Princess Di and the Paparazzi : LUSENET : Dirck Halstead : One Thread

The Princess & The Paparazzi

I was shocked and saddened to learn of the death of Princess Diana, along with two others. Once my own initial denial of the news had passed I was again overwhelmed by the non-stop reporting that was to follow. As a photojournalist myself I am ashamed and embarrassed by the accusations that lpaparazzin photographically pursuing the Princess were the cause of the accident. Between that, alcohol and excessive speed, the comparative negligence in this case would appear to be endless. I do not write here in defense of those involved because in a larger sense we are all somewhat responsible. What is of greater importance is that this tragedy sadly illustrates the life and times in which we live.

In the 1960ms Marshall McCluhan wrote lthe medium is the message.n Technological advances have taken us furhter - now the medium exceeds the message. The news gets to us instantly - the facts arrive somewhat later. Just recently, who among us was not willing to blame foreign terrorists for the bombing in Oklahoma City? Or for the crash of TWA Flight 800? In this age of instant communication it is certainly important to get the news out fast if not first; but accuracy should still be the overriding priority. Broadcasting or publishing the latest information does not absolve the press of its obligation to be responsible. The public may wish to dwell in gossip and speculation - reporters, broadcasters, editors and publishers should not.

There was a time not too long ago when a busy signal or an unanswered phone meant you had to patiently wait for the party you wished to call to either end their conversation or come to the phone. With call-waiting, pagers and cellular phones we can now be instantly gratified. Immediate satisfaction has become the rule rather than the exception. Live pictures of a Mars expedition; or a Los Angeles Courtroom verdict; or from a hovering helicopter following a low speed chase; or of a savage beating; or from a goal post mounted camera; or from inside a speeding race car have all become as commonplace as the rising sun. But just as the beauty of a majestic sunrise should never be taken for granted, so too in this age of instant visual gratification is it important for the both the viewers and the image makers to stop and think about what it is we are doing. Is it news for the sake of filling space or time? Are we actual informing the public or just serving their prurient interest? If a human dies in a tragic accident and there is no one there to record it is it still not a tragedy?

On Labor Day I was sent to the scene of a traffic accident on the Thruway. When I got there the wrecked auto was lying on its roof in a ditch. Fortunately the victim had been wearing her seatbelt and was not seriously injured. She had already been taken to the hospital before my arrival although at least eight New York State police cars were still at the site. All this activity had caused a traffic jam with its inevitable rubbernecking and I wondered how long it would be till some passing motorist took it upon themselves to comment on my presence with my television camera. Gratefully only one person chose to shout profanities at me as they slowly moved by, themselves staring at the wreck. Had I arrived at the accident first I would like to believe that I would have helped first and taken pictures second. In the past twenty-seven years Imve only had to make that choice once or twice and thatms what Imve done, just like another crew from my station who only a few weeks ago helped rescue a family from an overturned car which was partially submerged. Itms a matter of personal accountability.

Rather than taking that responsibility there has been a lot of finger pointing and distancing. First reports were quick to blame the photographers for either causing the accident or not rendering aid after it. The photographers blamed the victims for encouraging photo access for some events and barring the taking of pictures at others. The llegitimate pressn has sought to distinguish itself from the ltabloid paparazzin while at the same time using video and still images taken by those very same people or their own staff photographers to enhance their lspecial coverage.n

There is an unwritten television rule among editors that generic video should not be repeated in a story unless specifically referenced, yet many of the lintrusive picturesn made of the Princess during her brief moment in the limelight have been shown ad nauseum during most of the primetime specials. The publishers and broadcasters blame the voracious appetite of the public who buy these publications and watch ltabloid showsn for the intense competition in circulation and ratings. It may seem odd to make reference to the recent UPS strike in an article such as this but in this period of down- sizing and part-time employees it is no wonder that there are so many freelance photographers earning a living by the picture rather than by the week.

None of this absolves anyone of us from our responsibilities. Technology should provide a means not an end. No matter how quickly we deliver it, the message should still be worth hearing. No matter how up-close we can get, the pictures should still be worth seeing. No matter how advanced the technology, we are all still human. At a time when we can be instantly effected by events happening half a world away it is even more important to positively touch those whose lives we come in contact with by word or deed. In a society increasingly reliant on information and communication we in the media should be ever vigilant of our obligation to provide accurate, unbiased and timely information rather than rushing to fill space and time with the latest titillating revelations.

It has been said that ljournalism is the first rough draft of history.n Although history itself cannot be rewritten, the style in which it is told can always be improved. For those of us who have chosen a career in photojournalism the events of this past weekend will certainly make our jobs more difficult. I believe that the challenge that lies ahead is for us to prove on a daily basis that the pictures we convey and the way in which we carry our professional responsibilities can help to make the world a better place by providing the public with truthful, compassionate and insightful visual images without intruding upon the very lives of our subjects.

Mickey H. Osterreicher, Staff Photographer WKBW-TV  HYPERLINK

-- Mickey Osterreicher (, October 04, 1997


People may condemn the photographers, who were perhaps more agressive that they should have been in doing their job, but the very people who condemn them line up by the millions to buy the wretched, exploitive tabloids to "read all about it." It's like dope -- if the users all quit, the suppliers would be out of business.

-- Dave Jenkins (, March 07, 1998.

1) Full sized with some armour Mercedes (with professional driver) vs. Motorcycles. 2) In CNN's initial report they said, a)It took rescue workers 20 minutes to get to Diana. b)Photographers were arrested under France's good samiritan law.

There were too many contradictions from the very beginning of this story. CNN and other news sources discredited their analytical and objective abilites from the beginning. (An interview with Tom Cruise only hours after the first reports- what's that?)

-- ian flett (, December 12, 1998.

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