The tragic NYC shooting at the Empire State Building – perhaps the paramount icon of the City – had the press once again up against the unedited stream of information from the Web. A shooting on the sidewalk in broad daylight in the heart of mid-town results in hundreds of photos and videos from bystanders through their cell phones. The Web is quickly awash in graphic photos of the event and traditional media is left with the dilemma of what images to use. Given the vast range of images available online, the decision on what photos to use is almost a lose-lose decision.
Pick something that is too subdued and readers will just go elsewhere to see what they want to see (thus, the dilemma of the UK press with the naked images of Prince Harry all over the Web). Select images that are too graphic and the media looks like it’s being sensationalist and is probably alienating the older more traditional segment of their market.
So what did they do? Reuters went with a somewhat blurry photo that focused on the police activity while the NY Daily News showed the bodies but pixelated their faces. At first The New York Times used a subdued shot from above, but then changed it to include the blood on the sidewalk. No matter what they did, of course, the Web streamed whatever graphic images people wanted to see.
At it’s best, the press can (for now) quickly pull together resources that bystanders do not have the means to create; thus, the Times graphic of the shooting and interviews with witnesses offer insights to understanding the event. It’s the kind of work the press excels at (when they don’t self-destruct by firing their newsroom staff), but at one time, they also provided the primary source of images. Now it’s a bifurcated world for traditional media where they can at best offer analysis and readers will find their images with whatever degree of graphic content they want online. Perhaps this will continue for a few more years, but the ease with which bystanders can take and upload images and video is nothing now compared to what it will be in another decade. And if at some point in the future witnesses have the ability to instantly create resources like the Times graphic through some mobile crowd source platform, I’m not sure how the traditional press will survive.