Sometimes a moment defines an era. An image of that slice of time can be so iconic, so emblematic of a movement or a societal passion, that it changes everyone who sees it. And sometimes it even changes history.
The photo accompanying this column was taken moments after the Ohio National Guard opened fire on peaceful demonstrators at Kent State University on May 4, 1970. Four students were killed and nine were wounded, and a nation that was growing increasingly uncomfortable with its leaders’ lust for war in Vietnam and Cambodia saw its youth galvanized after the May 4 Massacre.
It was the first time in U.S. history that a student was killed in an anti-war demonstration, and the photo which brought home that terrible reality helped touch off a tidal wave of protest and outrage that ultimately turned public opinion against the Vietnam War.
Shortly after the killings at Kent State, Neil Young sat on a porch and wrote a song that would become an anthem for a generation. Some 4 million students would stage walkouts and sit-ins at hundreds of colleges and high schools.
Newspaper editorial boards around the country began to reconsider their support for the war.
Kenn Bisio, a renowned photojournalist and a retired Metro State journalism professor, is fond of saying that the essence of journalism lies in illuminating the human condition. And he often adds that subject matter is critical because our subjects matter.
How might history have been different if photographer John Filo had not captured the anguish of Mary Ann Vecchio as she watched the lifeblood pour out of that young man? Fortunately, we’ll never know, because Filo was willing to risk his own safety to tell a story that would indeed change all that came after.
By the way, Filo was not simply a photojournalist; he was a student photojournalist, who won the Pulitzer Prize for that stunning image. I often tell the aspiring reporters and photographers in my own classes never to identify themselves as “student journalists.” When doing the job, they are every bit as essential — and sometimes as accomplished — as the professionals who practice the trade.
Metro’s own Office of Student Media gives our students the opportunity to change their world and illuminate the human condition. And you never know when a critical moment will land in their lens or inform their reporting.
We can’t afford to have any of the journalists in the office miss a single one of those moments because of a pause in operations that is currently being proposed by the administration.
Democracy dies in darkness; MSU’s student journalists should be free to shed light at all times and to do their work with the backing of the First Amendment and the desire to make a critical difference in their world.
Doug Bell, an adjunct journalism instructor at MSU for the past 30 years, is president of the Colorado chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
One thought on “‘MSU’s student journalists should be free to shed light at all times’”
Great column and great point, Doug — I trust you saw the terrific WashPost article about the photo. It shoulds inspire all “student” journalists to do great journalism . https://www.washingtonpost.com/magazine/2021/04/19/girl-kent-state-photo-lifelong-burden-being-national-symbol
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