While going through journalism graduate school interviews, I was asked the following question: Are journalists activists? I was asked this question twice. Both times, the photo and caption above flashed in my mind automatically.
Who writes captions? I’ve always wondered that. Is it just the photographer? Is it the photo editor? Is there an entirely separate caption-writer? To me, news photo captions always sound like automatic voices. They always follow the same format: date, action in the photo, background, location, further background information. Every single time. (I should know. Interns create lots of slideshows for publications.) That’s why I stopped when I read the one above.
Snuck into the very end of the standard caption were the sentences outlined in blue (outlining is mine). It is extra detail that is unnecessary. We already see and are told that the photo is of a man carrying a boy with blood on his jacket. The only extra information we get is that the boy is dead. Furthermore, the person who wrote the caption left himself in the caption with the word “I.” Referring to oneself in a caption, as well as in a reported news story, is rare.
When I first saw this, I stared at this for a long time. I was sad, for the boy, and for the journalist. It was as if the photographer couldn’t help but let into the caption some of what he was feeling, to inform readers how tragic of a situation this was – not just Syria in general, but also having to photograph this without being able to help.
Historically, reporters and any other kinds of journalists are supposed to be objective to their subjects and sources. To say this is difficult is an understatement. To take photos of tragedies like these and not be affected is impossible. But nowadays, with bloggers, social media and the world growing incredibly small, journalists are slowly becoming activists, as we can tell by their tweets and Al Sharpton.
For the past six months, I’ve been working on the World section of an online publication. With this job, it is virtually impossible for me ever to be down about my life, because I can see real, everyday struggles that people are going through in places like Pakistan and Syria. But, after seeing what goes on in the world on a daily basis, it is also impossible to not become an activist for something or another.
Journalism, at its very core and essence, is learning about different issues and explaining them to others. Activism is within journalism; specifically, it is within the part where each journalist chooses which issues to give attention to. Therefore, journalism has always been, at its core, a form of activism; in today’s world, the two are intertwining more and more.