Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Losing your soul to the news beast... Bit by tiny bit.

You may remember a while ago I wrote a post about the untimely death of two men whilst riding their bikes and the subsequent meeting with a grieving family at the roadside. Called 'Death in a valentines rainstorm' you may remember my decision not to film the family in their raw, emotional state and my reasons for not doing so. I stand by those reasons.

So... I'll just stand next to the court entrance... Feeling like an utter shit.

Yesterday, I came across an article on the AFP website entitled 'The pain of others: Photographing despair.' by Michel Sailhan, which details the filming and photographing of victims and relatives of victims, at the very moment of the worst time in their lives.

It made for powerful reading and an interesting quandary for those of us at the front line of reporting the news both internationally and more importantly locally, in our own back yard, with people we may just meet again in the course of our job as a journalist or photographer.

Should you be just starting out as a journalist, you may think that tragedy and despair is a rare, big time event in a far away land. International news for the big time bulletins. You couldn't be more wrong. There will often come a time when you will have to make this decision. Approach, ask questions and film, or leave well alone. Being a journalist or cameraman though, means that you will very rarely leave well alone. Tragedy is often the reason why you are there in the first place, and the news is an impatient mistress.

This will of course, be entirely dependent on your story. Few of us will experience serious social upheaval in the form of major natural disasters such as earthquakes or tsunamis resulting in hundreds, if not thousands of deaths. Few of us will be at the airport when news of a missing plane is confirmed to waiting loved ones.

What the vast majority of us do experience is the day to day tragedy of life as lived in our local and national communities. The missing child, the untimely violent death or the accident on the roadside. Here is where most decisions will be made on a daily basis by reporters, photographers and news cameramen and women around the world.

I had a job today where the parents of an 11 month old boy arrived to live through the trauma of losing their child once more, at a coroners court to decide on the cause of his death. Not only had they lived through the ordeal of losing him, they must hear evidence of his death whilst sat in court.

Court stories being notoriously light on pictures, the decision was made that pictures of the parents entering and leaving court were required in order to tell the story. Luckily for me and my reporter Ben, the parents were approachable and eager to tell the story of their son's short life and the reasons for his death.

It is not always this easy. Sometimes you will be made most unwelcome. It certainly made my life a little more bearable whilst pointing my camera at them when what I really wanted to do was give them a hug and leave them to the necessity of getting this over with.

When your producer or editor decides that news is news, you have a conscious decision to make. Whether you are right or wrong, these types of jobs just tug at your humanity and impinge on the feelings of others, whilst at the same time making you feel like a heartless shit.

In this game you just have to live with it and get used to the feeling that this is what a proportion of the general public will think of you as you go about the business of news gathering, whilst losing a thin sliver of your soul, bit by tiny bit... Just hoping that your conscience lets you get away with it.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.