One of our friends, who is a member of our church and a former child-minder of our children was very badly hurt in a cycling accident yesterday morning. Since we heard about the accident yesterday evening - our thoughts and prayers have been full of her and what her and family are enduring. It will be like that for a long time as the recovery will not be quick.
Amazingly quickly after the accident, a local newspaper had dispatched a photographer to the scene, who took some dramatic photos of her mangled bike under the front of the lorry which had hit her. I don't know if the images were printed in that paper or not - but they remain up on their website today - for all to see.
When I heard about this I was initially really annoyed. How dare they intrude in upon my friends' pain, her family's pain, my community's pain - I thought. The need for shocking pictures in order to sell newspapers seemed grubby, callous and cynical.
But then I began to wonder if there was not also a legitimate public interest in this story. If trucks are even occasionally mowing down cyclists in our streets - then we do need to know that as a society in order to respond appropriately. Perhaps shocking images do more than sell tawdry evening newspapers, perhaps they help to alert cyclists, legislators and truck-drivers alike to the horrible reality of the dangers on the road. Perhaps the hackneyed 'thousand words' of a picture is exactly what we need to see in order to bring home the reality of the tragedy.
So, I am left wondering - when does 'public interest' become 'personal intrusion', when should journalists stand back and allow the suffering the dignity of doing so quietly; and when should newspapers use as powerful prose and photos as they can find - to highlight matters of legitimate wider concern? How can we facilitate justice for victims without encouraging ambulance chasing? - would be a legal equivalent.
I'd appreciate the thoughts of the small, but erudite, readership of this blog on this.