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PHOTO CONTROVERSY: The New York Post plastered an image of a man’s impending death on its front page on Tuesday. Under the headline, “Doomed,” it showed a Queens father who had been pushed by another man onto the subway tracks of a Times Square station as a Q train barreled in his direction.
There was an inevitable round of umbrage online, in the Post’s already rowdy comment section, and among media folk over the paper’s ethical responsibilities. Furthermore, should we trust the photographer’s plea, quoted in the paper, that he was snapping his remarkably in-focus pictures to alert the subway car driver?
On Tuesday afternoon, The New York Times raised the criticism further when it asked readers in a blog post if the photo should have been published at all.
It should not have been a shocker for readers with even a passing interest in the daily. Profiting from crime and lurid deaths is in the paper’s DNA — remember “Headless Body in Topless Bar”? Four years ago, an image of a young university student’s suicide dominated the paper. One fine October morning last year New Yorkers were greeted by Muammar Gaddafi’s obliterated face after he’d been killed.
Photo editors at daily papers face on a regular basis the question of when an image is too graphic; when they settle on the side of news value, complaints from readers follow.
For instance, concern over sensitive readers didn’t stop the Times in August from prominently displaying on its home page a bloody picture of one of the victims of the random shooting at the Empire State Building. Readers again protested, but a similar image led the paper’s front page the following day.
A forgiving take on the controversy allows that the Post was sitting on a compelling image and refrained from showing the victim’s face.
But Kenny Irby, a photojournalism instructor at the Poynter Institute and a tabloid alum who was a photo editor at Newsday, argues the Post’s cover photo was questionable because it involved a private citizen’s final minutes.
Sometimes photos that are authentically documented “cross the line of dignity and integrity. This moment was too private in my view,” he said, adding the Post had a variety of solid alternatives it did not pick.
Editor in chief Col Allan and Jesse Angelo, the Post’s longtime executive editor who was named publisher on Monday, did not respond to calls for comment from WWD and, apparently, several outlets. Neither did a spokeswoman with Rubenstein Public Relations. Meanwhile, the freelance photographer who took the shot would only agree to an interview with CNN if he was paid. Still, the paper was not backing away from the image online, proudly showing it off in follow-up stories.
Though daily newsstand sales were not available, it is probable the Post got what it wanted and outsold rival New York Daily News, which led the morning with news of the Duchess of Cambridge’s pregnancy and an injured Alex Rodriguez.