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Would you take down the photo?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Spartan Squad, Feb 6, 2013.

  1. Spartan Squad

    Spartan Squad Well-Known Member

    Today my paper reported on a fatal accident in town. Reporter went out, got a picture and we posted it on our Facebook page.

    About an hour later, I get a call from a grieving relative mad that we posted the picture. She said the picture of the car was disrespectful because the victim was still inside (you can't see the body in the photo, just the car). I tell her I will see what I can do. I speak with the publisher and tell him, and he says to leave it up. She calls back a short time later again saying it's disrespectful to leave it up. I tell her it's news and we won't take it down. She says lawsuit. I tell her you can't sue for taking a picture on a public street. She demands to speak with the publisher, but he's not in the office. I relay the message to him and we reluctantly take the photo down.

    I don't like that we took it down, because it is news of an event and I feel like we should leave it up. We don't show the body and it was taken in a public place.

    On the other hand I do sympathize with the family who is now grieving and I do understand why they are upset seeing their mother's car wrecked.

    What would you do? Leave it up and tell the family news is news and we're sorry for your loss or take it down out of respect?
  2. BurnsWhenIPee

    BurnsWhenIPee Well-Known Member

    I'd probably consider taking it down, but in general, if there's no body/blood visible, I'd have left it up. News is news.

    And as soon as she said "lawsuit", I wouldn't have considered taking it down any longer. It would have definitely stayed up then. I'm guessing if there are any TV stations that dare show the aftermath of the crash, she would be burning up the phone lines to them, trotting out an empty lawsuit threat?
  3. Boom_70

    Boom_70 Well-Known Member

    Did picture get a lot of Facebook "likes"?
  4. Spartan Squad

    Spartan Squad Well-Known Member

    We had 32 people share it (keep in mind, this is not a big area, so 32 is a lot for us), about 20-some-odd comments and maybe a dozen like, I think more (again, a lot for our area).

    My attitude was, go ahead and try to sue us. You need to prove one of two things: That we either posted false information that did harm to an individual or that we violated someone's privacy. They can't prove we reported anything falsely, all we said was there was a fatal accident. No names, no reasons for the crash, no accusations of chugging a 40 while driving. Likewise, we took the photo on a public highway and didn't show the body. It wasn't anything that we violated any law or privacy to get, so the suit is bunk.

    I think the publisher weighed the public image hit we would take trying to prove we were right.
  5. Baron Scicluna

    Baron Scicluna Well-Known Member

    First off, remember, the woman is probably very upset over the loss of her relative. I know it's hard, but take that into consideration.

    Second, plenty of people instinctually shout "lawsuit" at the first chance they get. They either don't understand or, at that upset moment, don't care about the legalities. They just want to be heard.

    Third: It was chickenshit of the publisher to take down the photo. Your paper already put it up, show some guts, keep it up and roll with whatever punches are thrown (figuratively-speaking, of course).
  6. Drip

    Drip Active Member

    Tough call. I can see it both ways. As long as it passed "The Breakfast Test" (no blood, no body), I think you were fine. Legally, you were OK too, I think, but I'm not a lawyer. Family has a right to feel the way it does. You put yourself in their position and you'd feel the same way.
    Here's a rule of thumb that should help you in the future, ONCE the word lawsuit enters the conversation, EVERYTHING is directed to the company lawyer.
  7. LongTimeListener

    LongTimeListener Well-Known Member

    This could just be me, but I think your Facebook page is a terrible place to post a photo like that. People don't go to Facebook to see stuff like that mixed in with kids and cats. Very very jarring in the news feed.

    No problem with the photo on your site, but FB is a bad place for it.
  8. Spartan Squad

    Spartan Squad Well-Known Member

    We're so far out in the middle of nowhere, it takes the coroner two-and-a-half hours just to arrive on scene, and the body has to stay where it is until the coroner gets there.

    I already told the family that we are printing the photo and still treating this as news. But otherwise I agree. It was news and should be left up.
  9. Drip

    Drip Active Member

    Unfortunately, with social media, its the sign of things to come in this industry.
  10. swenk

    swenk Member

    There's probably some precedent for a lawsuit based on negligent infliction of emotional distress, but they'd have to show more evidence that the family was damaged beyond mere "disrespect."

    Anyone can file a lawsuit for any reason; most lawyers in this area will tell you to pull the photo, not because you're wrong but because it's not worth the hassle.

    Sounds like she was just an (understandably) emotional relative.
  11. Starman

    Starman Well-Known Member

    They can't even sue you if you DO show the body.

    Well, they can sue, but they can't win.

    It would be in bad taste, certainly, but not illegal in any way. If the accident took place on a public thoroughfare and you did nothing illegal to take the shot, there's nothing to sue about.

    In a situation like this you have to realize you are dealing with devastated relatives who are probably even less rational that usual.

    The other question is, is the photo itself newsworthy? (And yeah I don't think I'd run it on the FB page.)

    Years and years ago I was at a small paper and the policy was to run a photo, some kind of photo, of EVERY fatal crash. I took dozens myself and frankly only a couple had any news value whatsoever.
  12. You had every legal right to take, post and publish the photo. But it's a question of picking your battles.

    If it really upset the relative that much, it might be worth taking it down, since her grief/annoyance to you outweighs the value to the public of seeing a car wreck on their Facebook pages.
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