Blogs » Your Advocate: an editor's blog » Ethics board discusses how we handle tough photographs, stories

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We reviewed how we handle sensitive photographs and controversial stories during Tuesday's ethics board meeting. To review our agenda, check my previous post here.

Here's a quick summary of what we concluded regarding sensitive photographs.

- First, review SPJ and NPPA code of ethics.

A line in the NPPA code seemed to get to the crux of the decision-making regarding last month's Fatal Funnel photo:
"Treat all subjects with respect and dignity. Give special consideration to vulnerable subjects and compassion to victims of crime or tragedy. Intrude on private moments of grief only when the public has an overriding and justifiable need to see." In the case of the Fatal Funnel photo, we decided it was important to show the humanity and the horror that so deeply affected those we were writing about and changed Victoria in ways we're still discovering five years later.

- Have group discussion about tough photos. Best decisions in these situations are collaborative.

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Consider our audience, maybe involve them in decision whether to publish. Also consider whether to publish more graphic photos online only.

- Explain decision on same day as publication when possible.

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Be able to explain decision to family.

- Be ready to discuss more with readers.

- De-brief afterward to be sure we learn from decision.

Bottom line: A good and aggressive newspaper will make some uncomfortable at times. Ethics board disagreed on whether photo should have run, but all agreed we followed this outlined procedure and could justify the decision to publish Fatal Funnel photo. To see the particular photo in question and others, click here.

We also discussed Tuesday our news coverage surrounding the four indicted city officials and their dispute with the Victoria district attorney. Board agreed our news coverage of indicted 4 has been fair and balanced. Both sides have criticized us. In terms of one staffer's perception about the editor laughing with mayor, we cannot avoid the reality that community journalists are involved with people and events where they live. In fact, we encourage these connections as being at the heart of what makes a community newspaper different from other forms of media.

The editor might laugh with the mayor one day and the district attorney the next. A reporter might attend her child's school event. An owner might contribute to a community cause. These connections strengthen us and the community we serve.

Still, we need to be sensitive to readers' perceptions and aware of our own personal biases. Toward that end:

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Take a collaborative approach to news.

- Involve and listen to readers.

- Be transparent.

Bottom line: It's OK to laugh. Just be sure to take fairness seriously and communicate that with readers.

What would you add to either checklist?