Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Graphic Images: Reality In A Photo

Cameron Fields

Media outlets consistently have to weigh their options when deciding whether to publish a graphic or violent image.

News organizations have two distinct options, and both of them have consequences: run the graphic image and potentially receive public outcry, or withhold the image and receive ridicule because the public didn't get information.

But with whichever decision media outlets make, all media companies should consider this: can't a graphic photo be just as newsworthy as an article?

Journalists are in the storytelling business, which means using a graphic photo to accompany a tragic story shouldn't be seen as taboo. Rather, it should be viewed as telling a newsworthy story in a different way.

Whether it's a natural disaster, terrorist attack, murder or any other tragedy, photos of the event -- just like articles -- are necessary to tell the public what happened.

"Photographs are the screams of the world," said Julian Reichelt, editor in chief of

The May 1970 Kent State shootings -- albeit a tragic event -- are a good example of why photojournalists should capture the reality of an event. A photojournalism student at Kent State named John Filo took the picture of Mary Ann Vecchio kneeling over a student who was killed. The photo shows Vecchio in despair, but it's a genuine emotion.

Image result for kent state shooting 1970 photo 

Journalists tell stories with words; photojournalists tell stories with pictures. But both groups of people still have a responsibility to show the public an accurate representation of newsworthy events.

Though graphic images should be shown, especially if they have news value, the public doesn't always need to see them. For example, someone being murdered doesn't need to be shown on live television; it's obscene, and most viewers would be fine with just hearing about what happened.

Much like the Kent State shootings were a good example of showing a graphic image, the video of Philando Castile bleeding to death is a good example of something that shouldn't be shown. A police officer shot the 32-year-old Castile dead during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, Minnesota.

Castile's girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, took the video of Castile bleeding to death after the shooting, posting it to Facebook for the world to view.

The video was difficult to watch -- no one should have to watch it. But it's still a visual representation of reality, a record of the injustice that happened on that day.

With news organizations having to make decisions about publishing graphic images, they can still keep people from viewing them, too. Television stations and websites have the capability to warn their viewers graphic content is presented in the piece. 

Viewers are able to watch the content at their discretion. This bodes well for news organizations, as they aren't in as tight a spot with the public; the public can't call out media companies for not giving information. 

Journalism is about giving information to people so that they can live their lives. Whether it's a shooting happening in a neighborhood, or a deranged attacker terrorizing innocent people, information must be acquired and distributed. 

And with that written documentation must also come a visual record -- even if that visual record isn't the news you want to see. 

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