As a journalist, I believe that I have certain responsibilities – to the public, to the truth, to my subjects, and to my own credibility. I know that I will have to cover topics that are controversial or uncomfortable. Through it all, it is immensely important to keep my responsibilities in mind. However, when my responsibilities as a journalist conflict with my responsibilities as a human being I know I will have some very difficult decisions to make and it will be hard to see clearly.
After reading about Sara Lewkowicz’s experiences with Maggie and Shane, I have mixed feelings about her actions during the assault. Obviously, it is hard to say how I would react because I’ve never been in a situation like that but I don’t think that my first instinct would be to snap a photo. I know that Sara was in the process of her photo essay and she had prior permission from the couple to photograph events in their daily lives. I think the story veered off in a very different direction than she had anticipated.
That assault was not meant to be seen. There is a reason that domestic violence is such a touchy subject. I think that abuse happens on a very personal level. If I were Maggie, I wouldn’t want the world to have access to one of my most painful moments with a man I thought I loved.
What if one of the children were harmed? One of Sara’s photographs shows Memphis wedged between Maggie and Shane. She could have easily been seriously injured or worse, killed. Would Sara have just stood by, taking pictures?
Sara stated that she did not interfere because she was not strong enough to stop Shane and she feared for her own safety. However, she was the only person present during the assault that could have done something. Her interference would have alterned the event and probably could not be used in her photo essay because she influenced the situation. What is more important – someone’s safety or a story? That being said, I do think that she did the right thing by calling 911. But I think she could have done more in the situation without compromising her integrity as a journalist.
She told a very truthful story in her photo essay and went through a traumatic experience in order to tell her story. It couldn’t have been easy to stand there and watch a domestic assault. Sara had been interacting with Maggie and Shane for weeks at that point and I’m sure it was scary to see him behave that way. She could have just left and perhaps the fight would have escalated further. She didn’t. She used her journalistic instincts and did what she felt at that moment.
Sara’s situation reminds me of a photo we discussed in another journalism class. Kevin Carter won a Pulitzer Prize for a photo he took of a vulture stalking a starving child trying to make his way towards a United Nations food camp in Sudan. While the photo is striking and represents the famine at that time, he did nothing to try to save the child. He was able bodied and could have picked up the child and carried her to the camp but he didn’t. He later committed suicide.
I think no matter your profession, it is important to have a strong set of values. You should stick to them regardless of the situation and remember that every action you take influences how others see you and more importantly, how you see yourself.