COLUMN: Good journalism provokes thought

Front-page photo an example of photojournalism generating discussion

In case anyone missed it, a strike shut down Vancouver Island University this week.

The story was on our front page Thursday, and updated on our website regularly since Tuesday, when talks broke down.

But apparently, some readers might have missed the gist of the story due to our choice of photo to run with the story. At least that’s the suggestion from some upset drama students.

The photo in question depicted a student holding a sign with the message, “Let’s cut drama and call it a day!!”

Although first posted Wednesday morning, it took roughly 24 hours before the emotional reaction starting showing up online.

After about a dozen comments posted chastising both the student, and this newspaper for publishing a photo of him, the student himself posted an explanation and apology online, and sent a letter to the editor (please see page 9).

This student should be commended for having the guts to further explain his position for those who misunderstood, but more so for having the guts to publicly make a statement in the first place.

However, in response to his own suggestion that a ‘better’ picture could have been chosen, which echoes the sentiments of many of the online comments, I must advise that this was an excellent photo, in that it depicted an admirable effort to advance the conversation about university funding.

That’s why it was chosen.

Our decisions are never made lightly (in this case, made by myself, the editor, with input from my staff). Nor do we make decisions simply to incite emotional responses or sensationalize a story.

A story or photo might generate high emotions, but our goal as journalists is always to inform our readers, to encourage critical thinking and to inspire others to action.

A newspaper’s job is to reflect, as best it can, as many aspects of its community as it can. When it comes to a particular story, our job is to cover as many angles as we can, to provide as much information as we can. That is good journalism.

We selected this photo because it told another part of the VIU strike story.

We could easily have chosen a photo of other students milling about or signing petitions, which is mostly what was occurring when our photographer and reporter were there. But that image would not have provoked discussion or encouraged critical thinking.

It would have relayed the same information already being told in the accompanying story.

This student was making a statement, publicly – using word play and clever satire, an element not lost on us, though perhaps it was lost on others – that massive cuts are unacceptable.

Sadly, such action and individual thinking is all too lacking today.

That’s what makes it all the more disappointing  that other students didn’t attempt to engage this student in a more meaningful conversation (one even ripped his sign away from him and attempted to tear it up – a shot we unfortunately missed, or it would have been on the front page).

Even more disappointing is the reaction from other students and lack of critical thinking.

The suggestion that, in publishing this image, the newspaper was somehow targeting VIU’s theatre department is ludicrous. The newspaper only owns the views expressed in our editorials, not those of anyone quoted in a story or depicted in a photograph.

Furthermore, here was a sheep not willing to merely follow the herd, but who wanted to question where the herd was heading. And for that he was vilified.

Frankly, I expect better from the supposed free-thinking youth. And fortunately, as the online discussion carried through Thursday, it got better. In that, this image was an effective piece of photojournalism. It provoked thought, discussion and debate.

That’s good journalism.

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