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Would you run this picture?

Frozen man

Being an editor isn’t always easy.  Editors make dozens of decisions daily. Many of the choices they have to make aren’t black and white, but involve shades of grey. Today you are the editor. Would you run this picture? Would you run it on Page 1? Yes, that is a real dead body and real person’s legs sticking out of the ice.

Now that you’ve made a decision, read the story about this picture. Is your decision the same? Does the story change your mind? If the picture was in Detroit, would you run it on the front page of  The Detroit News? Would you run it in the Lincoln Journal Star?

Read the column written for an alternative weekly after the picture ran in The Detroit News.  What do you think of the columnist’s view? Post your well-considered answers to all of those questions in the comments section for your class. This assignment is due by the beginning of class on Thursday, Oct. 29.

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  1. Elizabeth Venrick
    October 27, 2009 at 9:34 pm

    No, I would not run this picture. I wouldn’t run it in the Detroit News and I wouldn’t run it in the Journal Star. Mainly because the man is dead and that man’s family probably will pick up a paper and to see his picture on the front page is absolutely horrific. But, also, I think the picture is not even that good. I understand it captures the “moment”, but it’s blurry and the ice (I think) in the foreground is hard to make out and to me, it doesn’t tell a story. By just looking at this picture, I have absolutely no idea what is going on, what’s happening. The picture should not be run.

  2. Elizabeth Venrick
    October 27, 2009 at 9:41 pm

    No, I would not run this picture. I wouldn’t run it in the Detroit News and I wouldn’t run it in the Journal Star. Mainly because the man is dead and that man’s family probably will pick up a paper and to see his picture on the front page is absolutely horrific. But, also, I think the picture is not even that good. I understand it captures the “moment”, but it’s blurry and the ice (I think) in the foreground is hard to make out and to me, it doesn’t tell a story. By just looking at this picture, I have absolutely no idea what is going on, what’s happening. The picture should not be run.

    In response to the columnist, he starts out having good points and I know where he is coming from – comparing himself with the man in the ice, however, I think it gets a little inappropriate and inconsiderate. The man died and was obviously living a hard life. The columnist really didn’t need to compare their lives. Also, the end of the column is just random and really doesn’t pertain to the man who died. I think it definitely could have been written in a completely different angle, with more sympathy and sensitivity.

  3. Rachael Ruybalid
    October 28, 2009 at 10:58 am

    I would definitely run this picture on the front page of the Detroit News. Homelessness seems to be a huge problem in Detroit and I think this picture really brings home that fact. It’s pretty sad when a man freezes to death in an elevator shaft and no one cares enough to get him out and find out who he is. You can say that there’s so many homeless people, that one dying is not a big deal. If that’s the case, then the city really needs to do get off its butt and find a solution.
    I really liked this quote from the alternative weekly: ” This is reality, people; time to wake up and smell your society rotting. We’ve been living, most of us, in a world that has allowed us to mostly insulate ourselves from reality.”
    Since Lincoln doesn’t have the huge problem with homelessness that Detroit has, I don’t think I would run the picture on the front page. I would run it inside with the story though.

  4. Andrew J. McClure
    October 28, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    This photograph is an incredibly disturbing image that conveys the struggle of a homeless person who attempted (and failed) to survive a brutal Detroit winter. While many first notice the gruesome nature of the picture, it is actually an excellent presentation of the problem of homelessness in Detroit. Using an image can say many things, and the attention that this picture gathered more than likely brought homelessness to the front burner for many people.
    The comparisons by the columnist are interesting, but seemingly irrelevant. His struggles and those of the homeless man are quite different.
    But the question of whether I would run the picture or not is a tough one. It is my believe that in a city like Detroit, which suffers from such a high rate of homelessness and murders, the lack of attention paid to this victim is something that certainly needs to be addressed. Because of this, I think it should be ran on the front page with a descriptive article of the situation. By doing so, the reporter and photographer may help prevent another situation like this one from arising.

  5. Bethany Trueblood
    October 28, 2009 at 4:28 pm

    At first I thought that I wouldn’t run the picture: it seemed too graphic to be in a newspaper, let alone on the front page. After reading the story, however, I realized that this picture is a perfect representation of the decay and neglect in the Detroit city area and depicts the plight of the homeless. The story describes how some trespassers saw the body but didn’t do anything about it because they didn’t want to get caught. Some homeless people were too concerned with their own lives to report the body. It’s sad that no one cared to do anything about it. In a way, the feet protruding out of the ice seem nonhuman, and the story that goes along with the picture exemplifies how other people have made the body even more nonhuman. That is a problem. This story does well to address that problem and it made me think about the value of that life trapped in the ice and how that value had been lost.

    I would run it in the Detroit news to bring attention to the problem of neglect and homelessness. I might run it in a smaller section in the Lincoln Journal Star since the story isn’t as relevant to Lincoln, but the problem in the story is one that would make all people think.

  6. Victoria Grdina
    October 28, 2009 at 11:30 pm

    When I first saw the picture, I thought I would absolutely not run it. I didn’t find it gory, but creepy. A big huge picture on the front page of a creepy dead body sticking out of ice is something that maybe I can handle, but that not everyone is going to want to see.

    However, after reading the stories accompanying it, I’m not sure.

    The story ties well with the picture…once the reader finishes at least half the article. When I saw that picture, I fully expected a story on what happened to that person, but instead the story turned out to be about homelessness. The startling photo ties in well with the startling truth about homelessness, and probably helped to raise an awareness. A lot of people who may have otherwise skipped the story probably picked it up and read it for the same reasons I wanted to. This is a clever tactic, but it is risky, and I’m just not sure how I feel about it. I almost feel as if the man’s death and this photo are being used inappropriately. I think the issue needs to be raised and covered for sure, but I’m not sure someone’s dead body is the right tool to use to hook people in. But then at the same time, I feel like if this man was homeless, and his homelessness was a contributing factor to his death, maybe his death is a great way to prove a point, and then maybe he didn’t die in vain.

    I also wasn’t crazy about the tone of the column. Obviously I understand LeDuff’s frustration and strong opinion, but running a picture of a dead body clearly isn’t such a black and white issue. Underneath his snarky attitude, he makes a great point: people need to stop worrying about creating a pleasing front page and have the guts to raise issues. When people are dying over an issue, should anyone really be whining about having to learn about it over their coffee?

    He raised a good enough point that made me think I might run it, despite my early apprehensions.

  7. Alissa
    October 29, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    Initially when I saw the photo I didn’t think it should be ran on the front page, or at all. It seemed offensive to the family and it made me feel uncomfortable knowing that there was a body frozen in ice. It seemed to me that society would gain no real benefit from seeing the photo.

    After reading the article and column, I realized why the Detroit News ran this photo. The photo depicted the severity of homelessness in Detroit. The photo encourages people and government to become proactive about the issue. The “decay of the city” needed to be addressed and this photo started the discussion. The image is not too gory or graphic which makes it even more justifiable.

    If Lincoln were having the same issues as Detroit, I would run a similar story about the homeless, but I probably wouldn’t run the Detroit story/picture in the Journal Star because of proximity.

    The columnist did a good job of bringing together the issue and shedding light on the bigger picture for Detroit. He made me feel more at ease about running the photo. He brought up unemployment issues, which often lead to homelessness. And with the state of the economy, this could be anyone’s situation.

  8. Chris Neary
    November 3, 2009 at 9:56 am

    Sue! I reviewed this exact same dilemma in my journalism ethics class last summer. I chose to run the photo because it is a powerful image, and it begs the reader to discover what’s going on there. It makes the reader ask: “what could have the city done to prevent such a freak accident?” Later knowing that it was taken of the slums in Detroit, it sends a powerful message to ANY reader (local or distant) that many of Detroit’s homeless are not finding the shelters to survive a bitter cold winter. Furthermore, it shows that Detroit’s social communion has detiriorated so much, that a homeless person had nowhere to turn. This is especially effective if run on A1. And because of social deterioration, it speaks to the area’s economic issues too.

    If anything makes people care enough about “poor” Detroit to fix it, this photo should do the trick.

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