Everyone is connected to friends, family, entertainment, and news through tweets, wall posts, downloads, and sharing. With so much information available for immediate consumption, it takes a little more spice for journalists to grab their audience’s attention. For journalists, covering a story is more than writing an informative piece, it is finding a way to hook a reader.
The use of graphic and shocking images along with a story is one way that journalists attempt to get their message across the cluttered information highway. Although this practice may be effective, you have to ask… how graphic is too graphic? In some cases, powerful images or video can often be helpful in covering an important issue. In the photo featured on the left, the photographer captured the despair of a mother that was experiencing the difficulty of providing for her family during the Great Depression. The photograph eventually became a symbol of the struggle and devastation for the average American living during tough economic times. In another example of images being used to raise awareness, CBS News recently shot a video that shows how wildlife is suffering from the BP oil spill.
Other times, deciding to publish a graphic image in a newspaper or television broadcast may offend more than it informs. The book Media Ethics: Issues and Cases goes into depth about the ethical decision- making processes that should guide a journalist in deciding whether the impact of the image, and the message it carries, is greater than the possibility of offending readers. In the photo featured on the right, the photographer was faced with the ethical dilemma of taking the photo during the Kent State protests, or stop and help the vicitim. Photojournalists are supposed to capture moments like these, but are they invading the privacy of victims by publishing the photo?
Visual journalism and ethics expert Kenneth Irby advises journalists to ask themselves a three-part question before deciding to publish controversial images.
In his blog, Poynter Institute group leader, Al Tompkins, suggests that “newsrooms take a few minutes to scroll through these images and talk about how they would decide to use or not use each one.”
Photographs and videos have the ability to evoke strong emotions in viewers. If used correctly, they can help gain support for an issue. On the other hand, graphic images can be seen as rude and offensive if the audience feels that the journalist is exposing them to unnecessary violence or shock.
Should journalists risk shocking or offending their readers by publishing a graphic image if it means readers are gaining a deeper understanding of a story?