Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Giving Readers the Full Picture

Nicole Dascenzo

In a world where news is increasingly consumed on digital devices, often while multitasking several things, it can sometimes be a challenge to compel a reader to choose your story over a competing publication's story when thousands of articles on a topic are available in the palm of the reader's hand. And when violence seems to be increasing daily, it can be hard to make a tragedy important to a read half a world away.

Reporters have a duty to seek the truth and report it, but they also have a duty to minimize harm to the reader, as stated in the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics. So while these sometimes-graphic images can help to tell a story, is it worth publishing sensitive content that could potentially turn off readers from reading future stories?

"The Terror of War" 

Although it happened long before my time, the infamous photo of young children running away in panic after a napalm attack during the Vietnam War is what sticks out in my mind when I think of a picture that really captures the atrocities of an event.

Photo credit: Nick Ut / The Associated Press

In this image, the children running away in minimal-to-no clothing stand out in stark contrast to the men in helmets, uniforms and carrying equipment. One group is so protected and the other is so comparably vulnerable to the terrors of war.

In a time before 24-hour news stations, many Americans had never seen an image of this caliber. Wars had been fought overseas and what is out of sight is typically out of mind. Although controversial at the time, this was an important image in showing that the effects of war extend far beyond soldiers and militaries in far away lands.

The Full Picture

More recently, the bombing of the Boston Marathon in 2013 was an event heavily described by the photos.

The stories from survivors about the frantic screams as the bombs went off and the barriers were knocked down at the finish line tell part of what happened that spring afternoon, but the photos of those that had come so close to finishing the race, or those that came to watch their loved ones really drive home the devastating tragedy.

If these images weren't published, or at the very least made available to those who wish to view them, it would hinder the reader from getting the full story. Images, however graphic they may be, help to tell a complete story - spoken accounts and narratives can only take a reader so far. 

"The images that we see ... will become key ways that we understand this story," Al Tompkins said in his article for the Poynter Institute about the coverage of the 2012 attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya. This is an idea that can be applied to countless other events. 

We live in a time of increased violence across the world and it is easy to turn a blind eye to tragic stories. If it takes seeing a graphic image to drive home that these devastating events are real, I don't see a problem with publishing them - safely. Readers should be forewarned, but they shouldn't be shielded from the truth.

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