Why does the media show graphic images of children?

Since the creation of photography in the 1800s, still images have been used as a way to share information without words. When you think about it, photographs are amazing things. They are universally understood and they do not face the obstacles of language barriers. Hence the reason they are now often used in the media. They carry a message that will be understood by many readers.

However, when thinking about what stories are reported on in the news, photographs must be considered. Throughout history, images of children have been used to show disasters. The question that I am exploring today is: why?

Let’s consider a commonly know image, “The Terror of War,” otherwise known as Napalm Girl. This image taken by Nick Ut shows the effects of the Napalm attacks in Vietnam. However, the image does not show a victim’s burns or an image of the bombing itself, but rather it shows a group of children fleeing the scene. Specifically Phan Thi Kim Ph’uc, who is pictured running naked away from a cloud of smoke.

According to Kenneth Irby, a writer for poynter.org, the photos of children, although disturbing, have a purpose.

“When children are harmed, abused or neglected, the world gasps collectively — sometimes mobilizing to action. Such visceral stories are often best reported in words, sound and pictures,” he said.

So, according to Irby, the reason for publishing sometimes controversial or graphic images of children is to provoke a response. When analyzed more deeply, that makes sense.

A current pressing issue in our world today is the Syrian Refugee Crisis. Personally, I think it is important to point out that these people are not migrants, they are not leaving their home because they want to. They are refugees. They are being forced out of their home because of unsafe living conditions. Part of the issue is how they are represented in the media.

A recent photograph has become the topic of many conversations around the globe. The image is of a young 3-year-old boy that had washed up on a beach in Turkey. His name was Aylan Kurdi and he was a refugee who was one of five children killed while traveling to safety in a Greek Smuggler’s boat.

David Folkenflik, a writer for npr.org, explored the topic of the media coverage for this issue. During his research, he spoke to Keith Jenkins, the general manager for National Geographic Digital.

Jenkins said, “Taking a step back and thinking about the refugee crisis that has been unfolding for months, if not years, this felt like a moment in time that stopped everything and really said, ‘This is a turning point.’ This is a point where people may pay attention in a different way.”

For many, Aylan Kurdi is now a victim of a humanitarian crisis. The issue now has a face. Readers can see that real people, innocent people, are suffering. The idea of linking a relatable figure to an issue to inspire change is not a new one, and it has worked in the past. Therefore, the media uses these graphic pictures to expose the issues in the world around us so that the audience will become truly aware as to what is going on, and hopefully, change things for the better.

Find the Poynter article here.

Find the NPR article here.