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Publisher's Point: Thought went into decision

January 26, 2011
By PATRICIA BECK, The Leader-Herald

As a newspaper, we are very aware that photos have the power to bring an immediate emotional reaction, sometimes more than the written word does. This is particularly the case with news photos.

From Jan. 16 to 23, The Leader-Herald published approximately 240 pictures. The daily decisions about which news photos to publish are not taken lightly. Soft-news photos of local business people receiving awards, young athletes earning praise or people making donations to charitable organizations are easy choices. Hard-news photos are more difficult.

Such was the case with Monday's photo of the sheep, which died in a tragic barn fire Sunday along with nearly 200 other animals.

The photographer, reporter, editors and publisher all reviewed the photo and the story and discussed how they would be presented. The decision was not made lightly.

The Leader-Herald covers the news - both good and bad. Here in the Adirondack Foothills, we are fortunate not to live in a place where car bombings or natural disasters are common events, but neither do we live in a utopia that shelters us from tragedies and death when they do occur.

This debate - whether newspapers should print photos of the dead and dying, people or animals - has gone on for a very long time, since the invention of the camera, and since the father of photojournalism, Mathew Brady, captured images of Civil War battlefields littered with bodies of the fallen.

Since Monday's edition was published, we have received numerous complaints in the form of earnest phone calls and angry comments in cyberspace. Those who were offended by the photo expressed it both in meaningful ways and in cruel, outlandish accusations.

We knew these complaints would come, but we decided to publish the photo anyway. It was the right thing to do because the image helped convey the harsh reality of the news event, tragic as it was.

Some readers have told us they support our decision.

"I'm just glad that a photograph still has the power to outrage people," one reader commented. "I was beginning to wonder if we'd all become numb."

Another reader solidly expressed, personally, being very disturbed by the photo, yet took the issue a step further: "I still will champion the right and the necessity for the paper to print the news, however disturbing it may be. For me, I would teach my child how important it is to protect our animals. Obviously, young children may be upset by this - you know your child. But this is an important lesson. If the newspapers start 'protecting' us from images we don't care for, or news that is disturbing, what's next?"

I thank this person, who isn't involved with any newspaper or media outlet. I couldn't have said it any better than that.



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