Ethics in Action

This week in J2150, we are exploring photography and its best uses. The responsibility of portraying a source is something we are taught to take seriously and sometimes, the best way to tell an audience a harrowing or amazing story is simply to show them. NPR’s interview with the reporter behind the “Dying to Breathe” short documentary is masterful in its use of both.


  • This is a surprisingly informal format for a deeply personal and serious subject. I think for a blog post the question and answer style helps to show just how invested the author, Sim Chi Yin, was in He Quangui’s story. I associate the transcript-style article with insider secrets and fun. Typically, I have seen this article format in magazine features about a starlet’s fashion inspiration or cooking secrets. I imagine this was such an indescribable experience that pictures truly served his story the best. The pictures make your stomach flip and you’re left with the undeniable feeling of guilt. The words were softer, personal, and honest. Together the pictures and words helped the story became something heartbreaking and compassionate all at the same time.


  • As a reader, I am left wondering about the governmental policies that allowed this to happen. Why is there such inconsistency between laws and enforcement? And what does that say about Chinese culture’s opinion of human life? I would love to know more about how his family is doing after such a traumatic time.


  • The reporter mentioned in the article how many were questioning the ethics of intervening instead of simply following the story. “I just thought it was unconscionable not to help one’s subject, given such a situation. I think all of us documentary photographers are hoping to bring about some kind of change through our photography. I think if I had just stood by and not done anything and let him die, what kind of change am I trying to bring about? I couldn’t walk away from it,” Quangui said. At a certain point, I think that being a journalist cannot help but merge with being a human. Many of us choose this career out of a deep love for others, justice, or storytelling and that impulse to promote change and serve others shouldn’t always have to remain objective.


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