Some readers shared concerns about photo of ranger's shooter

Staff writerJanuary 7, 2012 

A few readers contacted us last week with concerns – even anger – over our front-page photograph Tuesday of the man who shot and killed Mount Rainier National Park ranger Margaret Anderson.

The large photo showed Benjamin Barnes shirtless and brandishing two guns under the headline “Suspect in ranger slaying found dead on Mount Rainier.” (The same photo runs in smaller form with today’s story.) Alongside the Barnes story Tuesday, we ran one about Anderson headlined “Ranger remembered for her positive outlook,” and the story of a man who was among the last to see Anderson alive and who was held with 100 others in protective lockdown at the Jackson Visitor Center. We also ran a small picture of Anderson on the cover and a photo of FBI SWAT team members loading Barnes’ body into a vehicle.

Here’s what one reader wrote regarding the Barnes photo:

“What is gained by showing this image? Who benefits? Does it serve as a deterrent? Does it promote anything other than guns … certainly not anything positive or community building. Off to the side is a tiny photo of the young woman lost to her family and community. How better to show a photo of her other than what looks like an identification badge image? Or a picture of the mountain with some caption relating to the quiet beauty of the mountain disturbed. I know that sensationalism sells more papers but?”

This response from Managing Editor Dale Phelps sums up the photo selection process.

“What we try to do is find images that best tell the news story and give readers some greater insight into it. In this case, the big story of the day was about the man who did this horrible act, the pursuit of him and the discovery of his body. Part of the story revolves around him using guns at a party early Sunday and the shootout that occurred there before he and his weapons moved on to Mount Rainier. This photo shows his association with weapons and, I think, gives you a little sense of who he was. Granted, it’s a somewhat chilling image. But it tells part of the story.”

Phelps encouraged the reader to view our coverage over several days.

“The Monday paper had the type of scene-setting image you talk about in your note as well as a photo of Margaret Anderson at work. For obvious reasons, we don’t have a lot of pictures of Anderson. The mug shot you describe as an ID badge photo is one of the few shots the park service was able to provide. We obviously are interested in telling Margaret Anderson’s story. … I would anticipate in the near future that we will come back to Anderson as the community and her family mourn her loss.”

Phelps was right. We plan full coverage of Anderson’s memorial Tuesday and anticipate by then her family will want to talk more about her.

We also face practical limitations, as Phelps pointed out. Last weekend, we had only the pictures officials gave us, plus pictures we took from outside the park. Through pure coincidence, TNT photographer Dean Koepfler was at Mount Rainier last Saturday and had snapped the picture of Anderson we ran on the front page Monday.

Finally, in his response, Phelps disagreed with the reader’s assertion that our only motivation is sensationalism.

“I’ve worked in this business for over 30 years,” he wrote. “Making something ‘sensational’ has never entered into a single decision made in any newsroom I’ve been in.

“Our job is to report the news and give readers information about the subjects that interest them or affect their lives. This was a tragic event that took place at a major destination in our community. We reported on it – in both stories and photos – from all possible angles.”

This story was sensational – in a horrific way – on its own.

Some readers were offended less by the content than by the size and placement of the photo – considerations we will continue to talk about as we make these decisions in the future. We appreciate that readers contacted us with their thoughts.

NEW INTERN

The new byline in the paper this week belongs to Alexis Krell, an intern from the University of Washington. Krell is a native of Wasilla, Alaska, and a senior at UW. She was editor in chief of The Daily student newspaper last year and interned for the Thomson Reuters bureau in Santiago, Chile, last summer, followed by a stint at The Seattle Times.

Krell will help cover the upcoming legislative session in Olympia alongside statehouse reporters Jordan Schrader and Brad Shannon. We also are partnering with The Seattle Times and The Associated Press to try to cover all angles of this important session.

Karen Peterson: 253-597-8434

karen.peterson@thenewstribune.com

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