I just finished covering a house fire in which one person was killed and another injured. It’s tough covering death for a newspaper our size (36,000 daily) in a city the size of Yakima (about 80,000). I want to convey the magnitude and gravity of the situation but also do it in a fashion which passes the classic “Cheerios test.” (This refers to the fact that many readers will be looking at this photograph as they eat their morning bowl of cereal). To simply show a burning house ignores the seriousness of the situation. To focus tightly on the victim would mean a loss of context for the photo and a tight photo showing CPR being administered to a victim would surely flunk the Cheerios test. I compromised by using photos in which one of the victims is completely obscured byÂ fire and aid personnel.
This is the first photo we published. It was up on our Web site shortly after the fire.
The victim is obscured by the aid and fire workers with the burning house in the background.
A second photo was published on our Web site a little while later. This one also showed one of the victims being taken to a waiting ambulance. Again, he was obscured by aid and fire workers.
Some might say I (and the newspaper) are being too chicken and that we should publish more graphic photos to convey the magnitude of the tragedy. Others would say these photos were too graphic, that we have no business taking and publishing such photos and that we’re no better than a supermarket tabloid.
As I said, I try to strike a balance between the extremes so that we hopefully serve our readers in a measured and when necessary, a compassionate fashion. Such photo usage decisions aren’t easy but those decisions are well-considered with discussion between myself, the staff photographers and editors.