The “Act of Witnessing:” Journalism’s Responsibilities in Covering Tragedy


Kaitlin Solimine in Hippo Reads

In the aftermath of the Malaysia Air Ukraine incident, one thing was clear: the damage ran deep. But beyond the obvious and important political scope, what is the responsibility of media outlets when covering the tragedy?

A day after the incident, the New York Times ran this front page piece about the airplane’s “trail of debris.” Rather than focusing solely on the investigation efforts and/or the deeply historical politics, the NYT piece spent a majority of its word count detailing the gruesome remains of those who were traveling on Malaysia Air Flight 17—including what the victims were wearing, the posturing of their bodies, and even the name addressed on a parking ticket found in the debris.

There’s no doubt that a war’s reach is horrific. In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl writes about his experience as a psychiatrist imprisoned in Auschwitz, and the complications of documenting the horrors of a concentration camp:

“To attempt a methodological presentation of the subject is very difficult, as psychology requires a certain scientific detachment. But does a man who makes his observations while he himself is a prisoner possess the necessary detachment? Such detachment is granted to the outsider, but he is far too removed to make any statements of real value. Only the man inside knows. His judgments may not be objective; his evaluations may be out of proportion. This is inevitable.”

How are journalists to document an experience in which they may be an integral part while also possessing the “necessary detachment” of reportage?

More here.