Graphic photo begins to be cool to share. Why?


There's a fine line between using images for news and self-promotion, between documenting an event or making an event into an advertisement. Recently a Associated Press photo is making it's way slowly across Facebook as one of those motivational posters. The image below is a sarcastic delivery about career firefighters and public misconception. I suppose it could also be about volunteer firefighters as well when considering LOSAP monies or private donations to the fire department. That's really neither here nor there.


The story behind the photos comes from a fire in Evansville, Indiana. You may have seen the images in their proper context below,


In "Misguided Anger" I wrote about how strange it was to see the comments from many in the fire service who objected to these photos being in the news. My position on it, unchanged, is that the photographs document the occurrence of an event and as news should be viewed. I also stated that as news the photos can surely be used to support a position that advances fire safety among the public. The Evansville fire story noted that there were no working smoke detectors.

Some in the fire service see no objection to use the photo of a naked, unconscious, soot stained toddler to remind others that they are firefighters. It would be an entirely different matter if the photo was used in a well composed presentation on fire prevention and fire safety to local politicians, civic groups and others. Unfortunately, unless the mayor, city council and PTA have 'friended' you on Facebook, that photo isn't reaching their eyes. Besides, chances are most of your friends are in the fire service anyway, so you're preaching to the choir in a sense. And, if you do happen to have the Governor or Alderman as your online pals, then what is really being said with the whole 'greedy' message?

If you are going to promote the fire service, do it in a way that even John Q. Public's child can understand and in way that doesn't cheapen the story behind a tragic incident.

Bill Carey is the daily news and blog manager for Elsevier Public Safety (FireRescue Magazine/Firefighter Nation, JEMS and LawOfficer sites.) Bill also manages the network and is a former volunteer lieutenant with the Hyattsville Volunteer Fire Department in Prince George's County, Maryland.

Read more of Backstep Firefighter and others at

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There was absolutely no call for a photo like this to be taken to begin with. It is a clear violation of HIPPA and the press should know that.  What this was, is a person trying to make a name for themselves to get a better postition at work. Totally uncalled for.  That media company should be banned from anymore sites until the people responsible for it making it all the way to print are out of a job and everyone else gets the proper training on what to shoot and what not to shoot at scenes.

Jason Clark of The Evansville Courier & Press, who took that photo and others, as well as the Associated Press, did not violate HIPAA in reporting this story.

Bill Carey

To me it is context of the photo.

In a news story it shows the horror of the moment and the great work the firefighters did in getting the child out.


In a "Motivational poster" it cheapens the act for a momentary self serving message that likely offends some, and angers others believing the firefighters are grandstanding in the use of that photo.


Ron, There is no HIPPA violation in the news story. That is to protect the privacy of the patient from medical professionals releasing personal information, not the media.  Now on the other hand, is the photo used appropriately? Like Don said in context of the news yes, as far as a motivational story, NO


I would bet money the person who shot the photo, has been the victim of someone stealing the photo online without the expressed written consent of the owner, and/or the people depicted in the picture. Therefore this motivational photo has been bootlegged. Thats is not only distasteful but against the law as well.


Example - If you take the NFA Safety Officer program, the first photo in their powerpoint program has been bootlegged straight from my personally owned website and my camera lens. Matter of fact it is a picture of me.  The internet unfortunately has become a very easy place to surf and steal material... some of which is at the expense and hardwork of the owner/authors.

Was the photo a legal "public domain" choice to shoot - absolutely.


HIPAA violation - it is not.


Bootlegged - possibly, if the poster wasn't created by the photographer or licensed by him/her.


Public reaction - it gets the point across, but at what public perception cost?  A great many of the public don't really want to know what we do, as their perception is that our job is to protect them not only from harm, but from the realities that we face every day.  There will be mixed results from a poster this graphic, and unfortunately many of those reactions from the general public will be negative.


There are better ways to craft the message, and there are better ways to distribute it, since this forum is mostly "preaching to the choir".

Who gets to decide what is " shoot and ...not to shoot?"

The Government? You?

We live in a country with a guaranteed freedom of the press, and although it may be inconvenient to some, intrusive to others and offensive to yet others, that freedom is what keeps us free. Frankly, the images that do make it to press in America are usually quite tame compared to what gets published overseas.

This photo was taken as the events unfolded, and is a legitimate record of the event. It is news, and the press has a duty to report the news to the public. Had this photo been staged, then I would probably agree that it would be inappropriate, but it wasn't.

The next time you read an article about a government official behaving in a corrupt manner, or of a business behaving unethically, you'll be glad there wasn't someone in the government deciding what was "proper" to cover or not to cover.

HIPPA applies to health care providers, not to anyone else. So a photo taken by the press, or by any bystander, is not a HIPPA violation. If a Firefighter, EMS worker, First Responder, or other health care provider were to take the picture, THAT would be a HIPPA violation.


Does this "poster" preach to the choir?

Sure, when it's posted on FFN. However if you google the phrase "greedy firefighters" this poster along with at least two other with the same text pop up one the first page, which means every time a politican uses the phrase "greedy firefighters" and someone goes online and googles that phrase, they see that massage.

Copyright aside, is it the most sophisticated way to communicate the message to the public? I wouldn't say it is, but frankly not everyone in the public is very sophisticated. Not everyone discusses such topics in "quiet rooms" to burrow a phrase from Mitt Romney.

Does "shock value" work when communicating a message? Absolutely yes, it does.The abstract idea that Firefighters "risk their lives to save others," or the favorite, Firefighters "run into the fire when everyone else is running out" do not communicate to many people just what it is we do. A picture of a Firefighter bringing a defenseless toddler out of a fire creates a permanent image in the mid of the viewer that they will remember the next time someone says, "greedy Firefighters."



You must work in the press, or be a freelance photographer, to get that wound up about this pic.  Other than the OP no one said anything about not using the photo in the legitimate press as part of a news story.  This has nothing to do with freedom of the press.  It has to do with the decision to use a picture of a naked child in the arms of a firefighter in a self serving poster.


If you read my post, and comprehended, what I said is it is all about the context in which the picture is used.  In a legitimate news story it is a perfect example of the horror that fire can be. 


Further who said a thing about the government controlling what pictures could be seen?  This part of your post just seems like more hysterical clap trap nonsense since it didn't have anything to do with the original topic.  There are usually self imposed standards of decorum for what newspapers will publish.  The sad truth on the other side is there are vultures that hide behind a press badge and take pictures they know no paper will publish.  Those types of pics usually end up on the internet on some morbid, graphic, gross, picture site.  I have witnessed so called professional photographers taking pictures of mangled bodies at car accidents and refusingg to leave until threatened with arrest for interfering with the operrations of the firre department.  So before you go all high and mighty about freedom of the press, ask yourself how you would feel if the mangled, brains and guts oozing out of their body, pictures of your wife, daughter, or mom, ended up on the internet.  Then it is real and no longer some hypothetical freedom issue.

Define, "legitimate press."

There's traditional press outlets such as newspapers and  news broadcasts, but who gets to decide what is "legitimate?"

Editorial Content, whether as an essay, a photo essay, video or other form can appear in just about any outlet, such as websites, magazines, YouTube or other media.

I wasn't off-topic, either.  "It is all about the context in which the picture is used."

So, who gets to decide to decide what is an appropriate context? You cite use in a "legitimate news story" as a perfect example of the horror of a fire, while the creator of the poster was making an editorial comment about how Firefighters earn their salary because they help spare people from the horrors of a fire while dealing with the horrors themselves.

You may find how the author of the editorial poster used the image distasteful, even offensive or self-serving (assuming it was made by a Firefighter and not just someone who understands what Firefighters go through, like a family member of a Firefighter for example), but it is nonetheless legitimate editorial content, used to make a point.

The context and the message are different, but both are legitimate uses of the image.

As for the "self imposed standards of decorum for what newspapers will publish," that varies significantly from publisher to publisher, readership and especially from country to country.  In the U.S., this photo has a lot of shock value, but in Asia it would barely register in most people's minds.

I hate to sound "all high and mighty," but that is exactly the tone taken by others saying, "There was absolutely no call for a photo like this to be taken to begin with," or, "That media company should be banned from anymore sites until the people responsible for it making it all the way to print are out of a job."

I wasn't even responding to your post, I responded to the original post and to that of Ron Briggs. Your post is further down the list from mine.


I am fully aware of where your post was.


Legitimate press?  Easily defined.  A media outlet that presents the news and doesn't feel the need to sensationalize EVERYTHING to get people to pay attention to them.


So which is it?  You work for a newspaper o some other news media, or you are a freelance photographer?  Because as I said previously, you must be to get so wound up over this and spout absolute nonsense like we ae calling for government censorship.


Each society sets its own standards for what is and what isn't appropriate.  Frankly, I don't give a damn what people in Asia feel is appopriate to show in newspapers and on tv. anymore than I would suppose they care about what we feel is appropriate.

Actually, I'm not very wound up at all, but I like to discuss these things. There are some people on here who get very wound up over some dumb things.

My photography mainly consists of the insides of fireplaces and chimneys, but that's another story.

Using your definition of "legitimate press" we can stop calling Fox "News" as legitimate news outlet, along with HLN and, frankly half of the mainstream press.

Each society does set its own standard of appropriateness, and ours has changed drastically in the last 20 years, let alone the last 50. They're still changing and what one generation finds appropriate may not be the same as what the previous thought was alright. 

Our society has changed and is changing, so different segments of society (sub-cultures) will find different images, and their uses, acceptable.


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