On Monday, November 10th, campus was tense. Around 3 o’clock, all OU students received an emergency text warning them to steer clear of the Adams Tower dorm, where a student had broken his 12th floor window and was sitting on the ledge, contemplating an untimely end. Ruckus ensued, as students left class to watch the scene unfold; the boy’s fraternity brothers rushed to the area to talk him back inside and pray for a positive outcome. Among all the chaos, the OU Daily sent out student reporters to take pictures of the student. They wanted to cover the story as it happened, which is a responsibility of the media. However, it shocked me that superiors would tell their reporters to ask for tips about and take pictures of an OU student sitting on a ledge, considering suicide, before he had even been talked safely down from that ledge. There was certainly a lack of sensitivity in this situation concerning images used in the story, a problem that occurs in the mass media nearly every day.
Looking at certain images reproduced from former press releases in the student packet, I could not disguise my horror, sorrow, and sometimes disgust at the shocking images printed and seen by millions: Moussolini’s – and, more recently, Gaddafi’s – dead body immediately following his execution by patriots, American ambassador Chris Stevens’ body following the bombing of the Benghazi embassy, and a fireman carrying a little girl’s body out of the Oklahoma City Murrah Building. These images are disturbing, but they are necessary. The public, regardless of being informed of a situation, will rarely believe or care enough about it unless they feel a strong emotional connection to the event. Unfortunately, death sells, and the media know this full well. Sensationalized events, extensive coverage, and a slew of graphic images characterize nearly any current event broadcasted on media, be it television, newspaper, or online. The only time sensitivity should be practiced is in an ongoing conflict, as in the suicide issue that occurred on my campus this week. For example, when Steven Sotloff, an American journalist, was beheaded by Islamic State militants, IS itself transmitted a video of his execution across the internet by IS itself in order to gain infamy. In cases such as these, using graphic images may jolt the public into realization of the gravity of the situation. Although it may cause emotional distress to family of friends, it may be a necessary measure in order to foster public discussion and societal change.