Disrespectful Voyeurism Needs a Longer Look

I hate when people lose their lives, especially in senseless, awful ways. I will never devalue the importance of a human being, but the deaths of two news reporters this morning has left me thinking about the media’s pressing need to gravely examine our ethical standards of sharing and reporting what we define as news.
There’s already been a feeling of the need to “protect our own,” and a call for censorship of today’s murders in the name of “respect.” I can’t help but feel that makes us hypocrites in the purest form. Everyday media personnel defend themselves against accusations of indecency for doing their jobs. We often point out we are here to protect nobody; We are here to tell the truth… to share facts we all need to know to function in our world. How many times have we argued (aloud or internally) that images, facts or videos are often disturbing, but people NEED (or at least have a right) To see it? That it’s “not our job” to shield people from the disheartening business of the day? I have personally had to explain to callers that photos of fatal traffic accidents have been part of the news for decades, and that we understand it’s upsetting, but it’s our duty to tell people what goes on in the world.

The media has been one of if not the most active entities in creating a society of voyeurs. We pander to everyone’s insatiable thirst to know everything about what everyone is doing. We sensationalize every story about death in every way possible because why? Those are the stories our readers actually read, and share, and comment upon. We give the gluttonous child more chocolate and justify it by saying, “Hey, you asked for more!” Yet, here we are today shaming people for wanting to see a murder live on television because it’s now personal.
Shame on us for such imbalance.
This crime is awful, of course. It’s horrible that those individuals’ family, friends and followers could have unexpectedly watched this attack without even seeking the information. Imagine if Alison had a child who was tuning in before school that day. It’s dark and wretched and vile. I’m not downplaying that, but it happened.
Story after story, I see the videos have been edited. Social media accounts disappearing in record time. There’s an entire discussion unfolding about whether news outlets should be showing the video. I see people asking others to refrain from sharing out of respect… Respect we don’t bother extending to other victims unfortunate enough to have their deaths or injuries filmed. Was there a second of hesitation in posting the murder of Walter Scott’s death online? Why isn’t it “disrespectful” to watch that? Did we care if his loved ones would “mind?” Nobody was pegged as disgusting for wanting to see a man shot by a cop in the back multiple times.

Is it disrespectful to want to watch people die? Yep. But I also subscribe to the unpopular opinion that there is some strange value in seeing the hideous face of reality. When reporters first started going out overseas to report on the Vietnam conflict, Americans were exposed to some of the most raw, powerful and disturbing imagery they wouldn’t have received from radio or print only reports. What happened? They started to care enough to protest.

    I can read, “Someone died” in print and move on in about 30 seconds. I can see an image of the firing squad lining up and feel my heart tighten. When I see a video of someone killed, hear them beg for life, my entire being is involved. Tears flow down my face, and I feel. In which case do you think I would be most motivated to act to promote change?
Again, I find what happened this morning abhorrent no matter how it’s reported, and my condolences go out to everyone who loved Alison and Adam. They really were just doing the jobs we all love so much. I’m certainly not saying we should “suck it up” and revel in the fact that such a horrible event was filmed and broadcast in such detail. I just think if news agencies are concerned about decency in reporting the story – a story that would usually be considered a gold mine of video views and shares – because these are employees of sister stations, we should fully explore our feelings and consider how we report on future tragic deaths.

     It’s not fair to extend sensitivity on a case-by-case basis. It’s not fair to shame everyone for wanting to see death and pain when we pride ourselves on bringing it to them everyday to pay the bills. Maybe it’s time we stop exploiting pain for ratings all together.