The Photo Felt Around The World p. 12

By: Joe Strupp Amateur photographer's dramatic picture of a firefighter
cradling a badly burned infant victim of the Oklahoma bombing
touched reader emotions and sparked some debate in newsrooms sp.

IT SPARKED HEATED debate in several newsrooms, caused one veteran newspaper editor to cry, and, for most photo editors, became the focal front- page shot of the tragic April 19 bombing in Oklahoma City.
"It was the photo that was felt around the world," said Tommy Almon, the baby's grandfather.
President Bill Clinton even mentioned it in a televised address.
Ironically, however, the dramatic photo of firefighter Chris Fields cradling the badly burned body of infant Baylee Almon in his arms ? which landed on numerous front pages the next day ? was shot by a local amateur, developed at a one-hour photo shop, and nearly missed being distributed by the Associated Press.
Charles H. Porter IV, a 25-year-old Oklahoma City bank clerk, shot the picture of Fields holding the child, just moments after the bomb blast occurred.
He then sold the photo to AP state photo editor David Longstreath, who sent it over the wires.
"It was everything that was indicative of the bombing," said Longstreath. "It was one of those rare shots that gives the entire story, but in a way that words cannot."
Once Porter took the picture, and developed it with other bomb blast photos, he still had nowhere to publish it. He initially took the shot to Dan Smith, a photographer at the University of Central Oklahoma, who knew Longstreath.
Longstreath said Smith called him and sent the photo over to AP to be considered. But, in the chaos that followed the explosion, Longstreath almost ignored the shot.
"My initial reaction when he sent it was that I was too busy," said Longstreath. "I looked at the roll he shot and took that frame. He took the rest of the roll and left that afternoon."
The infant, who had turned one-year-old the day before the explosion, was pronounced dead at the scene. The baby also was the subject of another widely distributed photo, which showed the infant being handed from police Sgt. John Avera to firefighter Fields, just moments before the Porter picture was taken.
Once it reached the AP nationwide photo wire, the shot of Fields holding the young baby became the subject of debate for several major newspapers, and the main front-page photo for many others.
The Philadelphia Inquirer, which played the picture on Page One the following day, made it the solo front-page art, except for a small, inside tease photo along the left column.
"That photo showed what happened better than anything I've seen," said Ashley Halsey, the Inquirer's national editor. "There wasn't a photo that better captured what happened there, so we decided to use it."
Halsey, a 27-year newspaper veteran, said he briefly discussed the decision to play up the shot with fellow editors, but believed the tragic elements were important to the story.
"When you have an event that is this absolutely horrible, you will have this kind of photo," Halsey said. "It was deeply disturbing, but it best captured the tragedy."
Halsey said the photo sparked about a dozen phone calls from concerned readers the next day, including several who opposed its publication. But, he said, most agreed it was proper.
"It touched me very deeply because l have a child that same age," Halsey said. "After we put the paper to bed, I walked out to the parking lot and cried. I have never done that before."
Other editors, such as Morton Saltzman of the Sacramento Bee, chose not to print the photo, deciding it was inappropriate.
"We had a rather lengthy discussion about which photo to use on the front page, and we decided not to use it because we believed the baby was dead," said Saltzman, the Bee's assistant managing editor for news. "We viewed it as a picture of a corpse, even though there was no information about the baby's condition. It was the most dramatic photo and very compelling, but we chose to go with a photo of a live child rather than a dead one."
For other newspapers, the decision to use the Porter photo or various others involving bloody victims also included lengthy discussions and compromises.
The San Francisco Chronicle, for example, published the firefighter photo, but did not use it as its main art. The Chronicle also took the unusual step of printing a short message to readers, warning them of the brutal pictures.
"There was a lot of discussion over that baby and firefighter photo, and everyone agreed that it had to be used because there were so many children who died," said Lance Iverson, the Chronicle's picture editor. "But, at the same time, we didn't want to shock or offend anyone. We just wanted to tell the story and give a visual impression; that is why we ran it."
The response from readers about the baby's condition was so great, the Chronicle published a short story the next day explaining how the child had died.
"We got close to 100 phone calls asking what happened to the baby, and we had to report it was deceased," said Iverson. "We rarely get phone calls on photos; I can't recall the last time."
At the New York Daily News, where the shot of Avera handing the baby to firefighter Fields made Page One, executive editor Debby Krenek said the emotion of the shot made the decision easy.
"We thought it showed the gripping feeling of the situation," said Krenek. "We didn't think it was too harsh; there were a lot of other ones that we used inside that had blood running down shirts and on faces, but this was Page One."
Still, can a newspaper go too far in portraying such a tragic, bloody event as the Oklahoma City bombing? And did the dramatic firefighter/baby photo cross that line?
For Professor Tom Goldstein, dean of graduate journalism studies at the University of California at Berkeley, the answer is no.
"Newspapers are supposed to reflect the world, and that's what they did," Goldstein said. "There seems to be absolutely no doubt in my mind that those riveting photos should have been used, no doubt. It's not something that you necessarily want to look at during breakfast, but they are riveting."

Newspapers around the world published this photo by Charles H. Porter IV, a 25-year-old Oklahoma City bank clerk, of an Oklahoma City firefighter holding an infant victim, just moments after the bomb blast
?(Strupp is a freelance writer. E&P added some information to this article from a story on the facing page by Julia Prodis of Associated Press.) [ Caption]
?(Newspapers around the world published this photo by Charles H. Porter IV, a 25-year-old Oklahoma City bank clerk, of an Oklahoma City firefighter holding an infant victim, just moments after the bomb blast occured.)[Photo & caption]


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