Granted, to the lay observer who knows little about aviation, most of the airliners on the tarmac at an airport look the same and therefore the graphics and photos of aircraft other than a 777-200ER seemed appropriate. But accuracy matters, particularly during breaking news when everyone is racing to get their info out first and stories are going viral on social media.
My point is this -- if you were doing a story about a Honda recall, you wouldn’t post a photo of a Ford. It’s not hard to find a stock photo of a 777. Heck, if you aren’t sure of the aircraft type, you could even just use the airline’s logo and later replace it with something more compelling and accurate.
Pictures of anguish may exacerbate the pain
Three days after the disappearance, I’m still seeing images on social media showing panicked families arriving at the airport in Beijing, having learned that their loved ones may never return home.
In that moment when the shutter clicked, those people (moms, dads, sisters, brothers, and children) were experiencing what was without question the most heart-wrenching moment of their lives.
The photos tell an important story and illustrate the confusion and anguish that exists in the immediate wake of an aviation disaster; however they should be used with great care and perhaps not attached to every single update a newsroom publishes on the investigation.
I recently read about the mother of a victim of the 1989 Pan Am 103 bombing, who was shown in news video the night of the disaster writhing in agony on the floor of the terminal at JFK screaming for her “baby.” She fell to pieces in front of a crush of TV cameras and her pain was broadcast worldwide. It is an intensely painful clip, which can still be viewed on YouTube. The woman later told a journalist that she felt the photographers and reporters capturing her anguish that night were barbaric, lacking compassion and humanity.
Yes, the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics states that first and foremost reporters should “seek truth and report it,” but immediately following that the code says to “minimize harm.” It is a careful and tricky balance to follow both of those when covering an aviation disaster, but it can and should be done.