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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    Jeff Sonderman

    Jeff Sonderman is the deputy director of the American Press Institute, helping to lead its use of research, tools, events, and strategic insights to advance and sustain journalism.


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