Wednesday, September 14, 2005

How Much is Too Much: Showing Dead Bodies in New Orleans on TV // Google Shoots for the Moon

With the captive audience of a Medill Alumni list serve, I posted a question about a major difference in images shown on American and Spanish-language network television:

I was struck yesterday evening when flipping though channels on cable TV in Evanston. A Spanish-language news channel was showing unflattering images of bodies floating down the streets of the city. Some floated face up with limbs outstretched from rigor mortis. The channel ran through about five uncovered bodies. I don't think they showed enough for a view to identify the body if they knew the person who had died.

Comparably, Matt Lauer of NBC talked of some of the strongest images of post-hurricane New Orleans this morning. Here images of death only included covered bodies - none floating in the streets. These came intermittently along with close-ups of emotion and struggle, of helicopters and destruction of infrastructure.

My question then, is why the different approach? The late Dick Schwarzlose of Medill asked a similar - but different question during intro courses at Medill. He told us of a story of a suicide - where someone jumped off a bridge. He asked which picture do you put in the paper - if you put a picture in at all. The choices included - if my memory serves me correctly - the jumper standing on the railing and a few seconds after the jumper had leaped. In Schwarzlose’s style - he never told the class which way to go - just pushed the question on us.

It seems to me that broadcasters have a policy of what the company will put on television. Can someone describe what the policies are and why they are in place? What does the company gain by its policy and what does it lose? What does its audience gain or lose? Furthermore, might the aftermath of Katrina be an exception to the rules? What pressures would stronger images of death add to the relief efforts? Is the American public ready for such images - should they be?

This email brought a deluge of responses for two days, some of which can be read on the Medill Web site.

In other news, Google is staking its claim on the moon. Expanding on Google Earth, the company now has mapped the landing zones of various Apollo rockets on our moon. Close examination of the landing sites reveals amazing insights.

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