Editor Wary of Graphic Content
Photo choices reflect community tolerance

HOLLY HILDRETH

“Ithink when there’s a disaster, there is grieving because there’s loss . . . and I think the grieving process is private,” said Claire Regan, associate managing editor of the Staten Island Advance, a daily newspaper in New York with 79,000 daily readers.

“Do journalists have the right to invade the privacy of grieving?” she asked.

Katrina cast devastation across the Gulf Coast while the rest of the country watched from the comfort of their couches. The media had to find a balance between protecting the victims’ privacy and telling it needed to know.

Bodies wrapped in sheets or tattered clothes hit the front pages of newspapers.

“No one asked the deceased, ‘May I take your photo?’” Regan said. “As journalists we need to be sensitive about that.”

At first, no one knew how horrific conditions were in New Orleans.

“Photos and film on television raised that awareness,” Regan said.

For three days, she monitored Associated Press photos of 91-year-old Booker Harris, who died in a Ryder truck and was left lying dead on a lawn chair outside the convention center.

“Nobody removed him from the chair or gave him privacy in the moment of death,” she said.

Regan chose not to run photos that clearly showed Harris’ face and body.

“I’m very sensitive about publishing dead bodies, death or grieving,” said Regan, who also teaches ethics at Wagner College on Staten Island, N.Y.

“It is an invasion of privacy, and readers say they don’t like it. Other newspapers with different personalities may run the photo. It just depends on the readers.” she said.

She described an editor’s dilemma: “You’re both a human being and a journalist at the same time,” Regan said. “Sensitivity is the bottom line, and also as a journalist, I put myself in the other person’s shoes. Would I want my story told at this very moment?”