Women Talk: Blood Sells Better Than Sex

Just minutes after yesterday's deadly explosion at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport, a short chilling video by a guy who happened to be nearby with his camera-equipped cell phone appeared in Twitter and then got reposted to YouTube.

But should we buy it?

Just minutes after yesterday's deadly explosion at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport, a short chilling video by a guy who happened to be nearby with his camera-equipped cell phone appeared in Twitter and then got reposted to YouTube. This took place well before any official video coverage of the terrorist attack was available, so the clip instantly became a hit and the person who made it - a temporary celebrity. Multiple Facebook users put the video on their personal pages, and international news agencies, such as Reuters, bombarded the guy with calls and interview requests. The number of viewers who'd seen the video on YouTube quickly reached several hundred thousand.

Still, even after having watched and reposted this video, many condemned what that person did. Heated discussions on ethics and morality ensued. Should we consider this guy a brave person, a kind of a modern hero who chose to risk his life for the sake of the Naked Truth? Or is he nothing but a vain attention-seeker striving to get popularity in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy? Has he neglected the basic moral norms, choosing to film the blast's horrific scene instead of, say, rushing to help the victims or, at least, not posting the shocking stuff not to spread the panic? After all, he wasn't even a reporter assigned to cover the attack...

I personally believe he is none of the above. This guy and others who happen to become eyewitnesses to bloody incidents and don't hesitate to capture what they see and make it public are simply the typical representatives of our technology-wired era in which information is the major religion. These days most of us own the gadgets only reporters used to have just a few years ago. The price to pay for us being technologically savvy is our permanent exposure. Paradoxically, in the Age of Individualism (a term coined by Jean Twenge, a psychology professor whose recent book, The Narcissism Epidemic, on the cult of uncontrolled and uncensored self-expression through social networks, instantly become a bestseller) such things as privacy and private space are rapidly dissipating. And there's no turning back, I am afraid. We live in the era of self-professed (and, granted, narcissistic) reporters, and each of us could become both a target and a cameraman at any time. There are no official guidelines or taboos on how to behave in these situations except for one's own moral values and personal ethics.

What bothers me much more is the professional journalists' ethics. I remember the discussion we had at the Columbia University Journalism School Critical Issues class on the 13th of September 2001, just two days after the bloodiest terrorist attack in modern history. The issue at stake was the front page of that day's New York Times featuring a deeply disturbing image of a man falling out of the burning World Trade Center tower. We debated on whether one of the world's top newspapers had published a striking photograph that would make history or if it took advantage of the calamity to sell more copies. I recall that we, young aspiring reporters, were divided. While we all agreed on the image's arresting quality, from a human, or rather, humane standpoint, many of us felt kind of manipulated. As if we hadn't had enough: the attack's non-stop utterly candid coverage seemed abundant already.

I think that we, journalists and, moreover, decision-making editors, should have more strict guidelines on what and when we choose to publish. As opinion makers, we should operate a much more defined civil responsibility code than ordinary folk. There's a difference between raising awareness, informing or shocking for the sake of a sensation. On January 24th, a freelance photographer that I know through a friend, rushed to cover the Domodedovo blast along with many other reporters. In a little chapel at the airport, he spotted a middle-aged woman. Her head bent, shoulders slouched and face struck with grief, she was mourning her husband who had just died in the terrorist act. The photographer chose to leave her alone even though he would have sold this telling image to top news agencies immediately. I deeply respect his decision.

Sometimes stepping back is much more professional than sensation-hunting. Even though the truth is obsolete, there's always a choice of how to present it. Blood sells even better than sex, but we shouldn't take advantage of it, at least not always. The day after the incident one of Russia's most trafficked new sites published an awe-striking image of an alleged terrorist's head found in the blast's epicenter. Would this really contribute to the attack's investigation or just add to the public's anxiety?

As far as the Tweeter user who had posted that post-blast video, he had later confessed he wasn't happy at all to have found himself in the center of attention. He hoped his fame or, rather, infamy would fade very soon, he wrote in his blog.

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Russia has always been referred to as feminine and Russian women have been one of the most popular stereotypes of this nation, both positive and negative. But is this an all-male fantasy? Here is a hip, modern, professional and increasingly globalized Russian woman looking at the trends around her, both about her gender and the society at large. She talks and lets other women talk.

Svetlana Kolchik, 33, is deputy editor-in-chief of the Russian edition of Marie Claire magazine. She holds degrees from the Moscow State University Journalism Department and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has worked for Argumenty i Fakty weekly in Moscow and USA Today in Washington, D.C., and contributed to RussiaProfile.org, Russian editions of Vogue, Forbes and other publications.


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