Public Editor

Graphic photos from Boston Marathon open debate

I’ve spoken to readers with a variety of opinions about how The Star has handled photos from yesterday’s bombing at the finish of the Boston Marathon.

“I am disgusted by the gruesome photos appearing in the online version of the paper this morning,” wrote one emailer. “I do not think that there is any reason I need to see blood splattered sidewalks and people with their legs blown off, when I want to check out the latest on the investigation. Just because such photos exist does not mean you have to display them.”

By now, many of us have seen images we probably wish we hadn’t of the many casualties from yesterday afternoon. has been running a gallery, but as far as I can find, it has never published the uncropped version of the most graphic image that many people have seen. In it, a young man is being wheeled away in a wheelchair, his legs having been extremely severely damaged by one of the two blasts. did run a version of the photo, but it was cropped not to show the man’s legs.

I think some readers may be confused by another image, which ran in today’s print edition of The Star. It showed a different man also in a wheelchair. He looks to have been injured, but not disfigured. But neither photo is easy to look at.

Another reader phoned with questions about the lead image on Page A1 of today’s print edition. It depicts several onlookers, rescue workers and at leat four victims lying on the ground. It’s the photo also attached here.

My caller was curious about an object lying on top of what looks like a white sign in the lower left quadrant of the photo. It appears to have a dark line around it, but is otherwise an indistinct beige shape. Was the object a body part that editors had decided to blur out?

No, that’s an alteration that most journalists would consider unethical. Although many photojournalists will use traditional photography techniques such as cropping and minor toning, lightening and darkening, wholesale alteration of an image should not be done. I’ve looked at the full version of the photograph as transmitted from the Associated Press, and zooming in as far as possible on this relatively low-resolution image shows it looks exactly the way it printed.

A different caller told me she was troubled deeply by the bloody images, but she thinks The Star should have run them anyway. “Of course I hate to see it, but it’s the reality,” she said. “We have to be reminded of what really happened, not some sanitized version because it makes it easier.”