Within minutes of the Empire State Building shooting today, photos of wounded and dead victims appeared on Twitter. When is it appropriate for news organizations and journalists to share graphic photos of victims of a tragedy?
Conflicting. You want to be first but the possibility that family members sees the photo before they are notified is terrible. On the other end we are at game theory-esque a point where everyone thinks that someone else is probably going to publish the photos before them and they want to be first so they publish it.
It seems like there two questions here:
1. Should we wait to publish graphic photos until some set of processes have concluded? For instance, until the family has been notified, until we have context for the photo, etc.
2. Are there photos that are so graphic they're inherently disrespectful to the dead, or contribute to desensitization, or are not of news value but purely shocking.
I'm torn on both questions.
In this day and age, I think it's simply unrealistic to wait before breaking news. I think Uri is right, someone will publish the identity of a shooter or a picture of a victim, and a news-wide embargo is simply unfeasible.
The news value of the photos I shared, which show a dead man with a trail of blood coming from his head...
Seeing a lot of graphic images desensitizes viewers to the shock of seeing graphic images, but I'd argue that never seeing those images has a worse effect: desensitizing citizens to reports of violence, murder, genocide, etc., that come in text-only format. Reading dry news reports or hearing TV anchors intone about our summer of murder here in Chicago, where I live, has less impact if you can't see the horrific reality of what is happening.
On the other issue: What could be a practical way of knowing family members had been notified? Does everyone with a camera wait until the police issue a statement?
I'm reminded of the Lockerbie bombing in 1988. There was a photo published of the mother of one of the victims. She was hysterically crying on the floor of the airport moments after she found out her child was killed. Very powerful. It shows the real human effects of ultra violence. An important lesson that supersedes personal privacy.
Here are some questions to consider, compiled by Jeff at Poynter bit.ly
I'd add the Potter Box, but do note that experience informs decisions, meaning that if you've already dealt with a similar situation, the decision about what to publish comes faster. I knew right away, for instance, that we wouldn't use them in my newsroom (we're linking, with warning) as we are 100 miles from New York City.
If the images are shocking it is because the situation is shocking. Also, the Empire State Building is a world icon and proximity makes the story bigger for New York City outlets Chigaco Trib, by contrast, is all over last night's shootings.
Also to consider is that you might distract from the news with fallout of using a such photos.
A graphic image of a graphic event is part of reporting the news and should be shared with the public in the right context, at an appropriate time.
The harder question is whether the need to be first, which brings personal acclaim, sales for newspapers, hits to websites, ratings for tv and radio, should trump our established practice of allowing families to be informed first.
I think its naive to think that in today's culture, all news organizations will be able to maintain a set of core values that puts respect for people first. The pull of the personal and business gains are too big.
Recently we had the same discussion over privacy in the era of the Internet. While those of us old enough to remember that world debated whether Facebook was “good” or “bad” and tried to figure out what the limits should be, youngsters established the only world they knew as the new normal.
Technology renders the conversation moot. Culture will conform/adapt to this reality.
(I’m just surprised that we don’t have footage of the “batman shooting” from an audience member who was busy ripping a screener.)
My question at this point: Do the pubs that were first out of the gate today treat future shootings and images the same? Or is this a one-off, because it happened in NYC, in a very visible location in NYC?
Would Aurora had been treated the same way, had there been better art and better timing for the news cycle? (And, yes, I'm being purposefully callous there.) Would Oak Creek?
On one hand, I'd hope for some consistency in policy. OTOH, you play the hand you're dealt, at the time you're dealt it, and life ain't pretty. Nor should it always be treated as such.
There are times when it is absolutely right for the media to publish graphic images of violence. Those are the times when there is a political need for the citizens of a country to know what violence is being done in their name or with their unknowing collusion, or in the hope that they will call out for action to prevent it. In the UK we have instances of such publishing by credible, thoughtful titles, and they are all the more powerful for being rare.
But where an incident is random, where the audience is being given no call to action, where the motives for publication are not clear it is hard to see it as anything than a commercially driven audience grab.
And that's not a good enough reason.
I gathered my thoughts in the blog post linked below, in which I argue that it is a good thing to see a more unvarnished world and, in any case, we'd best get used to it as news and images won't come from reporters and credentialed photographers who finally show up but from witnesses who will share what they see, while the blood is still red.
I think we’ve become much too accustomed to mediated news, to a world sanitized for our protection. That’s what makes people ask for warnings before being shown reality. Don’t tell me you’re offended by murder. Of course, you are. So don’t tell me not to offend you with what it looks like once you click.
It's hard to say this without saying trite, or Canute-like, so apologies for either or both.
But can we please remember the direct impact on the men, women and children at the heart of the images and content we are discussing?
As a former emergency services head of press I witnessed the effects on families when the media got to them before they had been officially informed.
The impact of an utterly devastating event is magnified. There is no protection, no gentleness, no ongoing support.
A journalist (or now, even worse, an online image) arrives, tells and leaves. The family is left alone in an empty house, in agonies of confusion and grief.
This news can only be broken once. How it is done will stay with that family forever.
@jeffjarvis "...for as we all well know, news and images of it won’t come from reporters and credentialed photographers first and won’t be filtered through media before it comes to us."
Jeff hit the nail of the issue on the head. Is it about images being too graphic, or about (photo)journalism moving out of the hands of the traditional news media outlet? The first images everyone saw of the shooting on Friday were not from a journalist, but an essentially faceless passerby. All it takes is a smartphone and the means of online publishing from Instagram or Twitpics and suddenly the photojournalist has been dissolved into a crowd, everyone in it with their cellphone raised, ready to snap a shot.
Bump. Just came across this in Twitter:
I’d like to reiterate my point — this whole discussion is moot. The television news was unable to prevent itself from broadcasting a suicide. No redefinition of journalistic ethos is going to prevent this kind of thing from happening, and it’s only going to become more frequent.
This is the new normal and society will conform to it like it always does.
It was unable to prevent itself by broadcasting a suicide? You mean it didn't have a choice not to air it? Sure it did. (And an easy one IMHO, but I'm not in the business of filling up 24 hours of on-air time.)
Live car chases are entertainment, not news.
OTOH, I suppose you could argue that in that case, Fox News doesn't have a choice. :p
Thanks for your feedback! Team Branch