Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Do Graphic News Photographs Convey Too Much of the Truth?

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Do Graphic News Photographs Convey Too Much of the Truth?

Article excerpt

Byline: Mike Clark, Times-Union Reader Advocate

Sometimes journalists are given the duty of tossing the world's problems in our face.

When is the hard truth a bit much? Or, to paraphrase a movie, A Few Good Men, can we handle the truth?

There is no better example than graphic news photos.

As an exercise, both journalists and readers were asked how they felt about photos of tsunami victims, American soldiers and violent images from the war in Iraq.

Opinions were collected by the National Credibility Roundtables Project of the Associated Press Managing Editors group. More than 2,400 readers and 400 journalists took part. The Times-Union's E-Mail Interactive Group participated. A total of 237 of our 1,200 readers completed the survey.

The study was not a scientific sample, so we can't say everyone would feel the same way. The biggest gap related to a photo of flag-draped caskets from the war in Iraq. A total of 92 percent of journalists and 66 percent of readers approved of it for the front page.

As described by Ryan Pitts of the Spokane (Wash.) Spokesman-Review, who wrote a news story for the project, readers generally were more reluctant to use graphic images on the front page than journalists. Readers were more likely to move the images inside the newspaper or on a Web site. Readers often are concerned about children.

"Readers and journalists alike struggled to balance compassion and family privacy with a broader need for information," Pitts wrote. "They saw value in unflinching descriptions of wartime brutality, but no one wanted to become a tool for terrorist propaganda.

"Many journalists invoked the so-called 'cereal test,' newsroom slang for a simple question: Would I want my family to see this photo at the breakfast table tomorrow morning? This concept was especially important in determining whether pictures belonged on the front page, where readers may not have a choice about seeing them."

For instance, readers were shown a photo of a grieving mother surrounded by about a dozen children who had been killed in the tsunami. …

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