Friday, August 24, 2012

Are NY Times images legitimate news or needlessly sensational?

Editors face tough choices every day. Today, in New York City, those choices were doubly difficult.

At the New York Times, I’m guessing that there was a heated discussion about which pictures to use in its online edition and in tomorrow’s printed edition. Two of the pictures of the Empire State Building shooting they used on their website are posted here. The use of such images brings about dozens of ethical, moral, and professional questions.
As peace journalists, we’re most interested in exploring whether photos like these inflame passions, and make a bad situation worse. Among the questions peace journalists might ask in situations like this are:

1. Are these images sensational, or are they necessary for a complete understanding of the story?

2. Will these images needlessly inflame passions against the suspect, scuttling his right to a fair trial? (The suspect was killed in today’s incident, but the question is still an important one).

3. What about the families of the victims? Should we consider their feelings before we publish?

4. Do the pictures in any way glorify the crime, making it (in a sick way) attractive to copycats?

My take: I would have never published these two images, based on the criteria above.

Another note from today’s shooting…CNN’s Ali Velshi taught us a lesson about instant news today when he tweeted that “there appears to be a terrorism connection” to the shooting. After a brief but intense firestorm, he retweeted that he left out the word NO in the original tweet. Oops indeed. Lesson to peace journalists: imagine the power of Twitter to virally spread rumor and innuendo. These are the kind of falsehoods that could and have led to violence when disseminated over traditional media like radio.

Twitter can be a dangerous weapon indeed.

--Follow what I hope are my responsible tweets @PeaceJourn

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