Posted at 03:08 AM ET, 04/22/2011

Hondros and Hetherington’s death and the evolution of news online


Samar Hassan, 5, screams after her parents were killed by U.S. soldiers with the 25th Infantry Division in a shooting Jan. 18, 2005, in Tal Afar, Iraq. (Chris Hondros/Getty Images)
Huddled on the ground with a rifle just above her, a young girl speckled with blood screams out a silent cry. Moments earlier, U.S. soldiers opened fire on her parents’s car, killing them both.

The girl’s moment of anguish became an iconic image out of the Iraq war. The photographer, Chris Hondros once told MSNBC that he was glad he was there to take that photo of the crying child.

“Every day someone gets shot by accident by Iraqi troops and American troops,” he said. “It very rarely gets photographed. It’s one of the few times that an important incident that happens in Iraq was actually documented and we can see the reality of it.”

Now, a new image has surfaced, only this time it is not Hondros behind the camera, but possibly before it, lying on a hospital bed in the last moments of his life.

Hondros died in Misurata, Libya, Wednesday night along with Tim Hetherington, the director of the war documentary “Restrepo.”

A video surfaced on Facebook on Wednesday that shows what appears to be Hondros, Hetherington and Guy Martin, another photographer wounded in the incident.

Already, tensions ran high surrounding the news of their injuries. Rather than being reported by a news organization, it first spread out via Facebook and Twitter. Photographer André Liohn was at the hospital when the men arrived and posted on his Facebook page, incorrectly stating that both had been killed. Hondros clung to life — but not before his name made it onto news sites saying he had died.

Contrary to typical media ground rules, in which news of casualties is withheld until the next of kin is notified, the names were quickly disseminated online.

“I thought about that as I watched real-time updates stream across my monitor and mobile screens,” writes Teru Kuwayama on a blog for the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma. “I wondered if Tim and Chris had family and close friends who hadn’t even woken up yet in whatever time zone they were in.”

New York-based photographer Andrew Maclean, one of the first people to tweet the news, saw Leohn’s Facebook posting around 11 a.m. in the morning. The two photographers were personal heroes of Maclean, and shaken by the news, he assumed other photojournalists would want to know about the tragedy.

It was only after Hetherington’s publicist called asking how he knew that information that Maclean realized the gravity of what he had done. “It was instinctual,” he said Friday. “I wasn’t consciously thinking that I’m reporting news. ... But I didn’t want the people who care about him finding out from an @TimHetherington post.”

In the evolving world of living online, Maclean said he now realizes the divisions between work and personal have eroded. He said reporters need to employ the same ethical standards online as they do in print.

The video, however, may be a different matter. After it appeared on Facebook, Andy Carvin — a social media strategist for NPR and someone who has been reporting extensively on the news from the Middle East through Twitter — sent out a link to it.

He wrote in a blog:

I have posted hundreds of videos of war casualties since all of this started in Tunisia, many of them much more graphic and horrifying than this one... Some people have suggested to me that I shouldn’t share the link to the video because they were journalists, and that we know people who knew them in person... But all the other people that have been documented as casualties during these attacks, they all had people who knew them and loved them. Yet we shared footage of them nonetheless, again because of that desire to bear witness.

Carvin has built up a following of nearly 45,000 people on Twitter, as he filters, retweets and posts videos, photos and facts he gathers about the uprisings in the Middle East. He has posted video of a child being bathed before burial, a man being shot in the street, and a boy crying over his dead brother’s body.

Had Carvin not tweeted the link it would have raised another ethical question: Why is it acceptable to show dead Libyans, but not a dead British journalist?

Others, though, still felt it was distasteful.

“I totally disagree with @acarvin on publishing that video,” wrote one Italian journalist, Luca Alagna. “These three photographers are alone and far from home, they are unprotected and they show clearly their names... Showing such a video doesn't add any useful news.”

The video, indeed, is not news. No news organization would embed the video in part because it adds no fresh information. Hetherington was dead. Watching a video showing him dead smacks of voyeurism, not of moving a story forward.

However, despite the blurring of lines between news on and off line, the Internet serves a different function than just as a strict news teller. It also offers up a container to allow those who wish to seek out all aspects of a story. The video does not need to be displayed on the front pages of a news site, but it does bear witness to the men’s death.

Carvin agreed, when I reached him by e-mail, that the video should not appear on a newspaper’s Web site but that his followers expect him to collect witness accounts of the violence abroad. “Rather than dictating to people what they can or can’t see, or pretending certain footage doesn’t exist, I’d rather give them the opportunity to make an informed choice.”

By  |  03:08 AM ET, 04/22/2011

 
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