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Publishing sensitive images


Students will look at the photo printed by the New York Post of a man who had been pushed in front of an oncoming subway and discuss whether a newspaper should print such pictures. Then, students will examine editorials and blogs about the same situation.


  • Students will consider the ethical ramifications of publishing photos of tragic moments.
  • Students will understand key times when ethically questionable photos were published.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.5 Analyze in detail how an author’s ideas or claims are developed and refined by  particular sentences, paragraphs, or larger portions of a text (e.g., a section or  chapter).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.6 Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how an  author uses rhetoric to advance that point of view or purpose.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.


45 minutes


Class set: Rubric — publishing photos

Class sets of articles/blogs/editorials about the controversial photo published in the New York Post of the man who was pushed in front of an oncoming subway

Note: In order to prevent copyright violations, teachers will need to search for their own resources when it comes to today’s lessons.  However, the ethically questionable photo that is the topic of today’s discussion appeared on the front page of the New York Post on Tuesday, December 4, 2012.  Immediately after it was printed, other newspapers and websites spoke out about whether the picture was too gruesome to be printed.  There are myriad resources that teachers can use in their own classroom by having students access them through their original electronic versions.

NPR has a great resource on this called, “Documenting Tragedy: The Ethics of Photojournalism.”  Their usage policy for K-12 educators is: “K-12 teachers may make up to 30 copies of transcripts of NPR content for one-time classroom use. NPR’s copyright notice must be legible.”  According to their policy, K-12 teachers may NOT use audio without appealing for prior consent.

Lesson step-by-step

1. Building background — 15 minutes

Have students work with a partner or small group to answer the following question:  Is it appropriate for a newspaper to publish a picture of a person who is about to die?

a. Once students have spent time discussing that question, put a copy of the original picture up on a screen for students to see (I would try to find the original picture WITHOUT the original New York Post headline/front page art). Ask them to discuss again.  What about this picture?  Should this picture be published?

b. Again, once they have discussed and shared out their perspective, show them a picture of the photo exactly as it appeared on the front page of the Post, with the giant headline “Doomed” and everything.  How does the design and the headline treatment change or strengthen your opinion of this photo’s appropriateness?

2. Discussion — 25 minutes

Pass out an article that you have found that discusses the appropriateness of printing this picture.  Give students time to read, then ask students to discuss some questions in small groups.  (Based on the specific article you use, you can adjust or change these questions).

a. What is the author’s perspective of the printing of this picture? What evidence does the author provide to back up that opinion?

b. What specific arguments does the author make that you think are effective? Are there any specific arguments the author makes that you think are not effective?

c. Overall, is this article effective in convincing you of the author’s opinion? Why or why not?

3. Homework/Assessment — 5 minutes

Students should find an example of an ethically questionable photo that a newspaper published.  They should print off a copy of the photo and write a paragraph that summarizes who published it, why it was ethically questionable, and the student’s opinion of whether or not the photo should be published.


For a group of students who are strong readers, you can give them a pair of articles (instead of a single article) and they can discuss/answer the questions by comparing the arguments that each author uses.

For students who struggle academically, teachers can give them examples and/or web addresses that point students to specific controversial photos and explanations (such as this article at the NY Times Lens Blog).