We all know times are tough for newspapers. Things are apparently so bad at the Independent Record that it, according to a source, recently offered a job to a reporter then rescinded the offer “last minute” because funding for the position was cut. But even in the most desperate of financial circumstances, which I find it hard to believe the IR really faces, you don’t monetize a tragedy—and certainly not the day that three people lost their lives in an auto accident.
This evening, an Independent Record reader sent me a link that even this bitter critic of the local paper found hard to believe. Hours after a two car, three fatality crash, the Independent Record’s web page offered a sensitive link to a slide show of the accident under the title “Crash Pics.” On their Facebook page, they teased a “complete photo gallery of the scene,” complete with an image of one of the crash victims lying on his gurney for transport to the hospital.
Now, there’s a legitimate news function in covering the crash and even including photos from the scene, but it’s more than a bit unseemly to use sensational images and callous headlines to generate clicks from readers. But that’s not the worst of what the IR did. The slideshow of the accident is interspersed with ads for dentists, credit card companies, RVs, and more. The paper certainly has to cover difficult stories and occasionally has to run upsetting photos, but there’s a line between commercial news gathering and ghoulish exploitation. I’d argue that this ad over this image falls strongly into the latter camp.
The response on the IR’s Facebook page suggest that other people found their decision to monetize human tragedy a bit disturbing. One commenter wrote:
How about if we not post a “photo gallery” of the most terrible day in many people’s lives? I believe this to be the most uncompassionate, disrespectful, uncaring and disturbing thing! Please remove this “photo gallery”.
While another added:
Leave it to the Helena ir to cash in on tragedy.
Covering a tragic event is no doubt difficult for the press, with all sorts of ethical dilemmas to be faced. Deciding whether to pimp on an online photo gallery to generate some sad, small ad revenue isn’t one of those hard choices at all.