The Power Of Journalism

When some guy made a mistake, pushed the wrong button at the wrong time, and within twenty seconds they couldn’t stop it.”

It was a story that hit the world with great disbelief. Caused by one simple push of a button, thousands and thousands of people in western Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, and Northern Europe were killed or touched by radiation poisoning on April 26, 1986.

In just four minutes and five seconds, Mediastorm’s Paul Fusco tells the tragic story of how lives were affected in the aftermath of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant nuclear accident.

He starts by describing how it happened, but only in a short sentence. This alludes to the fact that he would rather focus on the people involved in the aftermath, rather than the accident itself. He then moves into one firefighter’s account of what he saw happen to a fellow firefighter who went to fight the fire at the plant. He leads his story into the children living at the Novinki Children's Mental Asylum and how different their lives are from normal children. Viewers see children sprawled across the floor, babies with tumors the size of a large balloon, and kids with deformed limbs. But mostly the viewers see the blank faceless expressions of innocent children who will never lead a normal life. According to “The South Asian”, this asylum houses about 216 children between the ages of 4 and 17. Most are transferred to the adult asylum once the reach the age 18-years-old. Parents abandoned these children once they were born, many horrified at the sight of what radiation had done to their newborn. According to an ABC article, birth defects have increased by 250% since the Chernobyl accident.

Finally he introduces viewers to Alesya. She is a young girl that developed cancer after running out into what they called “black rain.” Now she is in a coma and on her deathbed. “It was a horrific day of watching this mother lose her child,” Fusco says.

Labeled as the worst nuclear disaster in the world, analysts still have trouble estimating how many lives were taken because of the Cherenobyl accident. But, in his photoessay titled “Chernobyl Legacy,” Paul Fusco goes beyond the facts of what happened that day; instead he humanizes the story to a degree in which any human being can truly feel the impact. In a story like this, facts cannot do justice for how much human life was impacted. But a humanized story can at least bring the outside world closer to understanding what happened to thousands of people in Ukraine.

From a journalistic standpoint, I noticed the careful consideration Fusco took in asking to take pictures of Alesya. Before taking the pictures, he says he asked the mother if it would be all right. “We want everyone to know what they’ve done!” she replied. It’s something to be reminded of: people can surprise you in how reluctant they are to tell their story. It is also a reminder that every journalist must remember the person they are interviewing is not just a subject for their story, but a person with feelings too.

In the first few seconds of the essay there is a black spot. Normally in a broadcast story this would be unacceptable, but for this story I felt it brought a certain feeling to the story to set the mood. The black and white of the photos also set the mood. Even the lighting in the interview was slightly dark. Each bit of darkness sets the stage for how terrible this accident really was.

I thought it was interesting how Fusco reflected his own feelings into the story. Throughout the slideshow he would give insight into what he saw and how that made him feel. At one point, while speaking about the Novinki Children’s Mental Asylum, he says, “it’s almost like [the children are] a different race.”

Fusco uses the pictures and narration to communicate with the viewer. Each picture matched up with what he was saying. The pictures were clear in their messages and even without his narration still would have spoke a thousand words.

I have seen numerous articles about the Chernobyl diaster, but nothing quite as gripping as photographer Paul Fusco’s story. It is stories like this that remind me the power of journalism.

See for yourself: The Chernobyl Legacy


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