The tabloid has been blamed for everything from exploitation of tragedy to violating media ethics to a flagrant disregard for good taste and decency.
But as we pillory yet another media outlet for a questionable decision – the page, with the bold headline “DOOMED,” shows a man struggling on a subway track, just seconds away from death – we also need to take a look at our own role in these morality plays.
For it’s not just journalists who are using cameras to document the triumphs and misfortunes of life, and then distributing the images. And the viewing audience for the resulting photos is surely not limited to those who work for media.
No, we are all playing photo editor and viewer, every day, thanks to our ever-present phones, tablets, surveillance and pocket-sized digital cameras, and access to the Internet.
Heck, we’ll even soon have cameras and WiFi in our eye glasses, thanks to Google Glasses, which could be on the market in a year or so.
All this technology provides us with a remarkable capacity to take and distribute photos. It also allows us to search, within seconds, for just about any image you can think of (and many you never would dream of).
How many times, for example, was The Post’s photo viewed on computer by people who had never seen the print edition, but had heard about it and just couldn’t resist taking a peek? How many people tracked down the video of the teen set afire in B.C.?
What the software and hardware doesn’t provide is any sense of ethical behaviour, or even etiquette, when it comes to choosing what to post and what to look at. For that, we have to rely on human judgement.
And the front page of The Post – it has the seventh largest circulation of any newspaper in the U.S. – shows how fallible that can be. So do any number of Facebook postings. And let’s not even get started on sexting.
The Post’s decision to publish will have done some good if its triggers debate in our households not just about media ethics, but also about our own inner compasses.
We need to decide our own rules for voyeurism in public, and not lazily channel our outrage into calls for government regulation.
Technology has given us this tremendous power. Now it’s up to us individually to figure out how to harness it.
It doesn’t mean we should always settle for taking, or viewing, pictures of cute kittens. But it may mean that we pass by some shots of doomed innocents, or actress Anne Hathway’s lady bits as she gets out of a car.
A little reflection on what we are capturing, and how we are using it, could do wonders.
At the very least it would head off the finger of blame, which has nowhere to point when thought precedes action, instead of following it.