Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A picture is worth a thousand words, but are all pictures worth publishing?

Crime Victim Advocacy Center staff members are teaching 60 continuing education sessions for the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. Besides teaching the officers how to communicate with victims of trauma and grief, we (hopefully) teach them some ways to deal with their own trauma- the trauma that comes from seeing what they see and hearing what they hear on a daily basis. It’s the proverbial “put on your oxygen mask before trying to help the child next to you” approach to mental health. If you’re burnt out, it’s only going to make your job harder. One of the coping mechanisms we offer is to avoid traumatic material like books, movies, or news after you’ve had a particularly bad day, week, or month. The same suggestion holds true for other trauma workers, including the staff at CVAC. 

I am not ashamed to admit that I have been feeling a little “toasty” around the edges. Not burnt out, but definitely moving in that direction. With the police training still fresh in my mind, I took great pains to avoid the coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing. I knew there were graphic images out there. A coworker said she had seen a picture of someone who had lost a limb and all other sorts of injuries. That was the type of traumatic material I knew I should avoid. Practice what you preach.

Then, in the midst of my Facebook newsfeed this morning, among a host of messages supporting the victims of the bombing, I saw a picture of a man in a wheelchair with a tourniquet around his thigh. The photo also showed rest of his amputated limb including the exposed bone and shredded muscle. My first thought was to immediately unfriend the person who posted it, which I did. My second thought was to question why someone would post that on Facebook. Then, a bigger issue came to mind. Why is that image out there to be posted on Facebook?

It did not look like a photo taken on a smartphone. It looked like a professional photograph. With a quick Google search, I found it on a number of reputable news sources. Many of the websites had cropped the image to avoid showing the gory remnants of the victim’s limb, but others had not. One website blurred the man’s face for his privacy, but still showed the rest of the graphic image. The same online photo galleries where I found the original shot showed victims lying in the midst of a blood-splattered sidewalk just minutes after the bombing occurred and other blood-spattered, screaming victims on gurneys.

I understand that when there is a tragedy like the bombing yesterday, people crave information. News sources want to get out as much content as possible, especially if the public's safety might be in jeopardy. I understand that a picture is worth a thousand words. I also understand that each bloody person you see in a news photo is a victim who has family and friends that will likely see those pictures. Those images may have reached them before word from their loved one. Those images may be the last ones that some families have of their children or brothers or sisters. Not to mention the toll that those graphic images take on the general public.

I do not want to regulate the press. The free press is one of the cornerstones of our free speech. Free speech, however, does not mean printing or distributing everything that crosses a news desk. I would ask the press to be more thoughtful in what they are posting. When something is on the internet, it is there forever regardless of whether it is later removed from a website or censored by some sources. Those images are permanent. Decisions like whether to post graphic material have permanent consequences for the people who have already been victimized or those who are simply bystanders to the tragedy. Those consequences may not be seen by the media, but they will doubtless be felt by those who have already been put through so much pain.

Comments by Jessica Meyers, Director of Advocacy Services

No comments:

Post a Comment