Wick Communications

Thoughtful coverage of crashes

In Photography on September 30, 2011 at 7:49 am

Twice in the last couple of weeks we at the Half Moon Bay Review were faced with dilemma born of bad car crashes.

In the first instance, a local woman rolled her car on a lonely stretch of highway. We don’t cover every car accident in our circulation district. As a matter of loose policy, we tend to cover only those that result in bad injuries or that otherwise mess up traffic for an extended period of time.

Well, this time reporter Mark Noack noticed the coroner had been called to the scene. He grabbed a camera and hurried out the door. He returned with the outline of a story and a photo of the crumpled car, some Sheriff’s investigators scurrying around and a tarp-covered body lying in the middle of the street.

Because investigators were keeping him in a single spot, Mark couldn’t really avoid getting the body in his photo. Because we had talked about such things before, he knew to get the shot and come back and talk it over with me before posting on the Web. We decided to run a short story, with the California Highway Patrol’s assertion that alcohol played a part in the accident, but to leave the photo on the cutting room floor. …

A couple of days later, Mark and Review photographer Charlie Russo were returning from an assignment when three cars crashed right behind them. They jumped out and started shooting and talking. Mark figured out what happened and Charlie got a series of shots.

This time, we ran a shot on the Web. He had one that showed emergency crews securing someone to a backboard. It didn’t show the woman’s face and we didn’t know her name at that point. I thought it conveyed the serious nature of an event that created a serious, public traffic snarl. (Incidentally, I took the photo down some hours later because I just didn’t think it news at that point.) You can see the photo we ran above.

Ours were not necessarily the correct decisions on these things. You have every right to take photos of public news events as long as you obey the law and do so from publicly accessible places. But I suggest you balance the public’s right to know what’s happening – in these instances, on our roads – against what publication would mean to the people and loved ones involved. Is the photo necessary? Is it worth it?

Clay

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  1. I agree it is a case by case basis. At the Frontiersman I have a policy of no dead bodies. If I can shoot an accident where someone was killed I will but I do everything I can to not show dead bodies. With other accidents if I get a shot of them extracting someone from the car I will usually run it but try to avoid faces. but it is also a case by case situation because in some instances the impact of a accident photo might just remind our readers to slow down, buckle up and hug their loved ones before they leave home.

    I think the right choice was made.

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