The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


December 6, 2007

Graphic photos should show context

Media around the world grapple with decisions about when to publish graphic images. These include the aftermath of terrorist attacks and images of war.

Photos have power that words cannot match. Decisions about publishing disturbing photos are never taken lightly. Shock value alone does not justify publication.

Wednesday, The Daily Item published a photograph of a police officer shooting one of two cows that had escaped from a trailer. The animals wandered around for 90 minutes after their escape. They resisted several attempts to be captured. One was corralled but escaped by trampling over a man. Police and the owner decided the animals must be killed to prevent them from injuring someone or running into traffic on Route 11. Waiting for a tranquilizer was ruled out as an option.

In the larger context of world events, the decision to publish the photo would not seem controversial. The incident happened and it was extraordinary. It was news.

But some readers have little tolerance for images depicting harm to people and animals.

Some think the animals should not have been killed. Some think the newspaper should not have published a photo of the event.

The newspaper's decision to print the photo should help readers decide whether they think police acted appropriately. It provides context.

The police chief told a reporter the decision was "the last resort."

The job of the press is not just to regurgitate the statements of officialdom. It is to inform readers and allow them to reach their own conclusions. Some wonder whether the police used all available means before euthanizing the animals. The debate is aided by the images more effectively than a story alone.

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