Violence in the News: Do we need it?

 As the cliche goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, but how much is video worth? Giving up our values and humanity? Or telling the real story even when it’s graphic or gory?

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Video journalism is rapidly expanding the ways to tell an engaging story, but it is also raising ethical issues of what is morally right and respectful and what isn’t. Video and photographic journalism are able to convey the tensions, sadness, anger and at times happiness that we as journalists constantly seek to evoke with our words and phrases.

However, those evoked emotions come at an ethical cost. When AP captured the death of one Cairo protester on video, CNN was quick to air the video with the warning that it would be graphic: http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/world/2011/01/28/nr.egypt.protester.shot.cnn

Was it necessary to show this video to audience members? There are both negative and positive elements to video journalism including the violent images that are sometimes shown on television and the Internet.

The video of the Cairo protester shot down gave me as a citizen a sense of horror and dismay that the Egyptian people were being gunned down when they are not even armed (as the man in the video only had a rock as his defense). It makes me appreciate what I have here in America especially with the Occupy protests occurring in the capital. We don’t have to fear being shot when crying out for reform and democracy, but those in Egypt and many other places around the world have to live constantly with that fear.

As with any new form of technology and multimedia (like social media), we are still figuring out the ethics of this new format. While it is helpful to any news article to have video or photos about the topic at hand, when do those multimedia forms go too far? Is it right to show a video of a child being beaten by bullies? Or to broadcast the video of a protester being shot?

As I stated before, it is always difficult to establish ground rules in the beginning phases of a new technology especially when it is used for journalism or general communication. But what about inherent rules and ethics that all of us have as human beings?

Is it newsworthy for people to post a video of someone’s life ending because the video attests to the chaos and danger in Cairo during the Arab Spring or is it just gratuitous violence that newscasters know will garner attention?

An interesting book I found while researching violence in the news talked about the effects of violent news on children. “Television Culture” by John Fiske explores the impacts and effects of television violence on Americans and children. An interesting find is that, “By the age of 8 or 9 children had learned to distinguish between modalities and thus were able to cope easily with violence in cartoons and The A-Team: what they found hardest to handle was violence on the news, yet it was the news that parents and teachers wanted them to watch” (76).

Like any journalist, I am excited to have photography and video in my stories, but these are mediums that I want to enhance my story and not to negatively affect my audience. It’s a complicated issue and one that each journalist has his/her own professional and personal ideas and guidelines for

What are yours? Would you air a violent news story to get a cover on a magazine or the prime spot on a television newscast? Or do you use words and non-violent images/video to convey the emotions and tensions inherent in a story?

Comment below and tell me your strategy for dealing with violence in today’s media and even your own. To read more of Fiske’s book: http://bit.ly/t7ezkq.

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