Wednesday, July 30, 2014
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EDIT: Ethics and photography

The New York Post received backlash for the cover photo of its Tuesday edition, which showed a man clinging to the side of a subway platform as a subway train comes rushing toward him. The man, 58-year-old Ki-Suck Han, was allegedly pushed into the tracks by an unidentified individual Monday. A freelance photographer captured Han struggling to lift himself onto the platform before Han was fatally struck by a train, according to an article in CNN.

On social media networks Tuesday, users condemned the Post for running such a graphic image, and rightly so. The photo depicts the man struggling for his life, his death eminent. If a reader finds this image is disturbing, imagine how Han’s children would react. Publishing this image on the cover, let alone at all, seems unethical. Aside from the graphic nature of the photo, the headline was also executed in poor taste. The words “DOOMED” run across the bottom of the page, while the sub-headline reads, “Pushed on the subway track, this man is about to die.” On top of running a graphic image, the Post completely dehumanized the subject. Han was a father, a friend, not a spectacle. What is also disturbing is that at a glance, the cover could look like a meme. Memes have distinct typefaces that seem to have been replicated here. While the word “doomed” in all caps could aptly convey fear and conflict in another story with a different page design, the headline, photo and layout in this story run the risk of conveying a different tone.

When asked why he took the photo instead of helping the man, the freelancer said he did try to help, but his idea of helping was firing his camera’s flash to warn the driver, according to CNN. The argument is weak at best, but from this emerges an age-old dilemma for journalists, especially photojournalists: whether to act as a reporter or a human.While we would have preferred the photographer put down his camera and assisted the Han, he was not obligated to do so. The rules of photojournalism dictate that a photographer does not interfere with the scene he or she is trying to capture. Some instances call for action, this is one of them. But, really, it is up to the individual photographer to decide whether or not to act.

In light of the criticism, it would be interesting to see if this incident encourages any photographers to come to the aid of the people they are filming in the future.

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