New York Times publishes photo of (a different) man about to die

The New York Times
Brandon Woodard walks down West 58th Street, his attention on his phone. A man in khakis and a hooded coat approaches. In a moment, he will shoot Woodard in the head.

The photo of this ghastly tableau runs in Wednesday’s New York Times, courtesy the New York Police Department, which is attempting to gather information on the suspect. It’s taken from security video, and the Times and other outlets have published video of the murder suspect getting out of his Lincoln and walking around the scene ominously.

So what’s different between this scene of a man in his last seconds of life and the picture of Ki-Suck Han that ran on the cover of the New York Post last week under the headline: “DOOMED: Pushed on the subway track, this man is about to die”?

“In the street photo we are seeing a crime unfold,” Poynter’s Kelly McBride writes in an email. “In the subway photo, we are seeing a futile moment of struggle.” As opposed to the photo of Han, McBride writes, “There is journalistic value in the street photo for two reasons: a) publishing it makes it likely to catch a guy who carried out a premeditated murder. b) We can document and share the documentation of a cold-blooded murder.”

Society can’t function if people can get away with premeditated murder. So unlike the problem of mentally unstable people posing a public safety threat, murder is a much more serious problem for a civil society. (of course now we need the context, to really make sense of it as a society.)

Poynter’s Kenny Irby agrees: “The surveillance video eliminates the first journalistic question of do you document at the individual level given that the process is automated,” he writes, “leaving the larger journalistic questions of what is the news value and how do you minimize harm to be determined by the organization.”

After Poynter published this piece, the Times’ City Room blog took on the same question. The comments are interesting. Some readers replied on Twitter:

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  • http://twitter.com/GyllenBabble GyllenBabble

    The clear difference is that the man in the NYT photo has no idea what’s about to happen. The Post photo is of a man knowing he’s about to meet a horrific fate. So we’re made to be voyeurs of that painful, horrific moment.

  • http://www.facebook.com/frank.hammon.5 Frank Hammon

    In the case of the Times I disagree in that the photo could have been cropped to focus on the suspect and not both, he and his victim.