A Line in the Sand: Shocking images not needed in Boston coverage

WE woke to a shocking and unfathomable tragedy yesterday morning – a bombing at the Boston marathon. 

A little boy died waiting to watch his dad cross the finish line. He was eight years old and very much still his parents’ baby. His mother and sister were also badly hurt. 

At least two others are dead and 144 injured, many of whom have lost limbs. 

Just as the images of September 11, 2001, shocked the world, so too did the images yesterday. 

The scenes of bloodied bodies, severed limbs and bloodstained footpaths were real and confronting – and we were watching them as they unfolded because news teams were already on scene to film the marathon. 

But while it would be hypocritical for a newspaper journalist to advocate for censorship of such events, and indeed wrong – some of the images released yesterday were too real. 

They were too distressing – and there was no warning.

Several responsible media outlets put disclaimers before their online photo galleries, alerting the audience to the shocking images that followed.

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But several did not. One major news website featured an image that looked like a war zone on its front page for most of the day. It was the first thing you saw when you clicked on the page. No warning. No disclaimer. Just nauseating shock – and it stayed there for hours.

Did we not learn anything about exposure to traumatic images after 9/11?

Various studies after September 11 found repeated exposure to traumatic images was harmful to a person’s health. 

The American UC Irvine Study found the lingering effects of collective traumas such as natural disasters, mass shootings and terrorist attacks may have long lasting mental and physical health consequences.

The findings offered persuasive evidence that media coverage of traumatic events needs to be respectful and responsible at all times.

This newspaper goes to great lengths not to publish photographs we believe will offend or upset our readers.

Some of the stories we cover are unpleasant – therefore many images are taken of scenes that should never make for public viewing.

We value the role we play in bringing you the news, without causing distress or further pain.

It’s not about breaking news at whatever cost. 

There is a fine line between what is in the public interest and what is of interest to the public. 

Sure, there will be those who love to pore over every hideous, bloodied image – but our responsibility is to protect those who could be traumatised by such distressing vision.

Yesterday, several media outlets took that responsibility for granted.

We hope we never do that – and that you will tell us if we do.

Nicole Ferrie is the Bendigo Advertiser’s deputy editor. Email nicole.ferrie@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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