Friday, March 12, 2004

It's a tabloid, for god's sake

I've never been known for my sensitivity, it's true. So it may come as no surprise that I sympathize with the New York Post's decision to run a front-page photo of a suicide plunge, a woman jumping from the roof of her boyfriend's apartment building.

To put it into perspective, read this letter to Romenesko from the paper's chief copy editor, Barry Gross. He says: "Sorry, folks. We are a tabloid." Think that's too callous? Read on.
Based on the arguments of all of the piously outraged, self-appointed moral compasses of good journalism, we might never have seen the classic 1968 photo and footage of South Vietnam's police chief blowing out the brains of a VC prisoner. The Zapruder footage of JFK's assassination? Too graphic. We must protect our audience.
I wouldn't put this photo on par with those shots. But I do think he has a valid point. (And no jokes about his last name being Gross.)

The event is news: It's the fourth recent suicide of an NYU student. The photo isn't gory. You can't see the woman's face.

To say that the paper is exploiting the tragedy is short-sighted. What do reporters' do when they knock on the house of the victims' parents? What do photographers do when they poke their cameras into grieving friends' faces? The line between news and exploitation is gray indeed.

Had I been the copy chief involved in this discussion, I can't say that I'd actively push for the photo to run. After years of hearing J-school ethics discussions and seeing namby-pamby newspaper decisions, I know better than to wholeheartedly espouse such a decision. But I can't despise a paper that does.


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