Without mediation

The shooting near the Empire State Building today demonstrated in yet more ways how news will arrive without mediation.

On Twitter, some objected to my linking to photos from the scene taken by witnesses immediately after the crime, without warning of their graphic nature. The murder victim lay in his blood, so bright red that someone else on Twitter wondered whether the image had been doctored. No, we’re simply not accustomed to seeing so much blood so fresh. We have waited until news photographers arrived, until after the bodies have been taken away, replaced by chalk outlines behind yellow ribbons with only dried, brown-red stains remaining. We are used to seeing the sometimes ugly world packaged and sanitized for our protection by media.

So it’s doubly shocking, perhaps, when media now shows such images from those witnesses.

Jim Romenesko asked The Times about running that photo on its home page, albeit briefly, and they gave what I’d call a right answer: “It is an extremely graphic image and we understand why many people found it jarring. Our editorial judgment is that it is a newsworthy photograph that shows the result and impact of a public act of violence.”

I say it is a good thing that we see a more unvarnished world. Perhaps then we’ll have a real debate about guns the way we were forced to face Vietnam through scenes of death on the evening news, as some of my defenders on Twitter pointed out. “Death by gunshot is graphic. Now uncontainable,” said the Guardian’s Charles Arthur (though the Guardian tried to contain it)

I also say that in any case, we’d best get used to it, for as we all well know, news and images of it won’t come from reporters and credentialed photographers first and won’t be filtered through media before it comes to us. It is coming from witnesses who go by names like @yoassman [the name and a Seinfeld tribute, no doubt] and Mr. Mookie, who may write indelicate comments like, “They shoot, aw made you look. No really tho. Dude got popped!” and “Why yall keep saying it could be someone I know? I don’t have anymore room for RIP tatts on my arm. I’ve seen my friends with they heads blown off in the street. Yea it happens to me too and I get over it. Its life.”

Yeah, welcome to life. Most such life isn’t reported with such a splash because it doesn’t happen in such a public place. It happens in the Bronx or 19 times in a weekend in Chicago.

I think we’ve become much too accustomed to mediated news, to a world sanitized for our protection. That’s what makes people ask for warnings before being shown reality, even if the discussion is about murder, and even if they had to click on a link to see what I was writing about. They had to be curious enough to do that. But they weren’t curious enough to see news as it really happened. The image didn’t come into their homes on a TV screen with kids on the couch. It came through my Twitter feed. It was insensitive of me to link to it without warning, I was told. No, I think the problem is that media have made us insensitive — desensitized would be the cliché — to such a fact.

Don’t tell me you’re offended by murder. If you weren’t, that would be the problem. Of course, you are. So don’t tell me not to offend you with what it looks like once you click. And don’t tell me what to say and what not to say.

A man was killed in New York this morning. Now we know better what that looks like. That is news.

:Later: On the Media tells the story of that photo on The Times homepage. And here’s Poynter on the photo.

  • HansSuter

    No, Jeff, it’s not a good thing. It’s a thing period. You might want to remember what Himmler said to his SS men: only you know what it means to have gone thru etc etc. People will get used to a higher degree of brutality. Nothing can be done against this. But to call it a good thing, I don’t know.

    • SHaGGGz

      Transparency/reality/truth is a good thing. Distortion and censorship are not. Maybe if more people all too comfortable in their sheltered little lives saw what ugly reality looks like, they would take more steps to prevent it from happening, both at home and abroad.

  • Earl Mardle

    I suspect that, as we discover the disintermediated world, we will come to trust the media less and less. We will wake up to the reality that has been concealed from us by those who are terrified of what the exposure to something nearer reality might have. Since, as you suggest, Vietnam, the corporate media has been careful to screen us from the reality that we condone through our social, political and economic decisions. The media has been thoroughly captured by those it most reports on, the acme being the embedding of reporters in war where there stories can be conditioned and controlled by a generalised Stockholm effect. Social/citizen media is unruly and uncontrolled and has the greatest chance of circumventing those managed information streams and THAT is what fundamentally terrifies TPTB about this technology. Not that it will unearth some deep secrets – although that may be true as well – but that it will bring us face to face with something closer to the unvarnished, unedited, uncensored facts of the world that is no more than a heartbeat away. And THAT Hans, is good. Not in the sense of pleasure or positive benefit, but in providing the information on which we can base more accurate, more appropriate, less romanticised decisions.

  • Is “Yeah welcome to life” also your argument against other Trigger warnings? (http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Trigger_warning) I’m sure someone who has been traumatized by violence really really appreciates the valuable life lesson you teach them about the world.

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  • AJ

    “Yeah, welcome to life.”

    You know what; “life’s” not like that in most places in the world. Only war zones and a relatively few countries where firearms are inadequately controlled.

  • transparency in all directions, the need of the times

  • Joe

    The rest of the world doesn’t live like this. Only in Merica do you so glorify death and violence yet recoil at an exposed nipple. Your article just reinforces what a sick sick place your country has become and you are leading the charge with crap like this post.

  • LukeMorris

    I know when I saw NYT with that photo on the front, I thought “holy crap they actually used that.” I wasn’t shocked by the violent nature or the bright blood (although I’m sure I hadn’t seen it that bright in a news photo before). Just the fact that a news org used such a photo was the shocker because of the filtering we’ve all adujusted to as part of the journalism process.

    I wonder if Romenesko and other navel-gazers on journalism covering NYT’s photo use so much will keep them from repeating that decision. I know plenty of journos who were saying “Whoa, What? You can’t do that!”

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  • MWI – Chuck Doran

    My reaction, as a professional mediator, to both the picture and the title of your article was that of avoidable sadness. “Without mediation” is an accurate summation given that this tragedy was the product of an unresolved workplace dispute lasting over eight years. Providing employees with access to mediation to resolve their concerns early and often seems to be a better than channeling their frustrations into violence.

  • Jeff, as a person with very close ties to prehospital healthcare I fear the future that favours the hyperlocal journorazzi over a intelligently mediated news-stream.
    EMS/EMT/Paramedic personnel work under a system that minimises their exposure to trauma and therefore minimises the long term effects that sights like hangings and gun-shots inflict upon the psyche of healthcare workers.
    So, sorry. We shouldn’t even try to “get used to” these sights. They cause trauma of unknown proportions to those not directly involved. Standards must be maintained. Privacy is paramount. Injury isn’t always physical.
    While content is king, it should still come with responsibility.
    Keep up the great work Mr Jarvis. I love that you make us care.

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