Leave Feedback

Enduring questions

Matt Westerhold • Dec 2, 2013 at 5:30 AM

Where is the line drawn?

Should news organizations report an elderly couple was killed after getting rear-ended by a 24-year-old man driving a new $60,000 car at 125 mph on the Ohio Turnpike, but not mention the minivan they were in became engulfed in flames and they were unable to escape from it?

There's another way to state how they died; a more sensational way to relate the facts of what occurred on the Ohio Turnpike just west of Fremont on Thanksgiving just past 7 p.m. But choices must be made, and a moment after reading “unable to escape from it,” readers have the horrible reality of how that couple died at the hands of a speeding motorist.

News reporters and editors don't have to sensationalize the news. The news is sensational by its very occurring. The Turnpike accident. The fiery crash photo from another traffic fatality on Friday in Danbury Township. The death of a mother and child in a house fire Nov. 24.

Should news reporters and editors skip the gory details and spare readers and the families of people who die tragic deaths? In recent weeks, our community has had more than its share of tragic, quick death.

Collectively, however, journalists do spare readers and families every day. In some community, somewhere, someone will die today a horrible death and a news reporter will gather as much detail about how and why it happened, and with their editors they will decide how much of that information they can give readers.

It is an enduring question.

More than the printed word, death photos move readers. The execution in Saigon of a Vietcong prisoner. The infamous series of images that became known as the “Boston Photographs.” Those images published in newspapers all over the world depicted the failed rescue of a woman and child trapped in a burning tenement house.

Firefighters were just moments from rescuing the woman and child when the fire escape on the burning building where they were standing collapsed and she fell to her death. The child fell on top of her body and survived.

The photographer continued to snap photos as the tragedy unfolded and captured the moments just before her terrifying fall. He looked away, however, at the moment of death, unable to look at what was happening right before his eyes.

The late Nora Ephron, journalist, author and film director, defended the decisions newspaper editors made to publish those photographs despite the outpouring from readers that it was wrong. Dead wrong.

“Death happens to be one of life's main events,” Ephron wrote in an essay first published in 1978.

“It may be that the real lesson of the 'Boston photographs is not in the danger that editors will be forgetful of reader reaction, but that they will continue to censor pictures of death precisely because of that reaction,” Ephron wrote.

Everybody seems to have an opinion about what a newspaper should, and should not cover.

Some readers prefer community stories about the positive things people do in our community, highlighting good deeds. Without any doubt, community newspapers should cover those stories and should give them prominent display on the front pages. The Register does that every day, in abundance.

But the harsh realities of life are equally important.

Recommended for You