Here’s why we ran a photo of Highland Park shooting victims

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sun-Times Washington Bureau Chief Lynn Sweet was at the Highland Park parade when the shooting started, and we debated whether to use her photos of the dead. We decided to use one, and put it behind a click-to-view warning module. Here’s our reasoning.

SHARE Here’s why we ran a photo of Highland Park shooting victims

When Sun-Times Washington Bureau Chief Lynn Sweet arrived on the scene of the Highland Park shooting moments after it had occurred, she took photos on her phone that included pictures of victims who had been shot to death. We considered for more than 24 hours — consulting fellow journalists, journalism ethics experts and other leaders, in multiple meetings — whether or not to use any of those images, weighing the journalistic value of documenting this tragedy against the potential impact to the families of the victims. We waited to make sure the victims had been identified and next-of-kin notified, waited to get more information from the police and to see what other documentation might arise.

The mass shooting during the Fourth of July parade in Highland Park is one of the worst in Illinois history, with at least seven people killed and more than 30 injured. It is one of more than 300 mass shootings in the U.S. so far this year. And the weapon was a high-powered rifle, as was used in many other mass shootings, notably one in which 21 were killed and 17 injured at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, in May. These weapons are among those at the center of public debate about gun policy nationally.

Violent crime and gun violence rank among Americans’ top five concerns, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey, making this a key public issue. And as journalists, it is our job to provide our community with the best information we can so our readers can more fully understand what’s happening around them, and make important decisions as part of the democratic process. In the end, we decided that it was important to document the incredible toll that a shooter with an AR-15 style weapon was able to exact in mere seconds.

Photos of these types of mass shootings are rare because most happen within closed walls, not in public outdoor spaces, and it’s also rare to have a journalist on the scene just moments after the attack. In this case, other images have not been forthcoming, so these may be the only images of the Highland Park shooting available. We believe that information about these shootings serves a strong public interest, and that an image — in this case — can convey far more information than any words.

At the same time, we know that graphic images can add to the trauma victims’ families are already experiencing. It is also important to minimize the invasion of privacy as much as possible. For now we decided to run just one image, in which victims’ faces were covered, and to use it in the most limited way possible. This meant cropping the photo to show less of one victim’s exposed body, reducing the resolution so as not to focus too sharply on personal details and preventing the image from being downloaded. We also don’t plan to use this photo repeatedly, but believe it is important to publish now, amid the high public interest in this shooting.

This is also just the beginning, and not the end, of our coverage. We plan to do more reporting on the victims’ lives, not only their deaths, and to continue to cover public policies around crime and guns, as well as the underlying causes of violence.

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