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Public editor: Excellent article, wrong photograph

The Globe and Mail’s use of this photo of a Chinese relative of a passenger of the missing Malaysia Airlines plane was criticized.

Vincent Thian/Associated Press

Last Thursday night, a tweet was sent out from The Globe and Mail's account promoting an excellent and original report by Paul Koring on a scenario for what might have happened to the missing Malaysian plane.

The tweet attracted criticism from some who complained that it intruded on the grief of the woman pictured and others who objected to the connection between the photo and the headline.

The same photo is part of the online article and it is sent out on different applications to mobile and Twitter, for example. On the desktop application, the photo is small but on the Tweet and other applications, the image is dominant and is accompanied by a very strong headline.

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In my view, photos of public grief such as that of the woman here are justified in the correct context as part of the news story about their grief. That photo was published originally on Wednesday afternoon and in Thursday's paper when the relatives met for a public briefing by officials near the Kuala Lumpur airport. Included in the story was this description: "In a heart-wrenching scene, one woman was dragged away, weeping and screaming. "I want you to help me to find my son! I just want to see my boy.' "

Her grief and that of other family members was very public, covered by television and still cameras, and was part of the news of the missing plane – whose flight ended in the Indian Ocean, according to the Malaysian Prime – and justified in that context.

The problem in this instance is that photo was not related to the article about the theory that the people died on board because of hypoxia. By attaching that particular photo, it could seem as if this woman was just told about the theory of "a long silent flight of the dead," as the headline said.

While it is a reasonable choice as a news photo about grieving families, it was the wrong choice in my view for this article. And that misstep looks worse when the photo is so large and connected only to the headline on the tweet.

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About the Author
Public Editor

Sylvia Stead has been a reporter and editor at the Globe since 1975, after graduating from the University of Western Ontario in Journalism with a minor in Political Science. She won the Board of Governors Award there in 1974. As a reporter, Sylvia covered courts, education and Queen's Park. More

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