The death of a friend or relative is one of the most painful things one can experience. Of course, death is an experience that is inevitable.
But when it comes early in the life of that relative it is all the more painful to his or her survivors. “What could I have done to prevent this?” they are likely to ask.
That pain is why journalists struggle with the question of whether or not to publish photos of people who die in public places. That pain is why relatives and friends of such people whose photos are published react with the anger evident over WEHOville’s decision to post a picture of the body of Adrian Nobert, the young man found dead outside the apartment building at 1156 Hacienda Place on Monday after being pushed or falling from a window above. Accident, murder, suicide? The L.A. County Coroner and L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies have not yet reached a conclusion.
As someone who has spent 45 years in the media business, either as a journalist or business executive or consultant, it’s an issue I am very familiar with. And WEHOville has a rule: We do publish photos of people who are found dead in public places. We don’t publish photos of people who die in private places (e.g. inside their homes). Of course it’s always possible that exceptions will be made in unusual circumstances.
WEHOville’s approach is a relatively common practice. Those who claim that legitimate news organizations never publish photos of people found dead need to take a look at “Death Makes the News: How the Media Censor and Display the Dead,” by Jessica M. Fishman, which chronicles the debate among journalists over when and whether to publish photos of dead bodies.
“Regardless of all the careful deliberations over pictures, the news media cannot escape controversy, which erupts frequently,” Fishman notes.
Sadly, the news media, even a publication in a city as small as West Hollywood, cannot escape the controversy or the fact that people do die in public places for a variety of reasons, and readers want to know who, when, where, why and how, questions that photos sometimes can answer.