After 58-year-old father Ki-Suck Han was struck and killed by a subway train on Monday, the New York Post ran a front page image of Han with the subway train yards away with the headline: “Pushed on the subway track, this man is about to die.” In huge letters below the photo, the Post described Han as “Doomed.” Many critics have labeled the move distasteful and insensitive.
The controversy over the photo has mostly centered around whether the photographer should have attempted to help Han rather than shoot photos. However, we cannot verify whether the photographer’s reasoning — that he was trying to alert the train driver to danger with camera flashes — is true, nor can we determine whether he or anyone else on the subway platform was in a position to save Han’s life. What we can judge is the Post’s decision to run the horrifying photograph.
We see images equally as upsetting on the news all the time. These are usually images of war or natural disasters; however, these photographs alert the public to important events and social ills. The photograph that the Post used does not add anything to the story. While it has a strong impact on our emotions, it does not help us to right the wrong or understand the situation any better. All it does is show the intensely private last moments of a helpless man’s life and grab the public’s attention, in hopes of selling a few more papers at the great cost of further traumatizing the victim’s family, as well as many readers.
The goal of journalism is to inform the public clearly and honestly, not to sensationalize stories to the point of distortion. What we should take away from this is that a man was killed, possibly murdered, on Monday. Any stories about this event should serve the purpose of informing society about issues of crime and public safety. The Post’s insatiable craving for sensationalism has led to a distortion of the story so that the questionable actions of a photographer have become more significant than the actions of the victim and the man suspected of killing him.
A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Dec. 5 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board at firstname.lastname@example.org.