The Oregonian in Portland published “intimate photographs” with a story about a heroin addict, says public editor Michael Arrieta-Walden. “They revealed to readers in detail a horror in plain sight, yet beyond their everyday view. But should The Oregonian have resisted publishing the irresistible package?” Other questions Arrieta-Walden asks: Should a newspaper take photos of illegal activity or of life-threatening actions? Does a newspaper have a responsibility to avoid perpetuating racial stereotypes, even though an individual story is authentic?
With a woman’s consent, photographer Rob Finch witnessed her selling drugs. He then followed her into a van where she was living and where he knew she intended to shoot up heroin. “I felt like the best thing I could do in that situation is to tell the story,” he says. “To do my job.” Aly Colon, who teaches ethics at the Poynter Institute, a school for journalists in St. Petersburg, Fla., was troubled by the newspaper’s using an African American woman to represent the heroin problem in the Portland area, particularly because it raises questions about accuracy. “Why not focus on someone who is representative of the story you want to tell?” he asks. “Why her?”