Bleeding the Black ink

A thousands words -- Telling a story about pictures

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Ever since newspapers have been able to print pictures, there has been an ongoing debate on what and when to print.

The more graphic the picture, obviously, the more heated the debate. And now, with the advent of electronic media that can "doctor" images, the ethics of what gets shown and why has become even more important to publications.

Any publication worth the paper its printed on will carefully consider graphic photographs of accidents, shootings and other photographs that could possibly offend its readers.

The Detroit Free Press, for example, had a situation in which two days after a 7-month-old baby girl, Miracle Jackson, was reported missing, her father led police to a vacant lot where her body was found wrapped in a plastic bag.

Photographers for the paper took a series of images including an employee of the medical examiner's office carrying the baby's body in what looks to be a white trash bag.

The editors and management of the paper, rightly so, had meeting after meeting, under deadline, to decide with which image they should run.

In the end, the Detroit Free Press ran the disturbing photo of the medical examiner's

employee with the white trash bag on its front page.

As could be expected, the paper was inundated with telephone calls, emails and letters of readers who were offended that the paper printed the picture.

It was a bold move and the editors expected to catch some flack for it.

What follows is a clip from a letter to the editor received by the Free Press:

An appalling photo choice

My God, how disgusting can the Free Press get? I cannot believe that you would display a picture of a dead baby in a plastic bag on the front of the paper and on your Web site ("Lost baby found dead in vacant lot," Sept. 15, 2000).

I can't describe my outrage at this disgusting lack of ethics and the insensitivity to the grieving family.

Other readers, however, seemed to understand what the newspaper was trying to do:

Disturbing reflection

The picture of Miracle Jackson's body in a plastic bag after its discovery reflects perfectly the disrespect that the state, through its Legislature and its Family Independence Agency, has shown for this child's life and the lives of others like her. It is indeed your job to "rub the blood" of such tragedies in our faces, as one of your readers stated. How else are we to be made aware of the depth of such horrific treatment of a child?

In the end, the executive editor wrote his own explanation of the situation:

It's unfortunate that some readers were offended by the picture. Still, it is important to remind everyone that our entire community should be offended by the death of Miracle Jackson.

Closer to home, the Steamboat Pilot & Today ran a photo showing a large number of deer that had been killed when chronic wasting disease was discovered on the Western Slope. The image was incredible. It was gory. It told a story.

And some readers did not believe it should have been used.

A publication must never take the use of controversial, graphic images lightly.

But at the same time it is obligated to its readers to report stories that are not always pleasant and photographs are another way it can tell those stories.

Newspapers shouldn't be sensational for the sake of being sensational, which, unfortunately, is sometimes the case.

But to back away from using an image simply because some might find it offensive is not the answer either.

While the Craig Daily Press has not been presented with the situation in recent history, readers can be sure that we will not approach potentially offensive images casually.

"Bleeding the Black Ink" is a weekly column that aims at getting readers better acquainted with the Craig Daily Press. Do you have a question or an issue for an upcoming column? Call Terrance Vestal at 824-7031 or email him at tvestal@craigdailypress.com.

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