Public Editor

February 20, 2014

Picture Hailey Owens, not Craig Michael Wood

The horrific murder that a Springfield, Mo., school employee is charged with has understandably gripped the region. But many readers don’t want to be confronted with the face of the accused, Craig Michael Wood.
A poster on The Star’s Facebook page made a plea that I’ve heard from many others on a post about Craig Michael Wood, who is accused of the brutal murder of Springfield 10-year-old Hailey Owens

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“Enough about this dude,” she wrote. “Society has to learn that when it highlights criminals, it’s glorifying them. Negative attention is still attention. The media is really going to have to evolve and change its focus for society’s sake.”

I have heard similar lines of reasoning uncountable times. While one can hardly call Wood’s booking mugshot glamorous, this reader’s underlying point still resonates.

In print, his image did run on Page A1, but it was quite small — only about an inch across. The dominant image on the page was a photo of the crime scene, along with a photo of Hailey.

But online, Wood’s face has been a much bigger presence. That’s especially true as people have linked to KansasCity.com’s coverage from Facebook, which chooses a photo to display with the link. Facebook’s algorithm seems to prefer Wood’s mugshot.

Remembering of course that Wood has certainly not been convicted at this point, it’s still clear that some criminals relish the attention they receive while in custody. I know exactly why photos of the accused are so upsetting to many readers, even though the public also has a clear right to see images of those facing criminal charges.

I will always remember one particular photo The Star ran years ago on Page A1 of an accused murderer who had spotted the photographer and smiled broadly — a gesture many readers interpreted as taunting her victim and society as a whole. It’s a valid criticism, regardless of how powerful the image was.

An alternative often suggested: Illustrate crime stories primarily with photos of the victims, as they’re the ones who were involved against their own volition.

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