Ethics of gruesome media

Kaicie Boeglin

Opinions Editor

Gruesome media should be implemented on journalistic stories that show not only a situation but a window into humanity. Ethics that surround the need for honest visual information is combated by respecting a person's right to privacy. Truth telling is a part of Immanuel Kant's categorical imperative, which embodies the greater good over individual morals. Gruesome media adds to the extent of a story and manifests thoughts within the audience words could not do alone. Photos are a learning tool to instruct society.


When gruesome media is publicized, the photographers wind up becoming the national headline versus the published photos. John Harte who took a photo depicting the drowned body of Edward Romero at Hart Park Lake in Bakersfield, California became a national sensation. The photo showed the five-year-old boy zipped up in a body bag with his face pointed to the sky. The older brother’s guilt and visible pain from the father and aunt portrayed in the photo is why it was published. The journalistic technical excellence here is that Harte’s gruesome photo analyzes a sphere of human emotions rather than just picturing a dead body. Although controversial, Harte remained out of the way of local authorities and medical officials. Editors hated on Harte and claimed he sought the glory of a Pulitzer Prize nomination while fellow photo journalists commended his efforts.


All photo journalism is a window into humanity showing that not all news is happy; there needs to be a ratio of happy to tragic to know we are human. Humanity itself cannot truly know or understand pleasure without pain. The fear of loss is what makes individuals not take things in life for granted. The people in our lives are one of the biggest things to be taken for granted. The John Harte dead body photo reminds one to go home and remember all the people they love and care about. The photo of five-year-old Edward Romero in a body bag reminds us of the importance of water safety and the need for a lifeguard. This photo is also a window into what makes humans real. Without these emotions there wouldn’t be a need for photojournalism. Photojournalists are visual historians presenting to the public newsworthy moments. Eloy Romero, the boy's father, had told The Californian that he saw the picture be taken and after it was published. He went on to state that even though the family could care less about the picture because they were too grief stricken, the photo also displayed true agony that a family feels during this time.


Gruesome media needs to be included in journalism to prove that humanity's purpose is not 100% pleasurable. Socially accepted standards can be sacrificed for a greater motivating purpose. In the case of gruesome media truth telling and visual symbolism are how it can impact, persuade, inspire or motivate the publication’s audience. Gruesome media is a part of utilitarianism: photojournalists make an accurate measure of consequence for the greater good has no privacy. The “For all” is placed above the individual’s beliefs and set of morals.


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