RELATED CONTENT: Woman, child killed in Berry crash
The Eurobodalla’s emergency service crews know too well the scene: a highway, crushed vehicles, shattered families. How do we get the road safety message through without traumatising readers? John Hanscombe is the editor of the Bay Post’s sister masthead, the South Coast Register. In this piece, he reflects on the horrific crash at Berry on the Princes Highway this week.
Wednesday morning I sat bolt upright in bed. There was an image in my brain I couldn’t dislodge.
It was a photograph from Tuesday’s horrible accident on the Princes Highway – the personal belongings of the crash victims strewn across the roadway. Shoes, clothes, plush toys – small everyday items that spoke volumes of the humanity that was shattered on that dreadful morning.
That image was included in a series of photos we uploaded to our website on Tuesday night. While our audience in the Eurobodalla and Illawarra did not react adversely to the photos, our audience in the Shoalhaven did. So we made the decision to take the photographs down.
In the business of news, the decision to publish or withhold photos can be tricky, especially when it comes to disasters. Listening to our audience helps us make that judgment.
What we learned from Tuesday night was that the closer to home the trauma is, the more sensitised the audience.
Cast your mind back to the dreadful images when MH17 was shot down over Ukraine. Searing footage of personal belongings scattered through the debris field were shocking but perhaps because the tragedy occurred so far away we were a little less affected by it.
The different audience reactions to Tuesday night’s crash follow-up prompted an interesting discussion in our morning news conference. We decided the most appropriate photos to gather from accident scenes were a wide shot of the rescue efforts and the faces of the many volunteers and emergency service workers who attend.
Their expressions add another human dimension to the story of road trauma. These frontline responders are deeply affected by what they see, yet they go back time and again to confront what for most of us is unimaginable.
Their story needs to be told and often it’s a photograph that tells it best.
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