In that same line of thought, I can't help to think what it would have been like to be covering the marathon when those bombs went off. Would I have the courage to do what I could to help? Would I be able to document what I saw without turning away, or even running away?
Fortunately there were many brave photojournalists, like the Boston Globe's John Tlumacki, willing to stay put, look into the face of a terrible situation and record what was going on around them. Tlumacki was covering the race for the Globe Monday, laptop set to transmit photos of the runners at the finish line, when two explosions ripped through the crowd. He tells a very interesting story about his experience that day to Time magazine here.
But even more interesting than Tlumacki's account of his role in documenting the bombing is Chicago Tribune photographer Alex Garcia's piece about the need for professional photojournalists at tragedies like the Boston Marathon bombing.
Garcia argues that professionals are equipped with the tools, training and experience to document such tragedies well without infringing on the scene or impeding emergency personnel. Professionals, he argues, are prepared in advance and act with a mission to document the situation without exploitation and a conviction to do so despite the tragedy unfolding around him or her.
As the checkbook balances of news organizations shrink it is tempting for managers to cut professional photographers and videographers and hand cameras to other staff, or hire untrained (or undertrained) shooters. To do so is a disservice to all who rely on images like these to tell us, in a way words cannot, what happened in Boston that day. Events like this don't happen every day (thank goodness!), but when they do, you don't want the photographer to run away, shakily aiming their iPhone behind them.
Consider for a moment that nearly everyone had a camera of some type at the finish line of the marathon, poised to photograph their friend, loved one, or just take in the sights of the marathon. Now consider all the photos and video you've seen on Twitter, Facebook, Google +, Instagram, etc. I would argue that, while there are certainly exceptions, few document the story of what happened like the images produced by professionals.
I know some reporters that are very skilled photographers. Many of them would agree that when the chips are down they would rather hand the camera off to someone with experience and skill at taking pictures. While I'm sure I could cobble together a story, I would much rather hand the notebook over to a skilled writer.
There is value to the people we serve in our skills as storytellers and our experience at telling them.