How news websites handled graphic images of Empire State Building shooting

When today’s deadly shooting occurred in the heart of Manhattan, thousands of witnesses were nearby and many used cameras to quickly document the scene. Some of the images posted to Twitter, Instagram and Flickr included graphic photos of the shooting victims.

News organizations scrambled to curate these images, and then had to make difficult decisions about how to verify and handle them. Should they run them prominently on the home page or submerge them in an article? Link to them instead? And how to warn readers?

Reuters and the New York Daily News both showed bodies on their homepage. The New York Times initially had a very subdued homepage, then made a bolder choice with blood flowing (see both below).

Different readers had different opinions about what was appropriate. Poynter’s Kenny Irby thought the New York Daily News and The New York Times handled things fine.

“The New York Times photo, while it is incredibly compelling and disturbing, what makes it graphic is the blood, the color,” Irby said by phone, “but blood is an inextricable part of a mortal wound.”

Irby also felt that the news organizations balanced their responsibilities well. Both The New York Times and Daily News images, he said, “are very sensitive to identification.” The pixelization and the vantage points of the photos conceal who the people are.

“I give them points for minimizing harm at this time of a great need of maximizing truth-telling.”

The photos are “both very compelling and powerful photographs, but in the society that we live in, they are not graphic. They are not graphic to the point of being overly disturbing. They are compelling, but not gruesome. I don’t see body parts and brain matter and those kinds of things which would move toward gore.”

Some people found the Times’ photo more disturbing. “It is an extremely graphic image and we understand why many people found it jarring,” Times spokesperson Eileen Murphy told Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon in an email. “Our editorial judgment is that it is a newsworthy photograph that shows the result and impact of a public act of violence.”

Here are questions to consider before publishing these images, drawn from Al Tompkins’ suggestions for handling graphic photos of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.

  • What is the real journalistic value of the photographs? What do they prove and why are they news? Do they dispel or affirm information the public had prior to seeing the images?
  • What is the tone and degree of the usage? Television should, for example, avoid the repeated and extended use of these images and be thoughtful about how they are used in headlines, over the shoulder graphics and teases, especially in afternoon or primetime television programming.
  • How will you warn the audience? How will you explain your decisions the public?

OUR WARNING: Some of the news website images below contain graphic images of dead bodies. We include them to illustrate different choices about how to treat these images.

Here is how some of the major national and New York media handled it.

Reuters ran a somewhat grainy photo of a body on its home page. In the Reuters live blog, Deputy Social Media Editor Matthew Keys tweeted, he went “to great lengths to not include perceived ‘graphic’ images.”
The Daily News went with large home page photos of bodies, but pixelated their faces. Other publications used the same photo on the right without pixelating the face.
Initially, the New York Times showed a relatively innocuous image from the scene.
Not too much later, The New York Times home page featured this image of blood and a body. Reaction to that choice was divided.
The New York Post showed a cloth-draped body on its home page, but on the article page had large graphic photos of victims’ bodies and raw cell-phone video of bodies lying on a sidewalk. and The Wall Street Journal both ran a Getty Images photo of a partially visible cloth-draped body on their home pages, and no graphic images on the story pages.

Digital First curated the shooting news with Storify and chose to link to “an album of 24 photos showing a man lying on the sidewalk” and the New York Post’s “graphic video,” but did not include those images directly.

CNN, Bloomberg and The New York Times did not run any graphic photos that we saw when capturing these screenshots.

Here are the home pages of other New York media covering the news:

Julie Moos contributed to this report.

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  • Erika White

    In a situation such as this, the photographer must take not
    only the dead, but the family into consideration while also managing to portray
    their story. The Daily News, Reuters, and the second addition of The New York
    Times, seemed to have forgotten this silent rule. In my own opinion, seeing a
    body covered, like the photos that The Wall Street Journal and published
    had far more civility than that of the three newspapers previously mentioned.
    What surprised me the most was The New York Times approach to this event. I
    felt as though the first photograph published had the ability to draw its
    audience in while also keeping to the code. However the second photograph,
    although gripping, was not appropriate because the identity of the victim could
    be easily given away.

  • Michael O’Connell

    This was a fascinating story to watch unfold on Twitter. The curtain was pulled back on the journalistic process, exposing its many strengths and weaknesses. A lot of incorrect information was being reported and repeated as events unfolded and reporters sought out confirmation of the real facts behind the story. There was this rush, by both digital journalists and witnesses, to post and repeat content quickly.

    Covering a breaking story like this can be hectic and, in the past, when it was only professional journalists controlling the pace and focus of a story a lot of the issues/choices that are now being debated would have been weighed against with the luxury of time — time to write something for broadcast or print, time for an editor to consider the implications of showing a graphic photo. But we no longer have that luxury. We no longer have that control.

    Certainly, we can still write our well thought-out, fact-checked story for the web, print or broadcast, but in the instant of an event, it’s just the judgment of the journalist (professional or citizen) who matters.

  • Jack D. Mones

    POLICE SHOT bystanders

  • Jack D. Mones

    POLICE SHOT bystanders

  • Nathan Marsh

    John P, what’s stupid is this is allowed yet if you had page 3 girls showing their boobs they’d be outrage. Totally screwed up.

  • John McEvoy

    News reporting has been forever changed with the advent of
    “citizen journalism.” Professionally educated and trained
    photojournalists with ethical standards are being challenged to get a better
    shot of events than those sometimes less ethical citizens with cell phones.
    Several images of the Empire State Building shooting that were posted on news
    sites were from cell phones, including some dead body shots. Where do we draw
    the line when it moves with every situation? Do we not post an image out of
    respect for the families involved while knowing that others will post images to
    social media sites without reservation? As always, every individual situation
    involves delicate and difficult decisions made by trained professional
    journalists who have to weigh the consequences of do or don’t. As with many
    decisions in life, we often only find out if it was the right decision after
    the fact. John McEvoy

  • John P

    I have launched a campaign to ban such photos on the belief that children should not view these horrific acts and the outcomes of them. I also filed a law suit against the Daily News and other papers for these acts. If you want to show your support and believe this is just a way for certain news outlets to sell more news paper please contact me at All support and donations are welcome to fight against such irresponsible journalistic reporting.

  • hawk222 wolf

    Really all the intelligent people will be coming out talking about there opion on the matter, matter of fact you can only kick that donkey only so much and he will kick back sooner or later.I seen the way New York people are they have no soul .

  • hawk222 wolf

    New yorkers can mighty nasty I guest this could happen when you treat peple like shit.

  • Poynter

    Thanks for the comment, Matthew. I’ve changed the headline to make it clear that this story deals almost exclusively with how the images were handled on news websites (homepages and article pages). We included reaction from The New York Times in this story, though it came later in the day, perhaps after you read it, and we also published a separate story about that photo and those decisions: Thanks again, Julie Moos, Director of Poynter Online

  • Anonymous

    What ?? You’ve never seen a dead body before ????

  • Matthew Keys

    Homepages is a very low metric on how the media “handled” today’s shooting and the associated graphic images. There were journalists from various news organizations — not just the ones whose homepages are splashed above — linking to graphic content (usually with warnings). This was conveniently left out of the story as the author wanted to focus exclusively on homepages, it seems, and not how the images were handled on television, on Twitter or on Facebook. In other words, we’re judging a publisher by the cover on a book.

    What’s also missing is reaction from the publishers who made the decision to post, and not to post, the graphic images, and the journalists who tweeted, and didn’t tweet, links to them, and the editors who published, and didn’t publish, the images on other social media sites. Where are their reactions? Was there even an attempt made to reach out to those news organizations? Whether there was or not, this article doesn’t say.

    The bare minimum was done here have a “discussion” around the decisions of other newsrooms — journalism punditry at its finest.

  • Laura Tate

    The New York Daily News, New York Times and Reuters did not need to show such graphic images. It’s disrespectful to the dead and their families. Just because “blood is an inextricable part of a mortal wound,” as Poynter’s Kenny Irby puts it, does not need to be splashed on a front page. The Daily Post and The Wall Street Journal did a better job of showing the impact of what happened, without crossing the lines of respectability…