On Reporting Violent News Without Worsening the Trauma

This is a standalone version of a comment originally posted in a Facebook discussion. It resulted from the sharing of a violent image from the bombing at the Boston Marathon today.

Images of violence should be preceded with a trigger warning. Otherwise, the trauma they can induce in viewers only serves to heighten the impact of the violence.

We are all journalists now, and the most important job of a journalist is to put facts into context. The violence of a news event is a fact of a serious nature, and so it should be reported carefully and in context.

The real-time social streams from which we get our information are challenging places to provide context. Attention is scarce there. Sensationalism is tempting. But attention garnered that way comes at a cost. When that cost is the amplification of trauma, I think that's too high.

I understand the argument that privileged people should be confronted with the violent reality of day-to-day life. It is easy to ignore news of violence for those to whom violence is an abstract idea. Comfortable people will go to great lengths to remain comfortable, even going so far as to ignore uncomfortable news. I agree that news media are ineffective if they allow violence to go ignored. But a violent photo is not the news. It's violence out of context.

The problem with forcing violent images on people is not mere discomfort. The problem is trauma. There are plenty of images that can be used responsibly to package the facts with the right amount of discomfort. The line not to cross is further traumatizing victims of violence. That is, after all, the goal of those who engage in mass violence.