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Public Editor: The New York Post needs to explain its shocking cover

A delivery truck arrives at the New York Post printing plant in the Bronx borough of New York, November 17, 2009.


The debate continues over whether The New York Post made the correct decision when it decided to publish a shocking photograph of a man about to be struck and killed by a subway train after being pushed onto the tracks.

Much has been written in papers, on blogs and on Twitter about the actions of the photographer, R. Umar Abbasi.

In fact, The New York Post ran a follow-up article by Mr. Abbasi who said he had no idea what he was shooting – he saw the man fall on the tracks, he was using his flash to get the subway driver's attention, he was too far away to reach him and he was afraid the subway pusher might push him onto the tracks as well.

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This article, too, unleashed a torrent of attacks on Mr. Abbasi for not helping Ki Suk Han, the man who died.

While the photographer is one piece of this puzzle, criticism really should also be pointed squarely at the senior editors of The New York Post. Many staff photographs are taken each day at newspapers and many more come across wire services that are not published. The Post's editors need to stand up and explain why they chose to publish this particular photo on their front page with the words DOOMED in giant type.

Mr. Abbasi reacted in the seconds it took for the incident to unfold. The senior editors had time – likely hours – to decide whether to purchase the photo from Mr. Abbasi, who is a freelancer, whether to run the photograph, where to place it and what headline words to use. Why are they not explaining their reasons?

With so many people snapping real-time news photos and self-publishing, there is no shortage of photos to choose for publication on major websites and newspapers. So those organizations have to understand what their rules are. The Globe's code says that publishing photos of dead bodies, bloodied victims and traumatized survivors is justified provided the image is historically relevant and/or advances the story in a serious and considered manner, and is not intended primarily to shock readers. (The Globe ran the Post photo online but cropped it so the the man who died couldn't be seen.)

You might recall the Pulitzer Prize winning photo of South Vietnamese General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong prisoner in Saigon in 1969, holding a gun near his head and firing. There was also a photo of an unidentified man falling from the World Trade Center on 9/11. These photos were indeed shocking but were published for a reason: to show the lawlessness and horror in the Vietnam War, and the helplessness of people trapped in the burning World Trade Center.

So what could The New York Post say is the context, the reason for running a photo of a man pushed onto the subway tracks and killed? How is this historically relevant or illustrating an important point? Was it just published for shock value?

The New York Post should explain its principles and reasons.

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If you would like to comment on this, please do so below. You can also e-mail me on this or any other issue at

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About the Author
Public Editor

Sylvia Stead has been a reporter and editor at the Globe since 1975, after graduating from the University of Western Ontario in Journalism with a minor in Political Science. She won the Board of Governors Award there in 1974. As a reporter, Sylvia covered courts, education and Queen's Park. More


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