Ann Loffler: I agree this picture should be removed. It is in bad taste and with no consideration for the family and friends of these people. I worked for Park newspapers years back and sadly, paper sales come before the trauma associated with such a tragic accident. Feelings and respect take a back seat to the “cha ching cha ching” of the cash register with every paper sale. Pictures like this are what sell papers and thats all they care about.
Oh, if only it were this easy! Newspapers could be rolling in dough if they would just print gruesome images of death and devastation every day on every page!
But alas, such photos and a newspaper’s bottom line have nothing in common. Need proof? The above comment is from a former circulation employee for a newspaper company that has been defunct for 16 years. In other words: What good did all those “cha ching cha ching” photos do for Park newspapers?
The photo in question was taken moments after a horrific traffic accident in July near Antwerp in which six people were killed. It was one of the many images that appeared on our website with a link to it from our Facebook page.
And this is where some of the Times’ so-called “friends” took umbrage. While the first few Facebook comments to our story and photos were the standard “Prayers for all” variety, the tone soon changed to the all-too-standard “shoot the messenger” variety.
What gives? Since when is it bad taste for a newspaper to provide images of a major news event? How can Americans who have grown up with photos of presidential assassinations, space shuttles blowing up and U.S. soldiers dragged through the streets of Mogadishu suddenly want to prevent the dissemination of a photo of a massive vehicle wreck?
The easy answer is to say that Facebook encourages stream-of-consciousness writing and immediate reaction rather than thoughtful analysis and learned opinion. (I have long preferred the insight from our publisher, John B. Johnson Jr., regarding social media and comment pages: “There’s always been ‘bar talk’... now it’s just public.”)
But back to that Antwerp picture. The photo was taken by a nearby resident, who heard the accident, took a cellphone image of the devastation and then ran to the scene to help the wounded. After rescue squads and police had the scene under control, he emailed the image to one of our employees.
Such an exchange of information happens every day between the public and the media. From the orchestrated terrorist train bombing in Madrid, Spain, years ago to the one-man shooting rampage at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., this summer, images of carnage are often taken by the public and sent to the media. And yet, can you imagine anyone from the north country posting a comment to media sites in Colorado or Spain to remove gruesome images from their websites?
Another easy answer is that most Facebook users would rather look at pictures of fuzzy kittens instead of news events. But Facebook has been used around the world to unseat dictators, and the wallpaper photo of choice is always the bloody, beaten body of a person killed by some dictator’s henchmen.
Contrast that with some of the comments we have received in the north country. In the last year we have been criticized on our Facebook page for printing photos of a horse killed by a passing motorist and pall bearers carrying the casket of a murder victim.
There will always be those readers who think news shouldn’t be reported if it hurts someone’s feelings. I have had callers say we should print the names of people once they’ve been convicted and not when they’ve been arrested. We’ve had readers say we should not name the player who struck out to end a game. But such information is printed with the same journalistic resolve as a feature story regarding the accomplishments of an outstanding student. We publish for the community’s benefit, not to stroke or damage the ego of the individual.
As I never say but could, distance makes the heart grow less inclined to be easily wounded. With impunity, newspapers can print news and photos from around the world of corpses that are the result of wars and natural disasters. But show the ugly truth from your own neighborhood? Better watch your step there, buddy.
In a microwave world that encourages instant information, we are starting to get complaints that news involving the unfortunate circumstances of life is being reported too quickly. But how long should the media wait to report on an accident or an arrest? Or, as another reader might ask: “How long did you sit on the information before you thought it was OK to finally tell the public what’s going on around here?”
Our Facebook page has served us well over the years with readers passing on news tips and other suggestions. But it also has been a quirky animal that occasionally prompts some of our readers to demand that we abandon our core mission.
That’s not going to happen. And if some of our Facebook friends don’t “Like” it, well, sorry.
Bob Gorman is the Times’ managing editor.