LA Times editor explains home page treatment of Afghan corpse photo

Print and online readers of the Los Angeles Times saw slightly different treatments Wednesday of a graphic image of a soldier posing with an Afghan corpse. In print, the dominant photo was of the space shuttle Discovery arriving in Washington, D.C., not of the soldier and the corpse, which ran on the lower-left just above the fold. Online, the corpse photo was the dominant homepage image above the fold.

Jimmy Orr, the Los Angeles Times managing editor for online, said the difference reflected limited space online and the longer shelf-life in print for a story like the space shuttle.

"We have one spot for a prominent photo on the website, whereas there is more space in print. So, online, we pick the photo that goes along with the top story," he told me via email. "Online, the space shuttle story was long gone. But it had some staying power in print. So we could do both."

There are other options on the Web. The Times could have led the home page with another image and published the graphic one on the article page, where the reader would have had the context of the full story. (The photo also appeared on the article page, along with another image.)

Or the Times could have overlaid a warning on the photo so that readers had the option of clicking to view the photo. In 2010, for instance, NPR decided to include a warning on an audio slide show that included disturbing images from Haiti.

On the other hand, home pages are becoming less of an entry point as people follow links to stories on social media. Those readers may not realize what they're about to see when they click on that link, either. Will we start to discuss whether news sites should let readers opt-in on article pages, too?

Michael Shaw at BagNews noted something the LA Times did to minimize the proliferation of the other photo, which shows soldiers posing with the dismembered legs of a suicide bomber:

Notice also how the photo caption was made a part of the jpeg discouraging anyone from publishing the photo at a larger scale because the text will distort.

Related: South African media defend use of screen shots, audio from video of teenager being gang-raped (News24) | The Week has wrapped up some of the reaction to the photos || Earlier: LA Times publishes graphic front page photo of US soldiers with Afghan corpseLA Times delayed publication of Afghan corpse photos at Pentagon’s requestWhy the Tulsa World published graphic front-page image of shooting suspect

  • Steve Myers

    Steve Myers was the managing editor of until August 2012, when he became the deputy managing editor and senior staff writer for The Lens, a nonprofit investigative news site in New Orleans.


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