Tuesday, November 03, 2009


Laura's Ethical Dilemma

On the front page of a Sunday morning New England paper, three woman are shown shooting up heroine in a gazebo. The story is about the epidemic of heroine addiction in the peaceful town of Willamantic, New England. According to a report, reporter Tracy Fox and photographer Brad Clift earned the trust of these addicts after spending months in town. The photograph was part of a five part series. Critics are claiming the photograph was set up and the woman were paid to shoot up heroine in front of the cameras.

What do you think of the photograph? Do you find it offensive? Should the photograph be put on the front page? Does the fact the photograph takes place in a small town in a small town newspaper make the circumstances change rather than if it were on a more nationally known newspaper?

http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=53&aid=10958

8 comments:

Jonny said...

At least basing it off of what those lists said, both paying the subjects and setting up the shot are pretty big no-nos.

Meghan said...

First of all, that picture does look completely staged. I swear the girl in the foreground is even wearing make-up to make her look more drugged up. Who knows for sure if it was staged... but it definitely appears so. Setting up photos is completely unethical. Paying them to shoot up in front of the camera is unethical on more than just a journalistic level because drug addicts will do anything for money and paying them is feeding their addiction, which is obviously wrong. It is a very explicit picture and does not belong on the front page. The girls look young, and while heroin might be a problem, exposing teen drug use so vividly seems questionable, especially in a small town. Not to mention, they look bored.. the picture just doesn't have that much emotion, in my opinion. It's as if they are flaunting their drug use, like "yeah we do heroin, so what?" I feel like a picture that shows more facial expression would have made it more appropriate. The drug use wouldn't need to be in the picture at all if the viewer could see there is a problem in the girls' emotions. They are nonchalantly shooting up in the middle of a gazebo in broad daylight like its no big deal... it's just odd... I don't even know what to make of it. Maybe that's what it's trying to show--that heroin use is so prevalent teens are doing it anytime/anywhere? I don't know. I wouldn't of put it in if I was the editor.

Brian Brause said...

I dont find the picture offensive, but rather sad and unsettling. As for its front page status... I don't think many of the stories that run on the front page should be front page status, so my view may be a bit skewed. In this case I think it might be best to put this story to page 2 to protect the younger viewers who may happen to see a newspaper on the street or on the kitchen table. At least then, its a two-step process for them to see it. I want to say that the fact that it is in a small town paper as blunt as it is, gives it a bit more credibility. I would think that small towns would have more motive to cover something like this up, unless of course they are trying to get press attention, in which case brings us back to square 1. If the picture was staged, then it was a big no no (as jonny stated). On the other hand though, if this is a common occurrence, what does it matter if it is staged or candid. They could go shoot up 10 minutes later in the same spot. And I agree with Meghan, that if you're paying these girls, you're only feeding their addiction to heroine.

Lauren said...

did they ever find out if in fact the women were paid to shoot-up for the photo? To begin, posing a photo that isn't a portrait goes against the rules of photojournalism, and paying them to pose ads insult to injury.
Also, I find it strange that these women have agreed to be on the front page of a small town newspaper. If it's so small town aren't they worried about their reputation or does everyone know they are drug addicts? It sounds kind of like a 15 seconds of fame type deal. I have no doubt that they need help and really are addicted to heroin, but this accusation takes away the credibility of the story.

Chloe said...

I think it's a great photo that conveys the purpose of the article - which is that people are shooting up so much that they are doing it in broad daylight in a public place. I would be disappointed if it were staged because it's such a powerful image. If it's staged that just ruins it's appeal and makes the journalist and the photographer drug enablers. But if it is a true and genuine photo I think it is a good choice because it is so provocative and goes well with the story.

Melissa said...

I will admit, seeing the photo intrigued me and I went on to read the entire story. Could they have gotten the same impact with another photo? Probably. Would the image be more powerful had they not staged it and paid the girls? Absolutely. As for ethics, there's trouble with the photo labeling. If the photo is staged it's misleading and should probably be titled a photo illustration. However, we hit difficult terrain there as well because a photo illustration suggests that it's something that wouldn't necessarily just happen -- this would. I might still call it a photo illustration to be safe. I think paying the girls to pose is ethically problematic as well. Would we feel ethically secure paying a source for a quote? Not likely.
HOWEVER. If these shots are actually real and if those girls gave the reporter and photographer access then I think there's nothing unethical about using them. The photo (and the others inside the paper that accompany the story) are upsetting, but so is the fact that this small East Coast town is overrun by heroine addicts.
There is one thing I question -- is this the "Heroine Town" visible to the average person? Is this really what we see when walking the streets of Willamantic? Some of the other photos from the story like one in a park are more believable to me. If the reporter and photographer sought out these girls for the photo it seems much more exploitative than if this is just something you see around town.

Kevin Na said...

Paying the subjects and faking the shots are obviously unethical actions. But if those pictures are genuine, I do not find them offensive. They are disturbing for sure, but they are the truth and reality of the situation and that is important to present. News shouldn't be so comfortable anyway.

Anonymous said...

Just that is necessary. An interesting theme, I will participate. I know, that together we can come to a right answer.