Bill Doskoch: Media, BPS*, Film, Minutiae

Curated knowledge, trenchant insights & witty bon mots

Toronto Star public editor on the Williams photo

The Toronto Star ran a photo of convicted murderer Russell Williams in a young girl’s underwear, juxtaposed with a photo of him in the dress military garb he once wore as commander of CFB Trenton.

Kathy English, the Star’s public editor, thinks the paper made the right call, despite the outcry.

From the Oct. 22 Toronto Star:

Taken together, the photos depicted the monster in our midst, a predator who snuffed out the lives of two women, raped two others and terrified dozens of other women and girls whose homes he broke into, photographing himself posed in their most intimate garments.

Given the monumental and historical scope of these crimes, the Star’s front page was “the most honest portrayal of this story,” said publisher Cruickshank, who also did the right thing here by publicly explaining the decision to publish images he knew would disturb readers, distress advertisers and affect daily sales.

“We feel we have to face up to the truths of our day,” Cruickshank said Tuesday on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning. “This is not the truth of every morning for readers of the Toronto Star, but it certainly is an extraordinary story about authority in Canada.

“It’s a story that we shouldn’t turn our heads from. And it’s for that reason we made the choice that we did.” …

I asked Kenny Irby, head of Poynter’s visual journalism section and leader of its photo ethics sessions, to give me his view on the Star’s decision to publish the graphic images.

While Irby clearly understands why some readers would be upset, he lauded the Star for its “bravery” in publishing the photos.

“It was a bold decision on behalf of the newspaper’s leadership. This shows courage that news organizations have cowered from for a long time,” he said. “I see this as a painful but powerful step of holding the powerful accountable.”

Over at Toronto Life’s website, John Michael McGrath wrote:

The Toronto Star and Toronto Sun both ran photos of Williams wearing the underwear of his victims on the front page, while the Globe and Mail and National Post did not. The Star is getting a large share of criticism because the photo it ran is so large and prominent on the page; the Sun’s seems less prominent. …

The “public interest” defence seems like a red herring; the Globe and the Post both managed to avoid the front-page shocker, and it’s hard to argue they’ve failed to inform the public. What’s upsetting a lot of people, it seems, is that basically the front pages of Toronto’s dailies are impossible to miss: the morning commute takes us past them all the time. Putting Williams in lingerie on the front page takes the choice away from a paper’s readers.

Toronto Life posted a photo of the Star’s Oct. 19 front page with the Williams photo. At the bottom of the blog post is a gallery of the above plus the other Toronto daily newspaper covers from that day.

To Mr. McGrath, I would say, “Who informed the public better?”

I do like the way the N-P ‘toned things down’ by using “Shocking Perversion” as the headline (yes, I was being sarcastic). From a design perspective, the shocking headline seems unsupported without the photo.  Instead, the N-P went with a court sketch of a scowling Williams.

Would it have been acceptable to show Williams from the navel up on its front page? Or did Mr. McGrath prefer the extremely boring press release handout photo that the Globe and Mail put on front above Christie Blatchford’s column?

Journalistically, I’d say the Star had the best front page of the bunch. And sometimes, good journalism offends.

Sat, October 23 2010 » Main Page, Media

One Response

  1. Sarah October 24 2010 @ 2:23 pm

    “Sometimes good journalism offends.”

    Well put Bill. I totally agree (as my blog post on tweeting from the courtroom attests).