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NY Times images of slain Ukrainian civilians show war’s toll

March 8, 2022 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Times’ front-page photo Monday of the grisly aftermath of a Russian attack on civilians in Ukraine offers a reminder of how journalists try to weigh the sensibilities of customers with the need to illustrate the reality of war.

The picture, 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 out a story about the incident late Sunday, warned people that it contained graphic images. Yet the photo was also used prominently on the Times’ website and took up four of five columns on the top of Monday’s newspaper, where there is no chance for such a warning.

Cliff Levy, deputy managing editor of The Times, tweeted that Monday was one of the most important front pages of the war because of Addario’s photo.

In a statement, Meaghan Looram, director of photography for The Times, said the newspaper doesn’t have a “blanket policy for decisions like this,” instead encouraging editors to ask themselves and consult with others on a series of questions that include whether a photo’s news value demands that it be seen. Among the factors Looram says the Times also considers are whether “the photograph portrays the people in a dignified manner, whether it feels exploitative or gratuitous” and whether a decision to run the image would be the same if it came from another country or region.

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The Times takes “seriously our duty as journalists to show our readers an unvarnished and accurate account of the world’s events, which are sometimes very difficult to see but necessary to understand,” Looram said.

“I don’t see anything wrong with it at all,” said Fred Ritchin, former dean of the International Center of Photography School. “I think it was used in a way that respects the privacy of the individuals but still gives credence to the events that are going on.”

The photo is important to show at a time Russians claim that civilians are not being targeted by their soldiers, and many of their countrymen believe that, Ritchin said.

Troubling, even shocking, images often accompany coverage of war and other violent events. Editors must often make decisions on what to show, something that is complicated in a social media age where things not available in a newspaper or television can be easily found online.

The Associated Press has already sent some pictures of the Ukraine war to its customers with a warning about graphic nature, said J. David Ake, director of photography.

It does this to flag potentially sensitive photos to editors who receive them so they can make their own decisions about what they want to use. The AP doesn’t run photos that gratuitously depict violence, he said.

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“I’ve covered war long enough to know that I do not believe anything until I can see it, until I can photograph it,” Addario said in an interview on MSNBC. “And this is a case where I watched civilians being targeted and it’s very important that image goes far and wide.”

The online article accompanying Addario’s photograph also contains a link to a video taken by a colleague, Andriy Dubchak. The shaky video depicts 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.

Soldiers are then seen running toward the wounded.

CNN aired the video late Sunday with a warning from Anderson Cooper, who is reporting from Ukraine.

“We want to warn you that is shows precisely what this war truly is, and that’s why we think that it’s important that you see it,” Cooper said. “Because what’s happening in Ukraine right now should not be sanitized. It should be seen by the world in all its horrors. You will hear obscenities in this video and you will see them as well.”

Ritchin, the former photography school dean, said he was reading the Times on the subway Monday and he could hear people sitting across from him talking about the photograph.

“It creates a conversation,” he said. “That front page is a valuable piece of real estate ... This time it was used appropriately.”