Public Editor

Many readers don’t want to see images of death and destruction

WDBJ-TV reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward were fatally shot during an on-air interview Wednesday.
WDBJ-TV reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward were fatally shot during an on-air interview Wednesday. The Associated Press

I am accustomed to hearing criticisms about the choice of news topics that editors choose to cover on Page A1 of The Kansas City Star.

But in an interesting reversal, the majority of the positive feedback I’ve heard recently has concerned what they chose not to put on the cover.

In particular, numerous readers applauded the approach of the Aug. 27 paper, the day after a disgruntled former employee of a Virginia television station fatally ambushed two journalists during a live broadcast.

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.

More than one reader told me they were happy The Star hadn’t published either a photograph of assailant Vester Lee Flanagan II, or any of the images taken from the two videos that caught the shooting as it happened — one taken by the station’s cameraman, the other taken by Flanagan himself and posted to social media before he shot himself.

Other news sources did choose to show the videos or still images taken from them. Perhaps most famously, the tabloids The New York Post and The New York Daily News chose to plaster images from right before and during the shootings as the dominant images on their covers.

It goes without saying that I understand why many — probably most — readers would be offended to see those photographs in The Star, even on an inside page. There are strong arguments that publishing them would be both prurient and poor news judgment in general.

Even though the murders dominated TV news on the day they happened, in actuality they were just another in the string of violent workplace attacks that have sadly become common occurrences.

You could even say that any coverage on The Star’s front page was out of proportion. We live in an increasingly well-documented society ubiquitous smartphone video cameras at the ready. These impromptu snuff films will undoubtedly continue.

Flanagan is dead, so he certainly isn’t enjoying any notoriety he may have imagined he’d receive for his evil deeds. And so some voices have said journalists actually do have a duty to publicize these murders, as a real-world example of our society’s problem with gun violence. This, too, is a point that should be considered.

Several other readers complimented Star editors for another choice on the same day’s page. As Frazier Glenn Miller Jr.’s capital murder trial continued in Johnson County, the centerpiece of the front page showed the family of Miller’s victim Terri LaManno as they visited the Children’s Center for the Visually Impaired on behalf of a scholarship created in LaManno’s honor.

Coverage of the trial ran inside on Page A4, with a photo not of Miller but of a sheriff’s crime lab supervisor testifying.

“It is an excellent choice, negating the hate of the mentally unstable and featuring what matters most — love,” emailed one. I’m sure other readers agreed.

To reach Derek Donovan, call 816-234-4487 weekday mornings or send email to publiceditor@kcstar.com.

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