Journalism

NYT Defends Graphic Photo as ‘Newsworthy’

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The New York Times defended a particularly graphic photo of a victim of the Empire State Building shooting Friday, stating that the photo appeared on its website because it was a newsworthy image.

The photo, taken from a high angle, showed a wide view of the sidewalk on which a victim of the gunfire lay with a trail of bright red blood leading away from him toward the street. It wasn’t clear, at the time the photo was published on the paper’s website, whether the photo depicted the shooter himself or one of his victims.

Yes, it’s newsworthy in the sense that it depicts — accurately and with no distortion — the reality of what happened on a story that had a lot of attention.

But its newsworthiness is hardly the main point here.

The problem with the graphic photo, which you can see here if you wish, is that if you went to the paper’s homepage at about 1pm on Friday, you’d have seen the image, without any warning, without any option to click through to see a “graphic” image.

This is to say, online readers had no way to know that such a horrific image was waiting for them until they were already looking at it.

Jim Romenesko published a comment from a reader that makes another good point:

“Is it the shooter or innocent victim? Couldn’t they have waited to find out, or made it clearer in caption who this was. (Presumably they didn’t know who it was at the time.) But if it was the shooter’s intended target, how do you explain publishing this to that victim’s family? And if it’s the shooter, still kind of graphic for the NYT front, no?”

There are times, particularly during live coverage, when an event plays out and someone’s fate may be ascertained by relatives before any formal notification to otherwise soften the blow even has time to occur. The deeper we slide into this “Information Age,” the less likely such time will exist.

The Times’ spokesperson’s response, that the image is newsworthy, goes on to add this:

“Our editorial judgment is that it is a newsworthy photograph that shows the result and impact of a public act of violence.”

Incredible images of war have changed people’s hearts when it comes to the legitimacy of war itself and have brought home in ways words alone almost never can the atrocities of violence.

That, in itself, is important and has its place in the public discourse.

If I weren’t certain whether the image depicted the victim or the gunman, I’d err on the side of caution and blur the image: if I were sure it showed the gunman, not the victim, I likely wouldn’t have blurred it at all.

Regardless, what I’d have been certain to do was to place the image behind a link that a reader would have to click through to reach: that link would have warned about the graphic nature of the image itself. This happens often elsewhere, and it should neither have been too much to ask or expect this time around.

That way, the reader still has at least some control of what he sees. Readers like feeling empowered. That seems the most reasonable, most commonsense option to me.

Your Turn:

Would you have published the photo at all? Do you agree that it is a newsworthy image of a legitimate news event? Would you have included a warning or have just published it on the front page without one?

2 Comments

  1. I agree that we should have had the option to click through to see the image if we wished.  It shouldn’t have appeared on the page without warning,

  2. I confess, I didn’t go look at the photo. While I was watching updates, yesterday, I came across a link to a Twitter feed that led to a Flickr account which had *multiple* close-up shots of the body in question–close up meaning from less than 20 feet away. While that was disturbing enough, what creeped me out further were the crowds of people looking on **and taking pictures for themselves**. Why would ANYONE WANT A PICTURE OF A DEAD PERSON ON THEIR PHONE/CAMERA?!
    I despair of humanity.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.