Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What is The Role of The Journalist?

CNN'S ANDERSON COOPER has been on the streets of Haiti, which suffered a devastating earthquake last week. While shooting video and reporting on looters in Port au Prince, Cooper helped a boy who had been bashed in the head with a brick.

Traditionally, journalists have documented action and remained impartial, objective and distant from that action. The idea is that journalists should not interfere and become part of the news story that is unfolding.

So, was it wrong for Cooper to help the child? What would you have done?

28 comments:

Little Giant said...

Anderson Cooper over Walter Cronkite!!!!

Aleksandr Molnar said...

There's a point where your professional ideals end and human instinct/humanity kicks in.

I think this video is proof enough.

Good game, Anderson Cooper.

Gillian Francella said...

Reporting a disaster would make someone sit audience to terrible things every second. Eventually your instinct makes you have to help someone. I would be scared to help, especially somewhere where I did not speak the language, but I'd like to hope I would help.

Brian Okum said...

This reminds me of Kevin Carter and how he handled the event that won him a Pulitzer Prize. Carter remained as impartial as possible, leaving a sudanese child to die after photographing her. He followed an important principle - to remain impartial.

'Taking sides' is unethical, but I think it's different when the factor of it being right or wrong becomes a personal decision. Sure, it's still unethical as a journalist, but in the cases of Carter, Cooper, and Gupta, it's different. 'Helping' isn't always the same thing as 'taking sides', which is what I think the principle of impartiality is meant to prevent.

Geo said...

Just as an FYI ...

Kevin Carter, a photojournalist who captured a famous image of a starving Sudanese child with a vulture in the background, commit suicide largely because he was haunted by that image.

- George
(the teacher who wants you to know the full story)

Craig said...

While I understand the merit of remaining entirely "professional" while doing your job I have to say that I we would be more distraught if Cooper (or anyone else for that matter) didn't react.

Francisco Ovalle said...

i think it was great that he helped that child, as a journalist, yes he's supposed to document and inform by not getting involved, but this case can be an excuse, i mean...he helped someone who was in danger, its not a matter of "right" or "wrong" its being human, there's no other reaction to that...

Psuedo said...

I dont believe Cooper helping the child was the wrong thing to do. Like the previous post says, if Cooper hadn't helped the child I would have been disturbed. I also understand that it is important to remain impartial to ensure you report the entire story as it would have played out, but in this case the child's life was endangered and to ignore him just for the sake of tradition seems immoral (in my opinion). I also don't believe this tainted the story in anyway, if that is the issue.

A journalist's work is never done. =]

Angelique said...

I don't think someone with a heart could stand there and just watch this boy be hurt. Of course I would help.

Connor Showalter said...

(I deleted my last post to fix a grammatical error)

I think what Cooper did was unnecessary and unethical as a journalist. A journalist's job should be to report the news as one sees it; period.

If I were in Cooper's situation, the most I would have done would be to point out that the boy was hit by a rock to some bystander (since there seemed to be several other observers in the area).

Where do you draw the line between: reporting breaking news and influencing it (changing its outcome)? How do you choose which incidents you should become involved in? --If you see a child is trapped in a burning building, while covering the story...do you run in and save that child?

I do not know much about Cooper's background, but, unless he is a trained doctor or someone qualified to treat injuries such as the one the child suffered in the video clip; trying to help an injured person (without proper knowledge) could ultimately cause more harm to the person than good.

Meaghan Kane said...

I think that it was necessary and brave for Cooper to help the child in need. If someone is in trouble or in risk of injury or death I think helping them comes before your job, their health and well being is the first priority. I would never let anyone suffer just for a good news story.

Alana Turchi said...

Being a good journalist is great, but if it causes you to possibly let harm come to others just so you don't ruin your story, that is terrible. A journalist should care about the world around them,and that would be why they'd want to report on it. So if you care enough to go out there and get the story, you should care about the lives of people you are reporting on. At least that is my opinion.

Brian Okum said...

Yes, Carter committed suicide... he is human.

To Conner Showalter, I am going to assume you have never been in a situation like theirs, so consider that despite how much you understand principle, one can assume there are humanitarian principles that come before journalistic rules. Is it wrong not to help? I don't think so either. But consider that in a situation where 'helping' doesn't change the outcome, there are other things that come into play - call it instinct, priority, whatever you want, but I imagine it would precede the rules.

Connor Showalter said...

In response to Brian Okum,

No, I haven't been in a situation like that before and let's face it, not many people have. I can't even imagine what it would be like to report among the devastation that occurred in Haiti and all its aftermath.

My original comment was based off how a journalist would react, I respect what Cooper did as a person and as the media celebrity is he.

Brian Okum said...

And if Cooper is a media celebrity then we are back to asking if that, saving the innocent, outweighs being unethical as a journalist. Or vice versa.

And I think the consensus has become that the journalist is better serving the situation by fixing it.

What I'm saying is that it is O.K. as long as this person is still acting objectively. But is becoming a media celebrity unethical enough on its own?

Ashley Brennan said...

Despite your profession, I think there comes a point when you have to push "professionalism" to the side and act as a caring human being.

I am hopeful that Anderson Cooper helped this boy for the right reason and not because he knew the cameras were in fact rolling. What do you think?

Nicole M Recek said...

There a point were a person cant just sit back and say nothing, this child was in danger and needed help. Props to Ande man.

Dan Povlich said...

Whether or not you're a journalist, you're definitely a human being first. Professional ethics are completely subjective, not some absolute moral code. In the grand scheme of things, what difference does it make if a journalist alters the outcome of a story? I'm sure that Anderson Cooper's motives were at least partially influenced by the fact that cameras were rolling, but my point is that if a journalist feels obligated to do something, I don't see a problem with it.

Connor Showalter said...

"No one wants to see human suffering, and reporting on these events can certainly take on a personal dimension. But participating in events, even with the intention of dramatizing the humanity of the situation, takes news reporting in a different direction and places journalists in a situation they should not be in, and that is one of forgoing their roles as informants,” SPJ President Kevin Smith said in a press release dated on 1/22.

read the rest at...
http://networkedblogs.com/p25421634

Dawana said...

There was absolutely nothing wrong with Anderson Cooper taking action and helping out another human being. I know that journalist should never become the news but at the end of the day not only our we all journalist but people who have feelings and emotions. Being hands on just shows what kind of person he really is.

Jessie Fox said...

Seeing a child that young seriously injured and in need of help would probably expect someone older to help him. I think this situation animated a human's natural instict. Giving the child hope that there was someone there to care for him when his whole world was falling before his eyes is more important than the photo itself. I'm glad he didn't stand alone in the photo.

Heather Flanagan said...

Although I do feel that journalists should not interfere and become part of the news story that is unfolding, there are exceptions and this is certainly one of them. Continuing to document something like this and not stepping into help, that would be wrong.

Geo said...

OK ... new question.

Anderson Cooper saves the kid. It's captured on video. What do you do with the footage?

Do you run it over and over again, on various CNN programs, talking about what an amazing thing Cooper did? Do the other reporters and anchors then do stories about Cooper, since he has become the story?

- George
(the teacher who should be sleeping, not worrying about Anderson Cooper)

Stephanie Lauredent said...

I think it was very heroic for Anderson Cooper to help the child. Although journalists are supposed to be impartial and give the facts, human instincts are likely to get in the way.

CNN has the right to run the footage, but showing it over and over puts more focus on Anderson Cooper than what's going on in Haiti.

Mike McD said...

Generally, the voice of the people seems to be that Cooper had to intervene to save the kid as it was "human instinct." But Cooper was the only reporter to do so.. While the cameraperson stood by and collected footage without his human instinct? Other reporters? Fellow citizens? I am glad to see a life saved but this turns the story from a lifesaving effort in a desperate country to a feelgood story about a CNN reporter... Missing the point? I want to see the stories of citizens saving citizens as reported by Anderson Cooper, not the other way around.

Tim Keller said...

My cat was actually stuck in a tree and Anderson Cooper got her down. God Bless Anderson Cooper.

But seriously, I would have done the same thing. Being a Journalist is something we learn, being human is who we are.

Sam Kelly said...

You have to have morals. You are a professional and a human being. But above all you must hold fast to your morals. If you loose your morals then you are no professional in my eyes.

Go AC.

Sam Kelly said...

In response to the second question, CNN should not keep this video on repeat. Haiti should remain its ultimate focus.