At least two public editors reported that readers were upset over the coverage of the murders of two Virginia WDBJ journalists, Alison Parker and Adam Ward.
National Public Radio’s ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen reported that NPR “did not use or link to either video” of the murders, the WDBJ live broadcast of the attack or the gunman’s own video. NPR “did post a screen grab—a still taken from the shooter’s own video, as posted to his Twitter account—in two versions: one with the shooter’s gun visible, with two of the three victims in the background, and one with the gun itself cropped out,” Jensen wrote. “All Things Considered, meanwhile, broadcast a short bit of audio of the shooting,” she reported, noting that NPR also used one photo of the gunman.
Jensen explained why NPR used the images it selected, quoting NPR’s standards and practices editor Mark Memmott saying NPR thought it was important to offer an idea of what the gunman’s video showed without showing it.
“We did not want to post the video that the attacker made,” Memmott said to Jensen. “It’s very disturbing and distributing it would give him the kind of attention he apparently craved.”
He added, “But we felt we owed it to our online audience to give them a sense of what was in that video, and that a screen grab would accomplish that. We realize it’s a tough image. Perhaps we could have put it behind a ‘screen.’ But we felt it was important to show.”
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The decision to use six seconds of the audio of the attack was OKed because it was used “in a longer piece” that warned listeners and offered context.
Jensen agreed that “NPR showed appropriate restraint in not airing the videos” and that it was fine to use the short audio clip since it included a warning. She also agreed it was fair to use some images in order to illustrate “just how shocking it was,” as long as NPR doesn’t overuse them.
On the other hand, Kansas City Star public editor Derek Donovan reported that some readers were upset the paper didn’t use images from the video.
The Aug. 27 print edition of the newspaper didn’t feature any images from either video of the Aug. 26 murders, Donovan reported. “The news story ran down the left column at the top of the page, along with small photos of the victims who were killed. A third is expected to survive, and was not pictured. The story jumped to Page A-12, with no more art.”