When is the right time to publish violent images?

Amidst the epidemic of mass shootings, journalist John Temple weighs the threat of copycats against the hope of prompting positive change.

It’s an everyday reality in America that a mass shooting could happen anywhere and at any time. This year alone, we’ve seen an attack on a Fourth of July parade in Illinois and a gunman stormed the classroom of an elementary school in Texas. This everyday reality has a lot of people asking: Why do I have to see this every day? What can we do differently to avoid this?

On CultureShift, we wanted to look at this through the lens of the media, as journalists become just as exhausted as the readers because they are yet again in the cycle of covering another mass shooting. Meanwhile, some editors and reporters are calling for the release of graphic images of violent crime victims to show the totality of what a mass shooting actually looks like.

Graphic images of violent crime victims are rarely aired or published by mainstream news outlets in this country. Few will show blood or a victim’s face, but amid an epidemic of mass shootings, some journalists argue it’s time to change that. Others say: Not so fast.

To have this conversation, we spoke with John Temple, former editor of Denver’s Rocky Mountain News. Temple was at the paper in April 1999 when Columbine High School was attacked by two students, killing 12 of their peers and a teacher. He recently wrote about his experience for The Atlantic in a story called, “Publishing Photos of Dead Children Could Backfire.”

“We rented a helicopter on the day of Columbine, and we got over to the school immediately. Our photographer, Rudy Gonzalez, shot a photo that just haunted me that day, and still does.”

The photo shows a young boy lying on the pavement, a can of Dr. Pepper spilled to his side, while a police officer and other students hide behind a police car a few feet away.

“Our hope even on the first day was that when people saw how terrible this was, that it would have an effect, that we would rise up as a community to make sure that this never happened again.”


Listen: Journalist John Temple weighs the threat of copycats against prompting positive change

 

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Author

  • Ryan Patrick Hooper is the award-winning host and producer of CultureShift on 101.9 WDET-FM Detroit’s NPR station. As a longtime arts and culture reporter and photographer, Hooper has covered stories for NPR, Detroit Free Press, Hour Detroit, SPIN and Paste magazine.