Monday, August 29, 2011

Water under the bridge

The photo grabs you as it seems to explode from the front page of this morning's Daily Hampshire Gazette, clearly illustrating the potential power of water gone wild--more so than a skilled writer could accomplish in 1,000 words.

Kudos to ace photographer Carol Lollis; a raspberry to the editor who approved it.

It's one thing for a photographer to capture an extemporaneous scene involving a person thrust into a dramatic situation through no fault of their own. It's another case entirely when that person is showing off, or risking their life with reckless abandon (for all we know, because he spotted the photojournalist taking pictures.)

Six weeks ago three hikers hopped over a guardrail plastered with danger signs at Yosemite National Park to take dramatic action pictures of a raging waterfall. They got a little to close and cascaded to their deaths.

"Jackass: The Movie", where silly stunts take center stage, has enticed impressionable--usually young--viewers to attempt the same dangerous nonsense at home, in front of a camera, all too often with painful results. When the national press publishes a picture of President Obama smoking a cigarette or riding a bike without a helmet, people rightfully point out what a terrible example that sets.

While the Internet has greatly reduced the gatekeeper role of the mainstream media, a local hometown newspaper like the Daily Hampshire Gazette still has unique power when presenting the news. Hyping risky behavior can easily encourage copy cats who may not be so lucky next time.

And these days, the Gazette can't afford to lose any more readers.


ed said...

My thoughts exactly -- I would NOT have taken this picture. And I definitely would not have printed it.

I would want to know where the dam was and where that water was going before I walked across that bridge, but to poise a stunt like this, no...

And to encourage it by putting in on the front page -- no...

Brian W. Ogilvie said...

I was with you until the remark about President Obama riding a bike without a helmet. Helmets are not necessary for ordinary bike riding. I did a 7-day bike tour in the Netherlands in June and July, and the only cyclists I saw wearing helmets were roadies going at least 18 mph. And in the Netherlands, you don't find hordes of cyclists incapacitated by head injuries. Even in England, with its worries about liability and its laughably bad bicycle infrastructure (and almost total absence of road shoulders, in the American sense), only about half of all cyclists wear helmets.

When I'm living in Europe I don't wear a helmet unless I expect to be riding on bad roads or on steep descents where I might hit 25 mph or more. In the USA, I usually wear a helmet, even when I'm cycling at 9 mph from Hadley to UMass--but mostly because if I'm killed by a motorist, I don't want the Gazette article to say that I was riding without a helmet, even if the cause of death had nothing to do with a head injury.

If you look at accident statistics, it makes just as much sense for motorists to wear helmets as for bicyclists to wear them, in ordinary commuting conditions. But you don't find ordinary motorists wearing helmets. Race car drivers wear them; racing cyclists should wear them too. But ordinary commuters? If they want, but then they should wear them when driving too.