The choice to publish the graphic photos of last Wednesday’s accident near Timmerman Hill leaves me wondering whether the Idaho Mountain Express subscribes to the ethics outlined by the Society of Professional Journalists. In regard to minimizing harm, they state: “Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect.
- Be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief.
- Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.”
The front-page, full-color photo in Friday’s paper with a victim clearly visible is harmful and smacks of sensationalism.
Editor’s note: Including the two printed here, we received five letters objecting to our Page 1 photograph in the Oct. 29 edition of a car accident at Timmerman Junction.
Our response: We are familiar with those lines in the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics. In fact, they are among nearly 40 guidelines in the code divided into four categories, the first of which is to “Seek truth and report it.” Pursuing that goal, while also adhering to the code, sets up challenges for newspaper editors and reporters across the country every day—challenges they readily accept as part of doing the work they do.
The photo in question is a wide-angle shot of the accident scene taken from about 30 feet away. It gives a broad perspective of the scene and shows the response of emergency personnel, including three responders helping an injured driver who is partially visible in the background.
The objections, essentially, are that the photograph is too graphic. Generally, debates about whether the news media has shown poor taste in publishing photos of tragedy arise over photos that graphically display an injury or wound, show a person who is deceased, or show an excessively violent act. This photo does none of those things.
In selecting the photo, numerous others that were more graphic—taken from closer range—were immediately dropped to the cutting-room floor. In choosing to publish the wide-angle shot of the accident scene, the Express was seeking to give readers a full spectrum of information about yet another in a long list of serious accidents at Timmerman Junction.
The Express—in seeking to report the truth—has closely covered how dangerous the Timmerman intersection can be for motorists. In reaction to the Oct. 29 report, several readers told us they think both photos printed were appropriate and informative. The photos provided context and gave rise to new concern about why so many serious accidents happen at that site, they said.
If the Express does not aggressively report on the ongoing tragedies that occur at Timmerman, the community—and the state—might not understand the problem for what it really is. The reporting we have done on this important matter of public safety is exposure of an issue, not “pandering to lurid curiosity.”
Our thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Cappel and his family, wishing him a prompt and complete recovery.