Monday’s New York Times front-page photo of the grisly aftermath of a Russian attack on civilians in Ukraine shows how journalists attempt to weigh client sensitivities with the need to illustrate the reality of war.
The photo, taken by photographer Lynsey Addario, shows Ukrainian soldiers tending to the bloodied bodies of four people moments after a mortar exploded near them.
The newspaper, when it tweeted an article about the incident on Sunday evening, warned that it contained graphic images. Yet the photo was also featured prominently on the New York Times website and took up four of the five columns at the top of Monday’s paper, where there is no chance for such a warning.
Cliff Levy, the paper’s deputy editor, tweeted that it was one of the most important front pages of the war because of Ms Addario’s photo.
It’s Monday @NYTimes Page One, one of the most important in the bc war of the powerful photo in the lead.
It shows how Russian troops targeted civilians fleeing the village of Irpin.
At least 3 members of a family of 4 died in the attack.
The picture is from @lynseyaddario. pic.twitter.com/uACiQ4DAz1
— Cliff Levy (@cliffordlevy) March 7, 2022
“I don’t see anything wrong with that,” said Fred Ritchin, former dean of the International Center of Photography School at New York University.
“I think it was used in a way that respects the privacy of individuals while giving credence to the events that unfold.”
The photo is important to show at a time when Russia says civilians are not being targeted by its soldiers, and many of its compatriots think so, Ritchin said.
Disturbing, even shocking images often accompany coverage of war and other violent events. Editors often have to make decisions about what to show, which is complicated in the age of social media where things that aren’t available in a newspaper or on TV can be easily found online.
The Associated Press has already sent some Ukrainian war photos to its clients with a warning about the graphic nature, said J David Ake, director of photography.
It does this to flag potentially sensitive photos to the editors who receive them so they can make their own decisions about what they want to use. The AP does not publish photos that gratuitously depict violence, he said.
“I’ve covered the war long enough to know that I don’t believe anything until I can see it, until I can photograph it,” Ms. Addario said in an interview on MSNBC. “And this is a case where I saw civilians being targeted and it’s very important that the picture goes far.”
The online article accompanying the photograph of Ms Addario also contains a link to a video taken by a colleague, Andriy Dubchak. The shaky video shows a Ukrainian soldier on one side of a street and civilians escaping from the village of Irpin on the other, until the flash of an explosion between them.
We then see soldiers running towards the wounded.
CNN aired the video Sunday night with a warning from Anderson Cooper, who reports from Ukraine.
“We want to warn you that this shows precisely what this war is really about, and that’s why we think it’s important for you to see it,” he said.
“Because what is happening in Ukraine right now should not be sanitized. He should be seen by the world in all his horrors. You will hear obscenities in this video and you will also see them.
Mr Ritchin, the former dean of the photography school, said he was reading The New York Times on the subway on Monday and could hear people sitting across from him talking about photography.
“It creates a conversation,” he said. “That front page is valuable real estate…This time it was used appropriately.”