Earlier this week, The New York Post published a photo of a man moments before his death, struggling to escape from subway tracks and the incoming train. As the daily publication’s cover, it instantly made national news across the nation.
Many found the photo to be an example of bad journalism. Others were quick to question why the photographer, identified as R. Umar Abbasi, snapped a photo instead of trying to save the man’s life. The man in the photo, Ki Suk Han, was nearly 60 feet away from Abbasi.
The events have led to many debates and criticisms about whether Abassi could have reached the man in time. In response, Abbasi chronicled his perspective of the event in a piece for the New York Post.
“I have to say I was surprised at the anger over the pictures,” Abbasi wrote. “People think I had time to set the camera and take photos, and that isn’t the case. I just ran towards that train.”
In other interviews, Abbasi is quoted in having attempted to stop the train by using the flash on his camera. “It took me a second to figure what had happened,” Abbasi said. “The only thing I could do was to alert the train with my camera flash and I started running.”
The incident has also sparked an ethical discussion on college campuses.
It has especially resonated with journalism and communications students. Drew Teague, a journalism student at the University of Kentucky, found the publication of Abbasi’s photo to be sensationalized journalism.
“This is a photo put on the cover to do what is happening, get talked about,” Teague said. “It is getting people to talk about and pick up the issue of the paper to move sales and make more money.”
Kayla Reopelle, a documentary studies student at Ithaca College, agreed with Teague’s statement. “If good journalism is sensational journalism, then yes, this is a prime example of good journalism,”Reopelle said. “To me, journalism should strive to be truthful, relevant, and a contribution to a community’s knowledge. Though this image is truthful, it does not seem relevant as a front page story.”
The photo also has campuses wondering about their future in the journalism industry. In a Forbes guest post, University of Pennsylvania senior Joe Pinsker writes about how his class analyzed the photo’s place in journalism, and then the ethics behind it.
“Photos contain multitudes of maybes,” Pinsker wrote. “At first blush, the guilt of Abbasi’s inaction seems clear-cut; that his camera was the first thing he reached for seems like our generation’s Instagram reflex gone horribly awry. Maybe thinking clearly isn’t an option in that kind of situation.”
Pinsker, in his piece, ultimately puts the blame of the situation on The New York Post.
“The question that The New York Post had… to answer, was whether the photo should have been published at all,” Pinsker wrote. “I think the question should be is it ethical for the paper to run this as their cover story, with a page size image of a person about to die,” Teague said. “Maybe it wouldn’t be so horrible had the headline been focused on the happens, no so much that the person died.”
The photo’s publication also has students wondering about their future in the journalism industry.
“I would not want to work for a news outlet that places sensational journalism as its highest priority,” Reopelle said. “I don’t know what options I will have when I enter the real world, but I hope I can work for a company that produces work based on informing individuals.”
Students ultimately have much to learn and deliberate upon in regards to the photo. While it seems that there is no correct solution in this debate between ethics. and journalism, students can find comfort in what they would have done had they been in Abbasi’s situation.
“I would have not had my camera anywhere near my face,” Teague said. “Journalism would not have been on my mind at all.”
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