Ethics Matters

A Monthly Column in News Photographer magazine

Deni Elliott, Director, The Practical Ethics Center, University of Montana
Paul Martin Lester, Professor of Communications, California State University, Fullerton
(E-mail and Web page)

Camaraderie over Competition:
Hey, Brother. Can you spare a card?

Imagine this scenario: While on an assignment, a fellow photographer, whom you barely know, disclaims in disgust that his digital camera card is not functioning. You happen to have several cards. Do you offer him one without his asking, give him one if he asks specifically, or continue shooting the assignment ignoring his plight?

Your answer helps determine whether you should be considered a photographer who functions at the moral minimum or one that should be praised for going beyond the requirements.

Many times your answer will be determined by your personal and professional loyalties. As a journalist you have several constituents that at varying times overtly and subtly pull you in various directions. We make decisions, on a continuing basis, whether it is appropriate, for a specific situation, to be most loyal to ourselves, our subjects, our readers, our organization, our community, or our profession. These loyalties often collide.

David Cantor in an NPPA listserv message makes a case for the reason behind this self-serving attitude: "Untoward market pressures on sole practitioners precludes the generous spirit that once defined a hallmark of our community. The rights-grabbing by publishers sets us at each other's throats for survival and creates an animus that is destroying parts of our communal way of doing business." For Cantor, the decline in cooperative business and shooting practices by photographers is a direct result of media managers whose only concern is the bottom line. But perhaps that's a subject for another column.

But when photographers and videographers are more loyal to their community and to the profession, it is clear that getting all possible images at a scene-and this means documenting the event by as many different photographers as possible-results in the story being told, preserved, and presented in a more complete way. With that mind-set, helping a fellow photographer in need when asked is ethically required; initiating aid without being asked is praiseworthy.

On the NPPA listserv recently, photographers shared stories of helping or being helped by another professional (all used with permission). Such praiseworthy actions should remind us that not all photographers are corporate-controlled only looking out only for themselves. Instances of this kind of good behavior are also good reminders that journalists are their own moral agents out in the field, independent of corporate policy.

I have bummed film from people, grabbed equipment from other shooters to keep it from falling, given out film, even let another shooter hook into my Quantum.

-Alex Lloyd Gross

Back when I was thin and had hair, the newest cameras had lithium batteries, of which I always carried a spare. When then Mayor Ed Koch was evicting the homeless from Tompkins Sq. Park in the name of gentrification one cold November morning, a shooter was bummed because his camera died. I didn't hesitate to give him my extra battery because back then community took precedence over competition. By the way, the agency shooter went out to make a great overall shot that I missed so sharing in this instance resulted in a peer learning experience on both sides.

-David Cantor

I once was covering a court case that had been moved to our county from another county. I had a better position to see a key witness than a photographer from the county where the case originated. His front-page story was a local section story for us. We were sitting next to each other, and I offered to take his camera, as he strained to see the witness, and shoot a frame or two for him. My/his photo didn't run, but at least I had tried to help him. Years ago a colleague of his had lent me a camera when mine went dead during a championship football game that was front page news for us and less important news for his paper.

-Mark Hertzberg

Once, when shooting Hillary Clinton's father's funeral, it was pouring rain. My gear was totally wet, literally dripping. An AP photographer, George Widman, who is on this list, gave me the SHIRT OFF HIS BACK to dry off my equipment. I'll never forget that gesture.

-Rebecca Barger

I remember hearing a rather interesting story about one of the NPPA's earliest members, Dick Sarno. This was during World War II and a bomber had just crashed into the Empire State Building at about the 25th floor. Sarno and several press photographers were allowed above the floor where a gaping hole showed where the bomber had crashed. Not able to shoot because of a bad angle, several fellow photogs held him by his feet as he made several "holders" for himself and other photographers. To be held 25 or so floors above the ground by your feet seems to be the ultimate trust of your fellow photographers.

-Dick Van Nostrand

I was a new freelancer shooting [a concert but only had] about two rolls of film. I was just watching some of the action and allowing myself about three more shots that I had saved for the best shots at the end. Suddenly, I felt someone tap me on the back as I was crouched down at the bottom of the stage. I looked over my shoulder and a photographer had two fistfuls of film he just handed me. I graciously accepted them and shot all of the best images for the duration of the act. I never forgot his generosity and every time I hear someone say in a line-up situation, "Does anybody have any extra film?" I like to give out whatever I can.

-Catherine Bauknight

Camaraderie, like praiseworthy behavior, is not a vague concept without practical meaning. Standing with other journalists in the cold waiting for a perp or a president should fill you with the spirit of camaraderie. From the French "comrade," the word denotes "a feeling of friendliness towards people with whom you work or share an experience" (Cambridge International Dictionary of English). That strong emotional bond, according to Kevin Dooley, Professor of Management and Industrial Engineering at Arizona State University, can lead to team building and empowerment-key aspects, no doubt, of professional camaraderie.

Benjamin Franklin once wrote, "Words may show a man's wit but actions his meaning." It's all well and good to feel a special kinship toward comrades who also put up with the long hours and low pay that unfortunately marks the photojournalism profession. But unsolicited actions that directly alleviate those trials are especially worthy of praise given these highly competitive times.

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