By Us, For Them

Two pieces floated through the ether to me this morning. The first is a personal essay by the Boston Globe’s John Tlumacki, reflecting on his coverage over the last year of the Boston Marathon attacks and subsequent recovery. His work on the recovery of the victims is just as strong as the work he produced last year – work that, in my mind, deserved a Pulitzer Prize this year.

I needed to be here today, to relive all the photographs that haunted me for the past year.

But the difference now is I have the strength to be able to go back and not feel afraid, or guilty. I know that the Corcorans are now my dear friends, and it makes me proud to know that my photographs showed the terrible toll that terrorism did to such an incredible family.

The second piece comes from the SeattlePI.com’s Jordan Stead as he reflects on the coverage of the Oso mudslide that has taken, so far, 36 known lives. Here’s what resonated with me:

The photographs I made while covering the Oso tragedy are not for me. They weren’t made for my portfolio, to win awards or to sensationalize. Those first two days, I made pictures with an effort to humanize the victims of the tragedy — not to belabor the damage or to scoop other news outlets.

I do, however, take some issue with this:

In times of great sadness, tragedy and personal loss to others, a journalist’s job is to clearly, accurately and respectfully report the story to an audience, keeping dignity at the forefront. While “clearly” and “accurately” smack of journalism school requirements, “respectfully” is often passed over.

I don’t know what experience others have had in their university programs (or even if he’s tying respect to journalism schools), but I do know that here my kids get the message that what we do is a partnership between subject, journalist and reader – that respect is high on the list of priorities, balancing the needs of those we report on and those for whom we report.

We are human, what we cover affects us. It affects us as members of our community and as individuals, we must have ways to deal with those emotions. I’m phenomenally proud of the work my colleagues here at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication have done over the years to ensure we do talk about the emotional and psychological impact of what we do.

Over the last few years, through the McGill Symposium for Journalistic Courage, we have brought Tlumacki, Carolyn Cole, Eric Gay, W.A. Bridges, David Handschuh and Jeff Roberts to the building to talk about the impact their wok has had on their readers and themselves. Tlumacki and Roberts, in particular, brought the room first to silence and then to tears – brash students and hardened faculty members, emotionally overwhelmed.

Just this semester, we have hosted the Ochberg Society for Trauma Journalism with a display and panel discussion and, tomorrow, have Jessica Handler here to talk about Writing Through the Tough Stuff.

Visual journalism isn’t about cameras, lenses, post-processing or even just being there. It is about people, it is about telling stories that matter for your community and to your community.

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