• BEST IN STATE—Senior Courtney Schoen Lewis was named Best PR Student in Utah. Story

Thank a journalist, accident victim says

September 11th, 2010 Posted in Opinion

LOGAN—Ten days ago, just as classes at Utah State were getting started, faculty member Sean Michael collided on his bicycle with an SUV that turned left in front of him as he was speeding down a hill near campus. It was a bad accident: Michael’s helmeted head shattered the driver’s window on the Jeep, breaking vertebra in his neck and ripping off a lot of his ear.

The Statesman ran the story on its front page.

Michael is the head of the Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning (LAEP) and is an experienced bicyclist.

Sophomore journalism major Alison Ostler, the Statesman‘s assistant photo editor, heard the crash from her nearby apartment and, thinking fast, grabbed her camera. The photo ran on Page 1. Later, Alison said she felt funny about shooting Michael as he lay bleeding on the side of 800 North. She hoped he wasn’t mad.

I told Sean about Alison’s concern via an email conversation a couple of days ago, as he rested his neck in bed. Michael’s reaction is a good lesson to journalists and those who read them.

Michael says he was far from angry or feeling violated by Alison’s photo: “Alison’s work, like the images of many a photojournalist, evoked a response by the masses that mere words . . .  would not have brought about,” he wrote. “She should know that.

“Ted, in reality, like cancer and other unwelcome health related shocks to our lives, the accident has proven a blessing in many ways. Who cares about me/my family? The event and the entrée [Alison’s] photo provided have given us—now 2 yrs into our move to Logan—a fresh look at how welcomed/valued we are to many folks. I treasure the caring touch of emails, meals, prayers and the rest that folks—some I don’t really know—have gifted us with.

“Did the photo perhaps make some cyclist start/resume wearing a helmet? Did it make some young driver watch more carefully for bikes? Did it [crassly] give LAEP more publicity?  Who knows the reach of one image.

“Tell her I said thanks,” Michael said, adding, “though, frankly, a bit more grotesque angle (pavement level showing the blood, driver and officer) might have been more creative. Or the pained look of the young EMTs who, passing by, rendered assistance, might have begged the viewer to consider the deep impacts a split second can put into play. Still, she is to be commended.”

This is a good object lesson both to journalists, who often feel bad about intruding into people’s lives, and to news consumers, who sometimes complain about the “ethics” or “humanity” of a journalist or photojournalist who covers human tragedy. How can they be so unfeeling? critics sometimes ask.

The fact is that, as Sean Michael points out, showing an accident victim can be both an education to others—bicyclists and drivers, in this case—and can prompt friends that victims didn’t know they had to rally around and provide support.

Journalists cover stories that the rest of the public can’t be there to witness themselves. In the process, they can do good. As Sean Michael says, they deserve thanks. Nice job, Alison. You did good.

—Ted Pease

Tags: , , ,

  1. 3 Responses to “Thank a journalist, accident victim says”

  2. By Romina Nedakovic on Sep 12, 2010

    If you want to be a journalist, you have to be okay with the fact that you’ll be forward, blunt, and you’ll go head first with any news that come out. You can’t be passive and scared because if you are, another journalist will get your story or something as tragic as this accident would not be known all over Logan. I understand Allison’s concerns but she really did do the right thing as a young journalist. She heard a crash and she went out to investigate. It helps that Michael was so gracious and understanding. He was cracking jokes! His accident was terrible luck but since moving up to Logan, he now knows how caring and supportive strangers are and that was due to Allison’s instincts.

  3. By ted on Sep 13, 2010

    Wow. I definitely would have been like Alison and worried that I was violating privacy, but the bicyclist makes some great points. It really is so true, a picture is worth a thousand words. I know pictures have more of an effect on me than news stories do. Way to go, Alison. I think I’ll be a little bit bolder in some of the things I do/pictures I take.


  4. By Anne on Sep 14, 2010

    This perspective is so needed — thank you for sharing.

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.