Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Thin Line

By Christopher Johnson

AUGUST 11, 1997:  Last Thursday, July 31, the Albuquerque Journal ran an arresting piece of photojournalism titled "Carnage in Jerusalem." But what did subscribers think about the Associated Press photo depicting a blood-drenched victim of the terrorist bombing? Journal editor Kent Walz told Weekly Alibi that there were "about 40 calls, which is a lot."

Although Walz admitted that more calls are received when cartoons are test dropped (there were hundreds of calls when "Tumbleweeds" ended) or even on the rare occasion when the crossword is left out, he didn't discount the seriousness of the calls: "Almost all but a couple calls were protest calls and there were a couple of themes: We don't want to see that; we understand it's a big story, but we don't want our kids to see that; it's too shocking." Walz said the feedback was good and it "pleased people (that) we would talk to them," though some still canceled their subscriptions over the photo. Walz also stated that of the photos he chose from, the one that ran was perhaps the least shocking; a different photo was of a terrorist with only stumps remaining for arms.

Interestingly Walz added, "Some people said they were more offended that it was a woman and not a man; a sizable group was offended because she was partly disrobed." Walz recounted an incident 10 years ago when the Journal was swamped with calls when a photo of a fatal motorcycle accident showed a portion of the victim's boxer shorts. And though Journal readers have a "proprietary interest in their comics," said Walz, last Thursday's callers were more concerned. "It may be an incident that changes history," Walz added.

When Walz was asked if he would run Thursday's photo again the same way, the question was met with an uncharacteristic pause: "I don't know. Probably. I think we have to be sensitive to what peoples' mores and standards are and how to balance that against the story and how best to tell it. They are always tough calls." According to Walz, some papers didn't run the now-famous Oklahoma City photo of the fireman carrying a baby very large or even on the front cover. Walz found that photo "every bit as emotional as Thursday's photo, though that photo generated much fewer calls." Those who missed out on the photo may very well see it in the years to come in textbooks for journalism ethics classes.

--Christopher Johnson


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