Monday, April 23, 2007

Readers object to use of Cho's photos on front page

“The photo will be seen as a glorification of his acts by some and may easily inspire copy cat crimes. The victims and their accomplishments would have been more appropriate.’’

“It’s really wrong that you do this in a community newspaper. You basically helped the killer do what he wanted to do.’’

“This kind of journalism makes it hard for children to determine what is ‘Hollywood’ and what is real life scary. Please show more consideration when choosing what to print. It shapes our society. Newspapers have influence! Please help to influence the community in a positive way.”

These comments were among about 30 e-mails and 20 calls that we received Thursday and Friday. All but one criticized us for publishing the three photos of Seung-Hui Cho on the front page of The Tribune Thursday.
Mostly, readers believed the publication glorified the killer involved in the Virginia Tech massacre. Many feared it would encourage copy cats and said they didn’t need to see the photos to understand that Cho was severely demented. Several said we should have focused on the victims instead. Still others called the photos inappropriate for children to see – and inappropriate for a community newspaper like The Tribune to publish. Several accused us of doing it solely to sell newspapers.
Unquestionably, the photos that we published are disturbing and extremely painful to look at. As I shared with readers Thursday, however, we made the decision to run the images because they offered new information – more than words alone -- that could shed light into the mind of the deranged young man who had taken so many lives. Essentially, they were yet another piece to the puzzle, as we all try to make some sense of this tragedy.
We had already published profiles of most of the victims, as they became known, and we had covered memorial services at Virginia Tech on the front page Wednesday.
I do not expect anyone who criticized us to change their minds. I’m writing about this now to let you know how readers overall responded to our decision – and to address some of the issues they raised.
For those who believe that the photos of Cho are inappropriate for children, I leave that to each parent or guardian to decide. I have sixth and eighth graders; both had seen the photos by the time I arrived home from work that night. But I did draw the line; when the television news reports repeated the photos later that evening, I switched channels and explained why. We cannot always shelter our children from tragedy but we can help give them the tools to deal with it.
And for those who believe their community newspaper should not publish these photos on the front page, I respectfully disagree. We do focus on local news at The Tribune but there are times when the national news is part of our local conversation, when we are affected by events outside our region. This was one of those occasions.
Looking ahead, it is not our intention to publish these photos again.
It is our intention to continue covering the story as it unfolds, to continue remembering the victims and their families and to continue looking at how our local elementary and secondary schools and higher-education institutions might institute changes as a result of the Virginia Tech massacre.
As always, I appreciate hearing from you. It helps us to have an ongoing dialogue with members of our community.

-- Sandra Duerr

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