Should Local Media Outlets Show Raw, Gory Crime Images?
Gruesome and iconic photojournalism, especially in times of war, has often defined an event in the public’s mind. Consider the photography taken inside the liberated death camps at the end of the World War II or the image of the Vietnamese girl running naked from her napalmed village.
Domestically, journalists mostly shy away from showing grisly visuals of crime scenes.
That wasn’t always the case, prohibition-era newspapers including the Detroit Free Press would print images of gunned-down gangsters and other bloody crime photos.
More recently, I remember as a kid seeing the picture of Pennsylvania politician Budd Dwyer putting a pistol in his mouth as he killed himself at a news conference. Many years later I saw the video footage of Dwyer’s death in a documentary about his case and that was an image that can’t be unseen—though I wish I could. The Free Press produced a video documentary entitled "Living With Murder" last year that did show a dead body. But these things are rare exceptions to the larger rule.
The New York Times today bucked the trend of shielding readers from domestic blood and gore. On the front page of nytimes.com this afternoon was a photo of an Empire State Building shooting victim sprawled on the sidewalk, his head framed by what could only be described as a river of blood.
No one can look at that picture without instantly understanding the gravity and terror of what happened today in Manhattan. Of course, the image is not for the faint of heart and it probably would be upsetting to children.
This raises an interesting question: Given that violence has become an every day occurrence for many Detroiters, should we see more of this kind of raw imagery in the local media?
When journalists shy away from showing the grisly consequences of unfettered violence are we respecting the victims or simply insulating ourselves from the unpleasant realities of life?
To put it another way, would we face the problems of crime and violence with greater urgency if the bloody images of murder victims were thrust into our comfortable middle-class living rooms?
Or is that argument just a rationalization for running unnecessary and sensationalistic death porn?
There’s probably no right answer, but as readers and viewers, what do you think?
An FYI Update: A New York Times spokesman explained their decision to use the picture in a statement to media blogger Jim Romenesko, "It is an extremely graphic image and we understand why many people found it jarring. Our editorial judgment is that it is a newsworthy photograph that shows the result and impact of a public act of violence."