do should a situation like this arise around us. The german phrase Schadenfreude comes to mind, meaning “the pleasure derived from others suffering”. This is the key to success of tabloids, as well as reality TV. We derive pleasure from knowing that we are better off than others. These pictures are no different, they spark the controversy and debate that has always been this subject and feed off of it.

  15. Matthew Minjarez said

    I’m unsure of how to respond to the questions; is there ethical media and is there a right and wrong way to report information? I’m trying to look at this from the victim’s family’s side. They would probably want an article written to get the word out about these heinous crimes to better their chances of catching whoever was responsible. However, I don’t believe they would want the pictures being put out there for public display. That’s one side of the argument. The other side is the all-journalists-a-like’s side. It’s people’s right to know what’s going on and for those who don’t want to see or hear it they don’t have to.
    Trying to tie all of this back to MCCNM 101, I would have to say that technology has become so much of our history that it defines us. We are known as the technological era, it speaks for itself. Technology is in our nature. I say this because almost everyone’s first reaction is to take a picture/video or call/text someone to talk about what’s going on, and then upload something about it. It’s become instinctual for us to document instances of life or death situations rather than to jump into action and possibly save a life.
    I believe the ethical media argument stems from our inner battle of wanting to see, hear, and understand what’s going on and in some instances trying to be conservative of how this is presented to us. I’m still on the fence about this argument, and I can’t really say who is right or wrong on this one.

  16. Katrica Everette Miller said

    As a consumer of media I view each of these photos with anticipation. I want to know the story behind the image which is exactly what the media outlet wants from me. Media is used to inform us (Turow 18). I don’t think about the persons involved or their family members, they are an afterthought. Privacy does not come to mind as I am not personally affected, this is a public opinion trend.

  17. Rosa Ramos said

    I believe that as media consumers we are all responsible for pictures and printings like these. They catch our attention and are more talked about than the good that other newspapers, websites, television, and magazines print, post and show. However ethically it would be the responsible thing to do, to help the man in the first picture, personally it would be hard to take and a picture and later witness his dead right before my eyes without trying to save the man.

    This also brings my thought of if government should be allowed to regulate the media in certain situations like these. How could the government come in and stop postings like this? However, today with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other internet sites pictures like these are bound to go viral and no one could possibly regulate the entire internet to avoid certain images.

    In the Fourth Edition Media and Today, Turow notes that the government is allowed certain restrictions on speech that include obscenity, national security, copyright, education, and many more (p. 80). However how come images like these are allowed? A picture is more than words to people, they describe a lot more and have personal connections.

    In 2009 Obama’s administration lifted the ban on photographs of American soldiers’ coffins, two years later it was put into effect and the families were the ones that decided if photographs could be taken or not (113).

    Today it is hard to avoid images and the media is always looking to give us as much information as possible even if images are disturbing at some points. However images like these should not be published to protect the persons identity and respect them.

  18. Ronell McNeal said

    The power of Photography. Is it this important that instead of saving a life you rather take the picture of the someone’s last moments rather then saving a life. What is this world coming to where someone will let another die just so they can try to get the cover on the newspaper or magazine. They say a picture is worth a thousdand words, well i wonder haw may of those words would be words of anger going to the person that took the photo from the family. “Today, some people fear that society has developed an overliance on images” Turow, also see’s that photographers rather be know as the person that took a picture in dier need rather that be a person that saves a life. This gives people that photograhers will do anything to get that picture that may change their live. But is that the pressure they are under, if you dont produce what the people want to see then they will be out on the street. Do they have to take it to the extreme just so they can live comfortable. If so then the world of media needs to change because one life is not worth no front page story.

  19. Sara Knuth said

    The ethics of printing photographs (or any controversial material) depends largely on intentions and how it is presented. It is clear that the subway photograph with the unnecessarily large “doomed” headline was intended to grab audience attention and in turn sell more papers. There is no sense of sympathy there and it contradicts the Society of Professional Journalists’ “Minimize Harm” tenant in its Code of Ethics (Turow 107). It also seems clear that the photographer’s actions fall under the idea that “an individual’s duty to the media organization may conflict with his or her duty to society” (Turow 114). Abbasi, as a freelance photographer, had more financial interest in capturing the moment than living to tell the story about saving the man’s life. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words, even if it is less ethical. The presentation of the picture on the right has a bit of a different tone to it. I have never read the article but the headline suggests that the man’s life is emphasized just as much as his death. While I do not think the photo should have been published, the headline was as ethical as it could have been under the circumstances. The intentions do not necessarily minimize harm but the presentation does.

    Works Cited
    Turow, Joseph. Media Today: An Introduction to Mass Communication. 4th ed. New York: Routledge, 2011. Print.

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