Is there such a thing as too much information, especially in the business of newspaper reporting? Recently we, a journalism class at Florida International University, were given a hypothetical to ponder: if the front page story at the newspaper you worked at was a horrific school shooting and one of your photographers provided you with graphic photos of the aftermath, what would be your responsibility as a journalist in regards to covering the story on the front page?
One of the codes of ethics that all journalists should abide by is to: seek truth and report it. With this in mind it is not only a journalist’s job, but also his responsibility to report the news no matter how tragic or disturbing the public may find it.
But this responsibility to disseminate the truth does not give the journalist a license to glorify, sensationalize or otherwise trivialize the seriousness of any situation, particularly one as tragic as a school shooting. This is where one of the other codes of ethics for journalists comes into effect; a journalist must endeavor to minimize harm.
Compassion is an important trait for a journalist to have and cultivate. Although a front page story with gory photographs of school shooting victims would undoubtedly garner attention and possible boost sales, it would also be in poor taste and cause untold harm and mental distress in the community.
It is a journalist’s responsibility to report the news, to let people know what is happening, but is also his responsibility not to harm, physically and emotionally, his audience. The right thing to do in the hypothetical posited at the start would be to place the story on the front page as it is undeniably a story of public interest, but photos would have to be handled with the utmost care and consideration for the public’s well being, particularly those of the families of the deceased.