Understanding Compassion Fatigue Essay


Discuss about the Understanding Compassion Fatigue.


Media in today’s world holds the most significant position in the society and influences people’s lives in every way. As explained by Hearns-Branaman (2016), media flourishes the most in a democratic nation where the people possess the power to change. Now, with the emergence of the social media, the people have access to all kinds of news and that too at an unthinkable rate (Taylor 2012). It therefore becomes necessary for the traditional media to stay put, compete and survive against this onslaught. Compassion fatigue provides a better understanding of the working of the new media and that is why the subject has been chosen.

This assignment shall focus on compassion fatigue and media’s role in making people immune to compassion. The assignment will also attempt to uncover the truth behind the so-called compassion fatigue and try to compliment the extraordinary effort journalists put in order to bring news and images.

The Photo Essay

The project was presented in five images that demonstrate the extraordinary skills of the photojournalists in capturing timely incidences and events around the world. However, they are at times criticized for neglecting morals and basic human rules. News channels also add to this image as they rely on repeated broadcast of certain news that generates maximum reaction from the audience. The project was mainly inspired from the theories of ethics in journalism that I studied during the course. In an attempt to draw individual responses from the readers, none of the images was captioned.

Compassion fatigue occurs when the audience’s attention decreases overtime owing to the repeated broadcast of a certain incident or issue. It also occurs due to the way the media cover international affairs and disseminates it to the audiences (Sacco and Bossio 2015). It is however important to mention that the images and videos captured by the photojournalists have exceptional significance and vitality to any incident. With my understanding of the various ethical concepts associated with photojournalism, I am able to relate these to the concept of compassion fatigue.

The images of suffering

With the beginning of the Syrian War and the rise of ISIS, the audiences are constantly fed with images of suffering that cause pity and sometimes disgust to the people. Apart from the most talked about image of the drowning boy Alyan Kurdi, many other pictures have managed to catch people’s attention (Mortensen 2017). One such was the image of a boy in Syria’s Aleppo who was seen covered in rubles and blood after the bombings. The image sent shivers around the world but gradually it was suppressed with other news (Independent.co.uk 2018). This shows that the compassion and emotion shown in the media does not last long in the audience’s memory and gradually leads to compassion fatigue. The audiences become tired of the repeated coverage of these issues and ultimately become immune to human sufferings as shown in the media.

Ethics in photojournalism

Ethics comprise an important part of journalism and a sound knowledge of this is important for any journalist especially photojournalists. It defines the contents the media is allowed to show and the audiences are allowed to view. In the words of Sanders (2003), ethics is media is an “oxymoron” and that it is just a way to “pay homage to the egos and need to succeed for the media players”. Berry (2000) however argues, “having an understanding of the ethical issues within the field of journalism offers a solid foundation for those practicing in this field”.

Perebinossoff (2016) views that photojournalists are often criticized for fulfilling their professional duty and ignoring the moral duty. In the case of Kevin Carter, this instance can be easily seen. In 1993, Carter took the heart-wrenching photo of a starving toddler in Sudan who was being eyed by a vulture (100photos.time.com 2018). The photograph soon became a topic of discussion and Carter was being criticized for not helping the toddler. Here, it cannot be clearly established whether the photographer saved the child or not but it did raise questions about ethics in photojournalism. Instances like these are in abundance in today’s world and these lead to what we call compassion fatigue (Carter and Allan 2013).

The international media is mostly criticized for being biased about certain countries and people. Giant media houses like the CNN, BBC, The Wall Street Journal and such are accused of showing negative and false images of the developing nations ultimately leading to compassion fatigue. Nowadays, argues Moeller (2002), the perception that the audiences are bored of the old traditional way of presenting news has engulfed the media. Therefore, in an attempt to lure the audiences and increase their TRP, news channels sell news that are of little significance in terms of value.


The major themes discussed in this reflection were the chief factors that defined the images presented in the assignment. Prior to the inclusion of the images, extensive research was performed in order to ensure error-free work. In my view, it was important to present the positive side of compassion photography and counter the popular notion that too much compassion creates fatigue. However, I primarily aimed to provide an analysis that both questions the role of the media and appreciates the work of the photojournalists. I tried to present the effort photojournalists put into bringing images and videos to inform the audiences and aware them of the happenings around the world. Despite that, they are sometimes criticized for being inhuman and devoid of feelings but they are not appreciated for the work they do.

In performing this task, I faced the challenge to pick selective images that signified compassion. In addition to that, I also had to make sure that these images had been repeatedly used in the media. Further, I had to make sure that the photographs were of the highest level demonstrating the photographer’s skills and perception capability. Although I am satisfied with the content that I was able to gather, I wish I had the chance to meet photojournalists and learn about compassion fatigue from their perspective.


100photos.time.com (2018). The Importance Behind the Photo of a Starving Child and a Vulture. [online] 100 Photographs | The Most Influential Images of All Time. Available at: [Accessed 4 Apr. 2018].

Berry, D., 2000. Trust in media practices: towards cultural development. Ethics and media culture: practices and representations, pp.29-49.

Carter, C. and Allan, S., 2013. questions about popular journalism. Ethics and media culture: Practices and representations, p.132.

Hearns-Branaman, J.O., 2016. Journalism and the Philosophy of Truth: Beyond Objectivity and Balance (Vol. 14). Routledge.

Independent.co.uk (2018). The bruised, bloodied and stunned face of a child sums up the horror in Syria. [online] The Independent. Available at: [Accessed 4 Apr. 2018].

Moeller, S.D., 2002. Compassion fatigue: How the media sell disease, famine, war and death. Routledge.

Mortensen, M., 2017. Constructing, confirming, and contesting icons: the Alan Kurdi imagery appropriated by# humanitywashedashore, Ai Weiwei, and Charlie Hebdo. Media, Culture & Society, 39(8), pp.1142-1161.

Perebinossoff, P., 2016. Real-world media ethics: Inside the broadcast and entertainment industries. Focal Press.

Sacco, V. and Bossio, D., 2015. Using social media in the news reportage of War & Conflict: Opportunities and Challenges. The Journal of Media Innovations, 2(1), pp.59-76.

Sanders, K., 2003. Ethics and journalism. Sage.

Taylor, P., 2012. Hackers: Crime and the digital sublime. Routledge.

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