On Reporting the Rutgers Tragedy

This morning, here in New York, I overheard a group of (non-journalist) parents expressing surprise and some anger towards the New York Times for publishing (yearbook) photos of the two eighteen-year-old Rutgers freshmen charged with invasion of privacy after they reportedly broadcast live online another classmate’s “intimate encounter,” and that classmate, three days later, per the Times, jumped to his death off the George Washington Bridge.

Last night, the yearbook photos of the two students charged (along with an image of the classmate who reportedly committed suicide) were featured front and center on nytimes.com (which is, largely, what these parents seemed to be objecting to); today online, Tony Curtis’s obit bumped the images down on the Times home page (and, now, off the page entirely), and in the print edition, the photos of the students charged are inside, after the jump from A1.

It didn’t occur to me that the Times might have or should have thought twice about publishing these photos (featured or less so), but I can understand that point of view. Perhaps few journalists would think this was crossing a line, but maybe this is an example where what’s expected and rote and normal in press culture rubs some outsiders the wrong way? The Star-Ledger put the photos on A1 today (the Times actually credits the Ledger for the images); in fact, it’s hard to avoid them.

What say you: Is there any journalistic argument for not running (or not featuring) these photos?

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.