Globe public editor: Even disturbing photos tell a story

By Sylvia Stead, public editor of The Globe and Mail

“I suppose the intent was to shock, but you crossed the line.” That is what one unhappy reader had to say about a photo on last Wednesday’s front page.

By Sylvia Stead, public editor of The Globe and Mail

“I suppose the intent was to shock, but you crossed the line.” That is what one unhappy reader had to say about a photo on last Wednesday’s front page.

And his complaint wasn’t the only one. The image of a man enveloped in flames amid the protest outside Ukraine’s parliament certainly was jarring. But did it really cross the line?

News photographers are journalists, and their work is critical to understanding world events. It isn’t hyperbole to say that great photos can bring about change – and they can sum up something horrific in a way that is iconic and unforgettable. The Vietnam war is forever associated with a young girl running in shock and agony after a napalm attack incinerated her village and left her naked.

In the same way, 9/11 is the sight of the Twin Towers, one about to be hit and the other already bleeding black smoke, while the war in Iraq is four private security guards, their bodies burned and decapitated, hanging from a bridge as the residents of Fallujah cheer.

All these photos are shocking, yet hardly gratuitous. They help to convey the true nature of brutality, which is a news organization’s responsibility.

“Showing dead bodies, bloodied victims and traumatized survivors of bombings, massacres and other tragedies is justified,” according to The Globe and Mail’s editorial code, “provided the image is historically relevant and/or advances the story in a serious and considered manner; conveys information relevant to the story; and is not intended primarily to shock readers or viewers.”

To continue reading this column, please visit theglobeandmail.com, where it was originally published.


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