Graphic Images in the News: The Boston Marathon Bombing Lesson

April 15, 2013 is a day many of us will never forget, the day of the Boston Marathon Bombings. While many were there to experience the terror most of us can only identify with this terror attack by the images and coverage on our news and social media outlets. I remember typing the hashtags #BostonStrong and #BostonMarathon into my Instagram account on the day of the Boston Marathon. Within an instant thousands of images flooded in. Some of these images were showing respect but some of the images were downright graphic. I am not one for blood and the amount of images showing injuries was disturbing. I guess I can only blame myself since I am the one who searched these hashtags on social media, but part of me believes there should be some sort of mediation when tragedies happen and people take to social media. Boston_Marathon_bombing_first_bomb_site_54_minute_before_explosion

People aren’t going to social media just to post content anymore; they’re online to gain visibility. Throughout the coverage of the Boston Marathon Bombing news networks like CNN asked viewers to tweet/share images at the scene using a specific hashtag. I remember going to CNN.com and viewing these images, again more filled with serious injuries. I completely understand, this is a real world terror attack with serious implications but organizations must remember their audience and those involved when reporting on tragedies.  This is sensitive material that should be treated with care.

One graphic image that went viral showed a man being pushed on a wheelchair missing some of his leg. You can see the man’s face. You can almost feel his pain. You can sense the urgency and terror that occurred at the finishline on that day. You can understand the seriousness of the event. It gave me goose bumps the first time I saw the picture. This is perhaps the reason why many news organizations chose to use the picture during their coverage of the Boston Marathon Bombing. While the image evokes so many emotions is it ethically right to broadcast it across major news networks?

When this question was posed to me I immediately thought “no.” There is doctor/patient confidentiality and while this happened in a public space this man’s health is private. There is no reason to show the state of his health on national television.

The second thought that popped into my head was “what about the audience.” Coverage of the tragedy wasn’t just occurring during the primetime hours when children are usually asleep, it was 24/7 and everyone was glued to the television. I’m sure minors saw images and heard things that were not appropriate during this coverage. News outlets must remember their ethics in these situations and report what is good for the general public, including minors.

There were many mistakes that occurred in the news world during the Boston Marathon coverage. From misinformation to graphic images, we can learn from. I truly believe images graphic in nature should not used in television. It is not just for the victim or the audience. I hope in the future the FCC will enforce guidelines that are stricter on graphic images and victim’s privacy.

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