Oops, you missed an ethic! (or two)

Video and images of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, who were both beheaded by the Islamic jihadist group ISIS, were broadcasted by many media platforms recently. However, The Washington Times reported that one the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Code of Ethics (to minimize harm) was not followed.

Although I believe that a journalist’s job is to report on news, no matter how upsetting or gruesome, I began to question whether or not this story topic and the pictures and video should have been released to the public because of the Washington Times’ article.

The Washington Times also stated that the New York Times wrote a short article and showed one picture while breaking the story, while a Dutch online news organization played the video that included the beheading at the end.

Did the media really have to release this story to the public? What harm does it cause to people viewing it including the families of Foley and Sotloff? Should there be a limit – if any – on what information the media can release? Is showing pictures and video an advantage? Would viewers remember the story if it were just words spoken and nothing was shown?

On the other hand, I thought about how we would be able to educate ourselves about what is going on overseas and ISIS’ acts of terror if nothing was ever released to us. How would we know two innocent souls were killed?

On top of releasing the story and the components, I realized that another ethic that the media did not follow was the ‘seek truth and report it.’  It wasn’t until Sept. 3 when newspapers released an official quote from National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden that deemed the beheadings authentic.

Wouldn’t you agree when dealing with something as serious as a person’s life that journalists would take more caution to see if all the information was accurate or not?

The sharing of the beheadings on social media has also brought Twitter’s CEO Dick Costolo to suspend accounts who shared images and videos from the attacks who shared images and videos from the attacks. This led to many ISIS twitter users and other users who were just sharing information to get suspended. ISIS and their followers use twitter hashtags such as IS and ISIS to reach out and possibly gain recruits from unknowingly users, but that is a whole other issue to discuss.

However, whether or not the story should have been broadcasted remains the topic at hand. What content, if any, should have been included in the broadcast? Is a website posting a blurred out image any better than an unedited version? Can broadcasting this actually be used for good in educating ourselves in current events?

So one final question: If you were a news journalist (TV or print) or a blogger, would you cover the story of the beheadings? Why or why not? What content would you include if so?





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5 Responses to Oops, you missed an ethic! (or two)

  1. Eric Schnetzer says:

    When it comes to posting graphic images, many news companies will only post the censored version, if any version at all. In the specific situation spoken about in the blog and in class, I would agree that it’s best to show only the censored versions.

    People seem to forget that it’s important, as our speaker said, to be a person before a journalist. The man in the picture was somebody’s son, a family member, and a friend.

    The story of the beheading is extremely important to be known, because this ISIS issue seems to be one that’s going to stick around for a bit. I would share the story, but I would share it with caution and with respect to the people that have lost somebody to these tragic events.

  2. Mark.Sugden says:


    As journalists, we are quick to forget that the subjects we use for stories are actual people who have friends and family members still out there. That goes for whether the subject is still living or deceased. It is something people in our profession including bloggers still need to work on when dealing with sensitive topics and issues such as this one.

    I do agree that the story needs to be told as well because, like you said, it’s going to stick around for a bit. Beheadings, unfortunately, are not a new thing. Also, even though I hope otherwise, they will most likely continue to happen, even if it is not ISIS who is always doing it.

    Thank you for your response!

  3. Christina Scheblein says:

    I’ll address your question “Did the media really have to release this story to the public?”.

    The media is not forced to release anything to the public, and some of the first constitutional rights we learn as children are the freedom of the press and the freedom of speech.

    Is the story hard to bare? Sure. Are the pictures heinous? Of course. But these things happen every day and who is to say that this story is not as disturbing as thousands of others we hear every day about a variety of subjects? Each person’s reaction to the news, the amount of empathy they feel, and level of tolerance for violence is different.

  4. Enma PIneda says:

    To answer your question, no, the graphic pictures did not have to be posted- but as one of our guest speakers pointed out: if it is for the greater good, why not? The story, though? I do not think that this story should be kept from the public just because it is vital that the nation knows about possible threats, if any.

    Something I think that journalists could have done was use the blurred out pictures, instead, out of respect to the families of the man who was killed (and, obviously, out of respect for him, as well).

  5. Gabriela Ortiz says:

    If I were a journalist I would most definitely cover the story of the beheadings. Although I do not support the sharing of gruesome things, this situation is different. I do not think it matters if the picture is blurred out or not because it is still creating awareness of an alarming issue. Since we are visual beings, the pictures have helped people be more aware of current events. Although some people refrain from watching the video because it was exactly what ISIS intended (to instill terror), I think that if we don’t watch it, the journalists died in vain.

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