New York Times explains graphic photo from Empire State Building shooting

The New York Times explains the graphic photo (shown below) on its home page that illustrates coverage of Friday’s deadly shooting at the Empire State Building.

“It is an extremely graphic image and we understand why many people found it jarring,” Times spokesperson Eileen Murphy told me 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.”

My Poynter colleague Kenny Irby said he had no problem with photos that conceal victims’ identities through pixelization, vantage points, etc. “The New York Times photo, while it is incredibly compelling and disturbing, what makes it graphic is the blood, the color … but blood is an inextricable part of a mortal wound,” Irby said.

“On the Media”‘s Bernie Bernstein tracked down the photographer, who works in the same building as the victim and the shooter. About 10 minutes after the shooting, Sam Gewirtz said, he opened the window, “stretched his arm out, iPhone 4s in hand, and took one shot. The photo that appeared on the Times’ front page was taken without an eye behind the viewfinder.”

Gewirtz told Bernstein that he thinks the photo “was too gory.”

People on social media expressed plenty of opinions about the decision, as people on social media are prone to do.

A couple years ago I edited a piece by Ryan Kearney about Gawker’s decision to run a graphic photo of a murder victim. He spoke with John Long, the chairman of the National Press Photographers Association’s ethics committee, who told him journalists should ask, “Does the public need this information in order to make informed choices for society? This would be the driving force behind running sensational photos — not profit, not titillation.”

He notes certain photos that, despite being graphic, met that requirement: the dead American soldier dragged through the streets of Mogadishu; the naked girl fleeing a napalm bomb during the Vietnam War; the execution of a Viet Cong captain during the same war.

In the photo The Times ran — which, as of this writing, is still one of the images you can see by clicking through the photos on the homepage — the victim’s hard to identify, and the awful, vivid rivulets of blood running from the person’s shoulders toward the street speak volumes about the effects of gun violence. I think it’d pass Long’s test.

Poynter’s Al Tompkins also suggests questions to consider before publishing graphic images, including “How will you warn the audience? How will you explain your decisions the public?”

Journalists being journalists, one Times employee found some dark humor in the situation, referring to the paper’s incoming ombudsman.

Correction: In the original version of this post, we said the photographer’s name was Sam Gerwitz, which is how it appeared in the “On the Media” story and how it appears in this LinkedIn profile. However, Times photo editor Steve Berman phoned Friday night to say the photographer — whom The Times originally credited as Sam Gewitz — is named Sam Gewirtz. A phone call to Gewirtz’s employer, The Gina Group, confirmed the Gewirtz spelling. The Gina Group was unable to explain the LinkedIn page for Sam Gerwitz.

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  • Anonymous

    Basically, the NYTimes is using the family. Hey, that news organization has a higher purpose so they get to sacrifice people who can’t fight back. What an example of moral leadership. Geez.

  • Anonymous

    I understand, virtually everyone in the business, who doesn’t already having name and a cachet to protect them, can’t afford to criticize any of the larger media outlets, because they know that that will be the end of their career. The press, the corporate owned press, is a club, and if you want to belong to that club you’d better learn how to keep your mouth shut, or your membership will be revoked and you’ll be reduced to independent status, the peasants of the journalism world, and nobody wants to be a peasant.

  • Dragonrider

    I’d expect this from Rupert Murdoch, but from the Queen of American Journalism? Way-Way To Much!

  • Dragonrider

    I’d expect this from Rupert Murdoch, but from the Queen of American Journalism? Way-Way To Much!

  • Anonymous

    As a photographer I see the art in that photo, as a journalist I think the press has a duty to show the realities of life. Those who cover war and conflict around the world see so much that never gets published or conveyed to the public by the press, I definitely have a problem with hiding these realities in the name of good taste and not offending people. Violence and killing should be offensive to all of us, if it’s not it makes it too easy to accept without a second thought. As a human being I’m sick by this photo, there is no color that evokes a kind of disturbed repulsion in me like that red of fresh human blood. I know the smell of death as well, and there is nothing more offputting, nothing which evokes a more primordial repugnance in the human brain. Perhaps if the newspapers could capture that awful scent and incorporate it into a kind of scratch and sniff they could sell more papers, maybe even revitalize the business, but I doubt it. (Please excuse my cynicism)

  • Sammie Edwards

    If offended: do you think that the NY Times owes you (of all people) protection from reality? Why would you even want that? How could you tolerate that?

  • Barb Adams

    If you find the photo “offensive” then what do you find the gunman’s crime to be? You’re directing your anger at the messenger! Be angry that we live in a society where gun violence in common and almost accepted now. The photos are simply a mirror of the society we live in. Don’t like that image? Then change it!

  • mort sheinman

    Interesting to note that the pic on the front page of the online version of The Times was in color, but in the print edition, it ran on an inside page — and in black and white, thus losing much of its impact.

  • Anonymous

    Give me a break, do you really think that the public needs to see a bloody picture to know “the result and impact of a public act of violence.” This is merely an excuse to run a bloody and dramatic photo.

  • citizenkane

    Have to agree with Twitterer Chris Sacca. That photo makes a necessary and defensible statement about mindless gun violence and its enablers. The 1970 photo of Mary Ann Vecchio lamenting over the corpse of Jeffrey Miller, shot down by the National Guard at Kent State just after Nixon invaded Cambodia, was an iconic anti-war statement (albeit probably unconscious on the photog’s part at the moment) that accomplished the eminently worthy purpose of rousing public revulsion over the war. To this day, I can’t look at it without tearing over.

  • JH

    I’m offended by people who were offended. Give me a break. It’s about time the media stops sanitizing gun violence and instead shows the real, devastating effects.

  • Kohaku

    People are only upset about this because SEEING these things means that you have to ACKNOWLEDGE these things. This is no different than actually seeing images of starving, dying children in a third world country – or even in the USA. If we see it, it becomes more than a story. If it’s more than a story, we feel compelled to initiate some sort of change. That’s involves hard work and commitment, and many of us are apparently afraid of that.

  • Kohaku

    Oh wow. You don’t see this very much. Grow up people. This is reality. This is what happens in a society that frowns on sexual expression but feeds us fake violence on a daily basis. THIS is what death looks like. I don’t advocate for the loss of personal gun ownership, but I DO advocate for screening. I only wish that they had shown the photos of the nine innocent bystanders who were shot by the police, in all their ineptitude.

    If you are bothered by this but have no problem with horror films, video games, and prime time television, then you are living in a fantasy world and NEED to see this. There is nothing wrong with fake violence in the media, but when REAL violence upsets you then you need to take a look at your view of reality. What you play is just a game. What you watch is just a series of special effects and acting. But if you don’t ensure that your children grow up understanding the consequences of real actions, then your fantasy life puts us all in danger.

    This is death.

    Not so entertaining anymore, is it? Or maybe your feet are firmly rooted in the real world, and you understand that fantasy violence and real violence are two sides of the same coin, and neither imagery is more appropriate or inappropriate for public consumption.

  • Gina R. Moore

    Photo was gory, but realistic and not a close-up. Unfortunately we are more immuned to these types of photos because of what we see on television every day. It is also gory to see photos of starving children in Somalia. My journalism degree does not permit me to criticize the NYT’s right to show it.