Policy Corner: When to run graphic photographs

  • A mortuary worker sits on body bags before they were transported to be buried in a mass grave on the outskirts of Mariupol, Ukraine on March 9. This is one of the photographs we decided to publish, even though we tend to avoid presenting images of the dead.

    A mortuary worker sits on body bags before they were transported to be buried in a mass grave on the outskirts of Mariupol, Ukraine on March 9. This is one of the photographs we decided to publish, even though we tend to avoid presenting images of the dead. Associated Press

  • Neil Holdway

    Neil Holdway

 
 
Updated 6/5/2022 4:40 PM

Sadly, many graphic news photographs are available these days. Brutal images have come out of Ukraine day after day. And heartbreaking images have emerged from Uvalde, Texas, and other shooting locations.

Many photos are particularly graphic, showing bodies or even body parts, people who've survived but are bloodied or even just blood spread across the ground or in an apartment.

 

We believe in showing you the news, including the results of terrible tragedies. But we also believe in tastefulness, in sensitivity to the people involved and to you. As we consider whether to publish a shocking image, we ask if it's productive to do so. As Emily Bernard, a professor quoted in a New York Times discussion this week on graphic images, put it, "who benefits? Is this going to enlighten us or offer any solutions, or is it just horrible?"

In the case of Ukraine recently, we have run photos of bodies, but only in body bags, to help illustrate the depth of the situation there. In any news story from anyplace, we almost always avoid showing body parts. We might show a little blood but are cautious with it.

No photos have emerged of the bloody scene inside the Uvalde school, where 19 children were killed. If they did, we would be extremely cautious about publishing them.

There are exceptions. We remember the image of the firefighter carrying a lifeless toddler after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. We recall the image of the naked girl fleeing napalm during the Vietnam War.

Just in 2020, there was the image of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressing his knee down on the neck of George Floyd. We did run the image -- but cropped from the bottom so as not to show Floyd himself as he was dying.

Photo usage is part of our constant ethical tug-of-war between presenting the news and treating people with dignity.

0 Comments
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.