Opinions

Conflicting responsibilities

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Last week a drunken homeless man was hit by a car while walking down the middle of 14th Street by 13th Avenue. On the way to help him, an ambulance hit an SUV, and ended up dealing with that mess instead of helping the indigent man. When a second ambulance arrived, the homeless man resisted help.

I happened to be walking down the street, on my way to a photo shoot, when all this happened, and of course I started snapping pictures. That was when I was reminded of how hated journalists are by those who are publicly accountable.

First, while observing legally and without interfering with the critical care that was being delivered by the paramedics, a Calgary EMS truck pulled up slowly behind me on the sidewalk. Fourteenth street is loud, and I did not hear him--until I felt the heat of his radiator against my back. He had driven within inches of me, with no warning, no horn--his way of telling me that Calgary EMS does not want to be photographed at work.

Too bad, buddy.

The driver was not dressed like a normal paramedic, but in a uniform similar to the Calgary Police Service Tactical Unit light-blue duty uniform, with only the word "PARAMEDIC" across his back to identify him as such. He got out of his truck and made an effort to block my view of the injured man, who was still resisting treatment. After the paramedic's confrontational approach of moments earlier, that was a welcome improvement.

Moments later, another paramedic took time away from administering patient care to stop, look up at me and my camera, and shake his head in obvious disgust.

Again, too bad, buddy.

The role of the journalist is not to make people feel warm and fuzzy. It is a dirty job at times. It is an ugly job far too often. Not every assignment is as nice as promoting a play or reporting on a line of baby ducks that crossing the road.

We need journalists to expose the filthy gutters of life, letting those in power know that they are being watched. Abuses of authority are only possible when they are hidden from public view.

While some publicly accountable employees may not like this scrutiny, it is the journalist's duty to never turn a blind eye. Even those who decry what we do live safer and better lives because of such attention.

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Comments

I have great respect for journalists on a whole, obviously, but if I worked for the EMS I would have shaken my head at you too. I don't think you should act like you deserve a medal for your fearless act as a journalist. Sounds to me that you were in the way, maybe not physically but by shooting pictures you were distracting these emergency workers from doing their job. If you thought something unethical was taking place you should have called the police and given them your statement. Did it really feel right taking these pictures? Did you really feel like you were providing a service to the community? It sounds like you could have a successful career as a journalist, as long as you learn to keep your self-righteousness in check.

Given that the paramedic's job is to help people, often in life-and-death situations, I'm amazed you don't see why they would be upset with you photographing them. Having a camera snapping pictures of you is nerve-racking for many people. Having it done to you while on the job is even more difficult, and may very much distract these workers while they're trying to perform their jobs.

The comments you make in your story of "Too bad buddy" don't really show you were trying to do anything to help get out of the way of these people trying to do their job, which may have only made them think more that you were taking these pictures for malicious purposes.

While I think your goal to ensure "those in power know that they are being watched" is admirable, those paramedics on the street aren't really in any kind of power position. They're just some guys trying to do their job the best they can, and from their point of view, it probably seemed like you got in their way in an attempt to make them look bad. Maybe if you invite them to watch over your shoulder as you develop your film, write your story and submit it to be published, they would be much more welcoming to you.

It's too bad the paramedics had to be such jackasses. I'm sure Kirstin would have rather written about how helpful they are. We could have read a story about Calgary's heroic paramedics. Instead we have to hear about how they like to push their weight around because they don't want to have their picture taken.
The medics should have done their job. If they don't want to be interviewed, drive away. Who cares if someone is taking photos?

Oh, come on. You weren't a journalist being supressed by the mightly and powerful tyranny of " those in power." You were, for the lack of a better term,rubbernecking. Now, I rubberneck as much as the next person, but call it what it is, and don't be offended when someone is pissed off that you're either in the way or needlessly invading their privacy.

Consider these things when terming yourself a journalist, and claiming that you are, somehow, fighting for the public good:

1. You weren't on assignment. You weren't there to report on the story. In taking photos, you obviously weren't involved in researching a story, didn't seem like you were conducting interviews or intent on reporting it as news. The Gauntlet rarely, if ever, reports on traffic accidents off the university campus. Had you not felt slighted by the paramedics, I doubt anything about the event would have found its way onto the Gauntlet pages. (To even further drive the point home, I suspect the paramedics were not aware you were from the Gauntlet, so you should evaluate their performance as if they were dealing with a curious onlooker, not assuming they were bent on silencing the free press.)

2. Related to #1, if you say that you were ensuring that you did not turn a blind eye as you put public employees under scrutiny, why didn't you do anything to further that incredibly noble goal? It doesn't seem that you did any investigating short of taking photos and annoying them.

3. After all of this, you didn't even print one of the photos. It seems quite ridiculous to me that you would write this grand tirade of how you taking photos was doing the world of journalism, and indeed the public trust, a tremendous service, but not actually print the photos you were talking about. Sorry to say it, but the decision makes my head start to hurt.

I'm sorry that my comment is so curt, but it seems like you're using your status as a "journalist" in place of a bleeding heart. You weren't uncovering politicians trying to hide a scandal. This was a team of paramedics trying to help someone in need. And you were there for no other reason than you thought it was a good photo op.

James:

So, you think the Gauntlet is the only newspaper out there? Do you think it's the only forum I write for?

So, if news happens right in front of me, I'm supposed to put my camera away? I have to be "on assignment" before I can press the shutter button? Do I have to ask permission to wipe my ass, too?

So, if I was just acting as a citizen in legally observing my tax dollars at work, I'm supposed to shovel and shut up? Is that what Albertans do?

And what's all this worry of yours about me "being offended"? If it was an article about a bruised ego, it never would have made the pages of the G. It seems you just don't get it. I wish you held the Gauntlet in higher regard than that.

James, as a journalist, you should know that journalists have no more rights and no more priviliges in our society than any other citizen. So if it's not okay to do something to a real journalist, it also is not okay for them to do it to any other joe.

Along that vein, there have been more allegations of human rights violations against the homeless and the mentally ill in just Canada's recent history than should be acceptable to our society. And something needs to be done about it.

Because, you know, this writing thing isn't just about nice and pretty articles with cooperative and happy parties involved. It's not just about writing about the faxes that land on your editor's desk. It isn't just about doing nice things and telling nice stories. It's also supposed to be about things like social justice.

You ask why I didn't do anything else. Frankly, while they were disrespectful to me, they didn't end up doing anything actionable to that man. In fact, they didn't do a bad job (nor a great one, IMHO) in dealing with him. But how could I have known that at the start?

Now, James, if the story had been about this man's actions, certainly a photo would have run.

However, to preserve the small shred of dignity this homeless man still possessed after the incident, it would not be appropriate to print a picture of him in such a context.

As a journalist, you should know that.

Sometimes the greater public service it to do nothing when I could have done something to get another photo credit notch on my belt.

And don't forget, politicians are not the only valid journalistic targets. Every newspaper in the world is full of stories about things other than politicians. Besides, when it takes six shouting and angry paramedics, one dressed like he's from the SWAT team, to get one man to load into an ambulance, doesn't that concern you, as a citizen? Or are you willing to turn a blind eye to potential mistreatment? It certainly is a cause for concern in my world.

Finally, if I was really rubbernecking, as you so indelicately say, I would not have deleted the photos when the issue was finally at rest. I'd have them up on my website.

And no James, you're not sorry your comment was so curt.

Colour Commentator: You suggest, without basis, that I was interfereing with critical care. Get your facts straight. And what "malicious purposes" could I possibly have had with a camera in my hand? Do tell.

You argue that they were not in a position of power. Paramedics are in a position of power when they are taking a man into custody against his will. Whether they do this to save a confused elderly person or a drunk driver who has just smashed up his car, in other words no matter how noble, they are clearly often putting themselves in a position of power.

And how could I make them look bad with a camera? It only records what really happens. That's why people like pictures so much in their newspapers.

You said:

"Maybe if you invite them to watch over your shoulder as you develop your film, write your story and submit it to be published, they would be much more welcoming to you."

a) You're kidding, right? Ha ha!

b) That would be submitting to outside and undue influence on my story. Like telling Gary Mar he can help shape a critical article in the Herald on his finance funniness. You get why that would be bad, right?

But unlike the other people who commented on my story, you brought up a very important point (if tangentially). I could have made the article better by bringing in the other point of view; namely, the paramedics'. I think you're right in that I should have tried to see their point of view more.

In my defense, I was still mad that asshole drove his EMS truck (not ambulance) right up behind me, when his horn was functioning perfectly. Which just wasn't a safe situation to be in.

Take care!

Kirstin

Jackie the journalist:

You say I'm acting like I deserve a medal. That, as they would have taught you in J school, is hyperbole. And an unfair characterization.

So, as a journalist, is it better to be a quiet wallflower? Should one never investigate too far? Should journalists stop when someone gets uncomfortable? If Conrad Black said, "Stop photographing me at work... in Barbados" (or wherever he allegedly hid that money), should we stop? Or is it not in the public interest to uncover abuses?

It doesn't matter how it felt to take those pictures. To tell the truth, I felt sorry for both the homeless man and the paramedics. It's sad that some people end up drunk and mentally ill on the street. I felt bad for EMS because they had to deal with a smelly drunk guy who was giving them a hard time.

But I didn't and still don't feel bad for taking the pictures. I investigated, and saw that there was no harm done to the man... therfore, in the end, the police did not need to be called. If their actions had crossed the line, I certainly would have called the cops.

And yes, though it is immaterial, I really do feel that I was providing a service to the community.

kristin, your an idiot. If I were the paramedic, I would have ran your ass over!!! What were you doing on the road in the first place -- probably easier to get a better view of the action from there eh! Its sad that someone with such a knowledge of health care, police and EMS procedures isn't more directly involved!!! Wow, good luck with the fight against EMS injustice everywhere ......... maybe next time they'll think twice before they just elbow you out of the way .......... I mean, don't they know who you are..........your a woman with a camera standing in the middle of the road at the scene of an emergency!!!

Name: Stickman
Occupation: professional journalist

Professional journalist? I hope not.

>kristin, your an idiot. If I were the
Kirstin, you're an idiot.

>What were you doing on the road in the first place --

Questions take a question mark, not an em dash.

> the action from there eh!

Punctuate much?

> Its sad that someone with such a

It's sad...

> isn't more directly involved!!!

Exclaimation points are not substitutes for emphatic prose.

> injustice everywhere ......... maybe

Punctuate much?

> elbow you out of the way .......... I mean, don't they know who you are..........your a woman with a

"You are" contracts to "you're". Ellipses consist of three dots.

> camera standing in the middle of the road at the scene of an emergency!!!

Exclaimations!!!1111!!!111!!