Do we really need to know, does it help in the future?

Weekend fire leads to age-old journalism dilemma: public interest or invasion of privacy.

At what point do we say the invasion of privacy trumps public interest?

“I’m just trying to do my job…”

“Your job is to invade people’s privacy!”

Angry people tends to get their way, or rather, have their voices more heard.

It was a moment to reflect on the age-old double-edge sword of journalism, as I caught a glimpse of the heavy smoke from Douglas Street last Saturday.

No doubt it’s a dilemma that each journalist will encounter at some point of their career — some may even ask themselves the question everyday or the more seasoned ones may already have overcome the struggle — and it’s been said that the factors to consider tend to change according to the size of the community.

I struggled to make a decision on walking away or standing my ground when a victim of the fire glimpsed my camera and attempted to shoo me away.

“If I see this in the paper, I’m going to find the office…”

“There’s only one newspaper in town, sir, and we all know where that is…”

“If I see my name in the paper…”

“I don’t know your name…”

“Well, it’s not hard to find out!”

And that is true, because we are in a small community and to a certain extent, a lot of news of this nature is probably spread throughout the community by word of mouth anyway before the paper goes out on Wednesday.

In fact, some people may know a lot more than I can find out for the newspaper, and at that point, what purpose do we serve?

The public interest could be: how did it happen, what is the learning moment here for the community, and who were affected.

And like some residents say afterwards, more people will be aware of who needs help the most this week.

But I was only able to tell him that I just wanted to understand what has happened, and of course that did not help to calm him — understandable considering the state of his home.

So I walked away after asking to speak with the fire chief when he is available; I had returned to the scene a few hours later and it looked like the fire had been extinguished or contained.

Journalism often has a conflicting image, from the paparazzi who chased after Princess Diana to the journalists who worked in war zones or developing countries where they are regularly killed or imprisoned.

Though we are a business — the BBC gets government funding and CBC may be losing it — and it may be self-serving to say so, the compensation that we receive for the service we provide may only reflect a portion of its value. We aim to provide information for the community so that with better knowledge, we can make well-informed decisions in our everyday lives — which could be anything from knowing when sales are to make every dollar we earn last longer, to what issues we as a community are working on.

We are all part of the community, no?

 

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