AMBROSIA NELDON: Before you record the ‘mayhem’, react

Guest Columnist

(TNS) Americans are up in arms this week after seeing video of a United Airlines passenger being dragged off an airplane in Chicago.

The video is difficult to watch. The man is clearly in shock (or a lot of pain), screaming erratically as an officer removes him from his seat and literally pulls him by his arms, feet dragging behind, off the plane.

I know this because countless news stations have been playing footage captured on smartphones of fellow passengers since the event occurred.

The unruly way the man was discharged from his seat — a seat he paid for, no less — was unsettling enough, but the voices shouting “oh my gosh!” and “this isn’t right!” in the background made me feel even more uncomfortable.

I have felt this discomfort many times in recent years as I have watched bystanders of dramatic situations record mayhem but do nothing to stop it.

Last week, video of a man seizing in the street after being poisoned in Syria popped up in my news feed. Someone watched this person suffer and shared the haunting visual on social media.

So often when violent crimes occur, the crowd around the chaos creates a wall of electronic devices pointed at the action. Jaws dropped, we pull our phones out, hit record and watch the madness unfold. But does that help?

Some of you may argue that these people record the footage to make a difference. As a journalist, this is certainly a concept I can understand. We document the situation so others can see cold hard proof that the event occurred.

Perhaps some folks record for a few moments, drop their phone and then lend a hand to whomever is in trouble. I am sure there are still some kind souls in the world.

Citizen journalism (boots on the ground reporting done by people who are not journalists by profession) is an important part of today’s society and I certainly appreciate the overwhelming effort to make a difference by spreading a message.

But I challenge you not to stop there.

Before hitting record on that device you pull out of your pocket, remember that taking the time to dial 911 could potentially save a life.

Young people, the next time you witness a fight break out at the local pub or playground, do not pull out your phone to record the brawl. Help stop the fighting or find someone who can.

When you pull up on a car accident, before snapping pictures or posting to your timeline, make sure the occupants of the vehicle have the help they need and the authorities have been contacted.

Some of you are thinking, “this sounds like common sense,” and for some people, it is.

More often than not, though, it seems our tendency is to be the one to capture the action rather than act ourselves. We want to be first, and we want to be the best.

Again, I understand the desire. Journalists are some of the most competitive people I have ever met, but I assure you, after plenty of time out in the field covering accidents, assaults and other tragedies, the vast majority of reporters put their hearts before their tape recorders.

The reporters who do not — the so-called “vultures” lurking near the chaos, seeking scandal — often become unpopular and untrusted very quickly.

As you document these situations, consider which kind of “journalist” you would rather be.

Ambrosia Neldon is the general manager at Leader Publications. She can be reached by phone at (269) 687-7713, or by email at


Posted by Tribune News Services

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