What are Ethics in Journalism?|Daniel Riley

ethicsKnowing when and when not to report the five W’s and H, so you don’t endanger or anger someone or something and get yourself fired.

With today’s technology of recording devices, digital cameras that also take videos, and the fact that anyone can wirelessly transmit information from anywhere there is a cell signal, there is a chance to violate someone’s ethical rights in a second. As journalists, we need to take all precautions we can not to harm ourselves or others in any way possible. Sometimes it may not seem like we are hurting someone when in reality, we are.

In a younger life, 1990’s, I was in an auxiliary fire department and would bring my camera along to take photographs. One day, we were taking a tour of the local airport fire department where the cars for the president’s motorcade get stored awaiting a presidential visit. The chief of the airport fire department asked me not to take any photographs that day because he didn’t want people to know the cars were at his department and that there are two presidential limos at each visit. Being the young hotshot freelance reporter I was with photographs of fires I had been on published in Firehouse Magazine, I thought my rights of a free press were blocked and said something to my fire chief. Naturally, being older and wiser, he said: “The chief is correct, and as a matter of fact, I don’t want you bringing your camera anymore when you are playing firefighter, you are not a reporter.” I was mortified and threatened to quit the department. The chief wasn’t finished and went on to say this advice that has stuck with me for years, “Just because you have a camera, you need to learn that every photograph you take won’t be magazine or newspaper quality for the world to see. Some will have information in them that may hurt someone or give someone an idea of how to cause harm to us as a nation.” Since I was young dumb and stupid, I quit that department because it was a volunteer, and I was making $15.00 on each published photo and $5.35 an hour at my new EMT job, I didn’t need to waste my time with the auxiliary fire department.

Wouldn’t you know his words came true shortly after I quit with the first World Trade Center Bombing and even today people are still using photographs to find ways to harm America. I will never forget the day I was sitting in a classroom at a Fire/EMS conference in Monroeville Pennsylvania, and one of the firefighters who were at the 1993 bombing of WTC said this line that made my heart stop, “A couple of years ago, one of the WTC Police officers told me that he ran out a guy who was taking pictures of the parking garage under WTC.” As all excellent public speakers do, he took a second to let that information set in by taking a drink. Then he went on to say, “It turns out that the bomb went off right where the guy was taking pictures, the guy was working intel on how to blow up the WTC.”

Now today, people who are conspiring to harm us don’t even have to leave their homes. All they need is a computer with Google Maps. Just this week I was sitting in my daughter’s school parking lot in Ohio waiting to pick her up and listening to the news reports from the Florida School Shooting and could follow along with what was going on using google maps. Why couldn’t someone like Stephen Paddock use grounds photos of The Route 91 Harvest festival to find a useful vantage point to harm?

Now we are in a state where nobody wants photographs taken, and photographers are being arrested for doing it. I close with an article about this subject from The New York Times, Criminalizing Photography. (Estrin Aug. 14, 2012), when talking about when and when not to photograph things says, “There are permutations. I tell photographers, if you’re standing on a public sidewalk and you’re taking a picture with a 50-millimeter lens, and it’s a wide shot of the city street, that’s fine. If you now put on an 800-millimeter lens and take a picture through somebody’s window, you’ve now invaded their privacy, and that could be a civil tort.” In essence, he is saying if a photographer is standing in front of the White House taking a photo of a family with a regular lens that shows approximately what the naked eye sees, the Secret Service isn’t going to be concerned. Now if you are standing there with a lens that you would see photographers using to take NFL or NASCAR close up photographs, pointing it in a window of the White House, they are going to question you.



Estrin, J. (2012) Criminalizing Photography.