The Dilemmas of Journalism

26 Apr

It was just another call to a crime scene for Herald-Standard reporter Robert Gillispie. At this scene laid a 22-year-old male gunshot victim who was struck in the leg and the buttocks. Naturally, Gillispie pulled out his camera and started filming.

It didn’t take long for on-lookers to criticize Gillispie’s decision to film a man who lie writhing in pain as first-responders tend to his wounds.

“A crowd gathered around and some folks were yelling at me to stop filming him because they thought it was wrong considering his family wasn’t aware of the situation,” he told me.

Of course, he was just doing his job and legally had every right to film in public. For Gillispie, that’s all it was, just another job.

“I hate to say it, but you become desensitized to those types of situations fast. After the first or second one, it just becomes another story unfortunately,” he told me.

Gillispie says the anonymity of the victim helps to keep the emotions out of it and get the job done. However, whether the victim be an adult or child does make a difference.

“Covering child victims will always get you every time. You can’t become desensitized to children no matter how hard you try,” he said.

When his video was edited and ready for viewers, he received more criticism through comments on the webpage. Witnesses view filming a victim differently, as unethical. Gillispie says average citizens simply misunderstand the guidelines to journalism.

“They saw it as unethical but that was because they didn’t understand the rules of journalism,” he said.

The conversation got me thinking. What if the victim had more life-threatening injuries? What if he/she were shot in the head, neck, or torso? For Gillispie, it doesn’t matter. You’re there to get compelling video. As everyone in the news business knows, if it bleeds it leads.

“I would not have handled it any differently. I have been at the scene where people were shot multiple times and even died. My job is to get footage and tell the story,” he said.

Which raises another ethical question. What do you do if a victim has succumbed to their injuries?

“I wouldn’t film the body itself, I waited until they were covered in a sheet then I would film the sheet as it was being carried away,” Gillispie said.

It’s difficult to imagine the situation. I would have to live it to know how I would react emotionally, but I have no doubt that I could keep the camera rolling and get the work done. To become desensitized to seeing someone in pain or dying right in front of you just seems wrong. But I would say it’s natural. Granted, the American culture already allows us to become desensitized to these things. This type of situation is nothing new for Gillispie, who told me he has been to more than 20 homicides and fatalities.

While it may be harder for some reporters than others, there is no question here that you have to put your emotions on the backburner to do the job. It would make it more difficult, too, if a group of people were pressuring you to stop. I would have handled the situation much like Robert.




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