COLUMN: TV folks, have some restraint

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I don’t like to think of myself as overly emotional but I nearly blew my stack Wednesday morning while at an accident scene west of Troy.

I was at the scene of the two-vehicle crash on Indiana 66 and was keeping my distance while rescue crews and firefighters worked to free a Tell City man from his crumpled car.

I’ve covered dozens of accidents in which someone was killed and likely hundreds in which someone was injured.

It’s my practice to keep my distance during the process of removing people, dead or alive, from vehicles. My camera remains slung around my shoulder and while I may snap photos of paramedics and other rescue workers running to and from the scene or stretchers being pushed from a crash, I avoid any photo that may show a patient trapped in a vehicle.

No one instructed me on that when I started as a journalist but it’s been a rule I’ve held myself to, even if it meant passing up action photos in what is often a heart-rending job.

My restraint at accident scenes, as well as fires and other breaking-news events involving fire and rescue personnel and even law enforcement has gained me – I like to believe – the respect of those professionals.

They know what I will and won’t do and they trust me that I won’t venture too close to a scene or take photos where none should be taken.

I put a high value on the trust those people place in me and perhaps I, though I’m not that old, believe other journalists should follow a similar set of ethical guidelines.

That’s why I was surprised and angered Wednesday when a WFIE cameraman parked his tripod just yards away from the men and women working to save a life and proceeded to film. A short time later, another camera person showed up.

The cameraman may not have seen the angry looks directed his way by men and women doing their jobs under growing pressure as the process of freeing the man reached at hour then nearly 90 minutes. I saw the looks directed at the TV cameraman’s direction and I understood why.

What made me most angry was that at the point when the patient was finally freed and ready to be removed to a backboard, the guy kept on filming. Firefighters and others had to hold up a sheet to hide the bloodied man from being seen on the noon news.

It was a poor decision on the cameraman’s part.

I have no idea what footage the station ran that day but I hope much of what was filmed that morning wasn’t seen.

I asked the guy about his station’s policy and he shared with me the information about what his employer would run on the air and what they wouldn’t.

I tried not be rude but may have come across that way.

When it comes to accident photos, I’m more restrained than I used to be and I can think of front-page photos I’ve chosen in the past that I wouldn’t run in that same position today. I still know the value of a good photo in helping to tell a story, but I’m conscious of the impact of photos on families of those injured or killed.

The world of TV news, even in small markets such as Evansville, is competitive, but every journalist should have guidelines about when it’s better to simply turn the camera off.