Burriss: Journalism and death

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The on-camera death of Philando Castile, recorded by his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds, has raised a host of questions. Not about the couple or the police officer who fired the shots, but about the nature of journalism and the audience reaction to video violence.

I've seen several comments about the "journalistic" nature of the video, and how anyone with a cell phone is now a "newscaster." And I have to disagree.

Just because someone shoots a picture or streams a video does not make them a journalist or an anchor or a commentator. A journalist is more than just a conduit for information. In fact, almost any six-year-old can take a picture or sit at an anchor desk or spout off about almost anything.

A journalist is someone who knows how to gather news, search out sources, research information and pass a coherent and interesting report on to the public. Someone who simply points a camera is not a journalist.

Then there is the issue of the pictures themselves.

All of us have seen and heard television video of someone being shot. The picture is usually accompanied by a tag that says something like "graphic video, view discretion advised."

But here we had a picture of someone actually dying on camera.

Several people told me they didn't see a problem because the video wasn't particularly "graphic." Sure, there was blood on the front of Castile's shirt, but television and the movies have given us much more "graphic" images.

Actually I think some kind of threshold was passed with this video, and that threshold involves death. Until this video dead people were either completely covered, or their faces were obscured.

A few years ago broadcasting that scene of someone dying would have been unthinkable. I only hope it doesn't become routine.

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Larry Burriss
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