A picture is worth a thousand words, but those words are better off written

By Cassie McGrath

(Collegian File Photo)

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, since 1984, there have been 52 mass shootings in the United States. These tragedies are influential to the state of our nation and have hit the country hard. We need to start taking action.

Whatever your beliefs on gun control are, there is an obvious issue with weapons in our country. No other nation in the entire world has had as many problems as we have with guns. For example, in an article by BBC, a chart demonstrates that the United States has the most gun-related homicides on the planet. In addition to that, we also have the most weapons per 100 civilians with almost 90 guns for every 100 civilians.

As these events hit the press, each news source approaches the story in its own unique method. Some stories focus on the facts: who it was, what their family says about it and why people believe it happened. Other stories focus on the effects, such as the number of casualties and how people around the country feel about it.

Many news sources find that the use of gory pictures gives them more viewers and therefore makes them more money. People tend to look at the photos rather than read the story in today’s society. The laziness among readers is becoming more of an issue and driving news sources to use graphic photos to get their attention.

There are certain ethics in journalism that have been followed since the first papers were delivered. A German journalist named Simon P. Blazert came up with a code of ethics to follow when creating and writing a news piece. However, these rules are not cut and dry, as they are contextual. Some of these ethics include using photos for educational, rather than aesthetic reasons, using photos that are emotionally appealing are not shocking and victims in the photos should not be identifiable. These rules are established out of respect for victims and their families because it is difficult to see their loved ones in such a wounded position. There should be a large emphasis on respecting those who innocently died in attacks such as these.

But, the expression, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” is beginning to be used more and more by news sources. In her novel “On Photography,” Susan Sontag believes that “harrowing photographs do not inevitably lose their power to shock. But they are not much help if the task is to understand. Narratives can make us understand. Photographs do something else: they haunt us.”

I had a conversation with a friend about whether or not graphic photos should be used by newspapers and media outlets. She argued that pictures bring life to what actually happened and can help people to understand the event better. This is a valid point, as a photo does have an intense effect on how seriously someone may look at an issue. However, we sometimes forget that when we are looking at a photo, we are not just looking at a picture, but we are looking at someone’s life. That photo is their new reality.

It is also important to note that, when it comes to news stories about tragedy, many times people only look at photos and do not even read the story. This leads to many questions. First, are they even informed about what actually happened? Second, are they only looking at the photo for entertainment? Either way, this can cause problems. Using someone’s life as a source of entertainment is cruel. Another one of my friends mentioned that they only look at the photos because it is hard not to. She compared it to when you see a train wreck and cannot look away. Therefore, there is an obvious incentive for news sources to use the photos to their advantage. If the photos are so graphic, they will draw you in.

With the rise of media, we have become immune to a lot of offensive and explicit content. This rise has allowed any person to post newsworthy footage. There is too much freedom allowed to people who share these graphic photos of strangers in compromising situations.

We too easily become overexposed to photos and ideas that are personal to others. We must not consider what we can get out of a photo first, but rather how the people in the picture were affected. We should not need a picture to understand how tragic an event is. The death of any American through unnecessary gun violence is devastating whether you see it personally or not. The Las Vegas shooting should be a wake-up call for the politicians in this country. We sometimes forget in this world of overconsumption that we, personally, do not come first. Photos of tragic events should not be shown. It is disrespectful and an invasion of privacy. The traditional ethics of journalism should be followed because they respect our fellow citizens and establish morality in the news.

Cassie McGrath can be reached at [email protected]