Another photo, different circumstances

Yesterday I talked about the power of a photo.

I was struck at the marvelous expression on the face of a student taking part in the Science Olympiad out at Neumann University captured by our photographer Rick Kauffman.

I love being able to display that kind of image.

But there are others that keep me up at night.

Let me try to explain.

We almost always try to have photos accompany our stories. It makes for a much better presentation. It also creates some problems. Yesterday we were covering the horrific home invasion involving a Chester County woman who was attacked, beaten, bound with duct tape and zip ties, then stuffed in a storage room inside her rural home. The 72-year-old woman, who lived alone, stayed there four days, until worried relatives came looking for her and found her still imprisoned in the room. She was malnourished and dehydrated, but is expected to recover. We first heard of the story earlier in the week. I dispatched a photographer to get a street sign from the neighborhood to use with the story.

That's what he got. But he also got something else. He got a great shot of the house where the incident occurred.

I didn't use it. Let me try to explain why.

I know many people won't believe it, but I try to put myself in the victim's place when we deal with these kinds of stories. Bottom line, in general I don't like to use photos that clearly identify a house where an incident like this took place. That does not mean we never do. Sometimes, such as murder scene, we do.

But in this instance the elderly woman survived, and no doubt will have to testify against her suspected attacker. She lived alone. This was a very distinctive house, in a remote area. Running the photo would have easily identified the woman, something I didn't really want to do.

The house was being splashed all over the local TV stations. It was on their websites. I still refrained from using it. I thought about how I would feel if this were my mother.

There is the argument that everybody in the neighborhood already knows what happened, where and to whom. I would ask them if they've ever received a phone call from angry relatives wondering about how we covered such stories.

There also is the matter of newsprint. It's different when you catch a fleeting glimpse of a house on TV. But a newspaper is forever. It is going to sit on people's coffee tables, and that house would be unmistakable.

Sometimes we ask victims and their families if they want to go public with their stories. We didn't have that option in this case. So I decided not to use it.

I did the same yesterday when they arrested a teen in the incident.

There is nothing that prevented me from running the photo. Just like technically there is nothing that prevents us from identifying the suspect, a juvenile. The tradition, which we continue to honor, is that we don't. If the juvenile's case is moved to adult court, as the district attorney wants, that may change.

I just decided against it.

Instead we used a photo provided by the district attorney that showed the doorway into the dank room where the victim was so casually tossed by this young thug.

I know there are likely people - including some in this business - who will believe I made the wrong decision.

So you want to be a newspaper editor? Here's your chance. What would you have done?


Anonymous said…
In today's society where we seem to have forgotten what privacy means, I applaud your thoughtfulness in the manner you reported this.
DF Leo
Joyce Ellis said…
You made the right call Phil - I think you usually do. I am sorry that I can't get the DT on line - I miss the news, but can;t stand the papers that pile up.