You Be the Editor

You be the editor.


For the last 24 hours, across the nation and across the world, people encountered gruesome photographic images from Fallujah, Iraq. Editors — across media platforms — had to decide which images to use, how to use them, where to play them, whether to use the images at all, to consider why they are being used, and whether or not to give readers and viewers an inside look at news judgment and ethical decision-making.


On the front page of The New York Times and the St. Petersburg Times, for example, viewers saw a version of this image, in which the charred and dismembered remains of American civilians are hung from a bridge, a group of Iraqis cheering in the foreground.




Today we want you to be the editor. Let’s build a conversation about news judgment and journalism values around these three sets of questions: whether to run that image, how to run it, and the consequences of running it.


Whether to run it


If you were the news editor, would you publish some version of this image?


How would the following changes in circumstances affect your decision:



  • Would you publish if the bodies were of American soldiers, rather than civilian workers?



  • If the charred bodies could be recognized as human forms, not just as parts of corpses?



  • If the bodies were not charred, but were visible as distinctive human beings?



  • If a face on one of the bodies was recognizable?



  • If the bodies were not of Americans, but of Iraqis?



  • If the bodies were not charred, but naked?



  • If the bodies were women or children, not men?


  • How to run it


    If you choose to run a version of this image, you have many alternatives to express news values and to minimize harm. Consider these questions:



  • Would you prefer an alternate image? (See some possibilities)



  • If you ran it on the front page, where on the front page?



  • Would you run it inside?



  • What size would you run the image?



  • Would you explain why you were running the image or why not?  In what form would you explain this?



  • Would you issue a warning about the graphic nature of the image?



  • Would you be tempted -– through cropping or digital manipulation –- to alter the image?


  • If you didn’t run this image, how would you convey the news?



  • How would your media platform influence your news judgment?  What are the differences, if any, if you were making these judgments for a daily newspaper, a news magazine, network television, cable television, a news website?


  • Consequences of your decision


    Any decision you make will have consequences, some of which you can predict, some of which are unforeseen. Which of the following would concern you and why:



  • That publication of the image might turn public opinion for or against the war in Iraq?



  • That publication would somehow affect the safety of other civilians or soldiers in Iraq?



  • That publication or broadcast might offend readers or viewers?



  • That it might upset children or the sensitive or impressionable?



  • That it might hurt your credibility?



  • That it might open you to charges of sensationalism?



  • That your competition might make a different decision?



  • That you might be accused of a political bias in your coverage?


  • [ In your response, please answer any of these questions you find interesting or helpful. ]

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