The Tulsa World decided to publish a photo, which featured a shooting suspect lying face-down and bleeding, on its front page. The photo was taken after a shooting at the Tulsa Court House. John Fancher, an employee of Tulsa City-County Library, used his camera to capture photos of shooting suspect Andrew Joseph Dennehty and the scene through the library’s window. The World paid the library to obtain then publish the photos.
In the paper’s photography blog, Photo Editor Christopher Smith said that although the photos would be viewed as graphic and provoking, it was necessary to publish them.
“While the situation is unfortunate, no matter how you look at it, the gravity of the situation would be difficult to communicate without the images,” Smith said.
The decision to publish the photo rested on the shoulders of the whole newsroom. In newsrooms nationwide, dilemmas such as this one are common. Publications and television networks must determine whether visuals are deemed as too offensive for the public eye. On the other hand, such visuals would serve as a helpful narration of an event or story, giving the public an idea of what actually occurred. This modern scenario is similar to the coverage of the Columbine High School shootings, as local networks showed sensitivity towards the community by not broadcasting graphic images. Meanwhile, national broadcasts decided to display explicit footage such as victims’ faces.
The Tulsa World published an article that featured Fancher as a photography enthusiast who captured photos to tell a story. He intended to take the photos just in case Dennehty shot someone and fled the scene. Not only were the photos needed to convey the magnitude of the shooting, but they could be used as useful evidence for law enforcement.
In this case, the graphic tone of the images was the only way to convey the brevity of the scene. Without the publishing of the images, the Tulsa community would be unable to comprehend the impact felt by Dennehty and law enforcement during the shooting. While the front-page photo shows blood, it isn’t tight enough to see up and close. It’s an appropriate medium shot that captures the law enforcement taking down Dennehty to prevent further chaos. Another notable image shows a sheriff deputy being carried on a stretcher by staff after being shot. This adds to the narration of the event, showing that law enforcement faces many challenges and potential consequences on a daily basis. In the reader comments box, the response to Smith’s blog entry shows that the public was receptive to the publishing of the photos. One comment said the photos were “able to give its online readers the news in such a timely manner from not just an information standpoint but also for the safety of those who might have been in the area at the time.”