Anchor Nalina Shapiro told viewers during the 10 p.m. news on WNLO-TV Tuesday that the sister station of Channel 4 was not going to show a graphic picture obtained of escaped convict Richard W. Matt Friday after he was shot three times in the head and killed.
But hours before, the same disturbing picture with Matt on the ground in a wooded area with his damaged head visible - and nothing blurred as it had been on some other outlets - had been put online on the station’s website, WIVB.com.
It was a clear indication that the standards for what can be shown online are different than what is shown on the air.
But you have to wonder if the photo is too graphic to be carried on television news, why wouldn’t it be too graphic to be viewed online?
A bigger question is what benefit Channel 4 thought its online readers would get by seeing the disturbing picture.
Chris Woodard, the digital director at Channel 4, said the photo was obtained by the station’s news department and the decision to put it online and not on the air was made by News Director Scott Levy.
“I supported the decision,” said Woodard.
Channel 4’s news department is separate from its digital department, but they do work together at times.
Levy said the decision to put the photo online “was made to allow the viewer to make that decision (of whether to look at it) for themselves. Putting it on-air does not allow that.”
Actually, Channel 4 could have warned TV viewers not wanting to see the photo to look away if it had decided to show it. It often does that with disturbing video.
Levy added that WIVB.com also made those who wanted to see the picture click on an image to view it rather than just post it for all to see.
“We wanted to be very careful no one would see it by accident,” explained Woodard of forcing the picture to be clicked on. “The viewer had to make a conscious effort to see it.”
Woodard added that the photo was only on WIVB’s website and was not put on social media, although other people could post it there.
As for the reaction from the decision to carry the photo, Woodard said: “Some people were concerned, but not a whole lot.”
It is hard to see any benefit to viewing the photo, other than clicks to the website or morbid interest.
However, Levy saw another benefit.
He said a number of factors were considered before publishing it “including viewer benefit and newsworthiness considering the Western New York connection to this story … I felt the picture helped answer some of those questions, including the manner in which the escapee was killed. The photo also helps bring some conclusion to the case that had captured the attention of viewers for the past three weeks.”
It is hard to see why the Western New York connection had any impact on showing the photo. Additionally, the case really was concluded with the knowledge that Matt was dead and the manner in which he was killed had been thoroughly reported without the need for visual evidence.
Channel 7 General Manager Mike Nurse had a different take on the value of showing the graphic picture. He said his acting news director called him to say the station also had the photo from CNN, which he said also posted it online.
“We chose not to show it,” said Nurse. “We felt it was too graphic.”
What about posting it online?
“It is too graphic, period,” said Nurse. “If you wanted to see it, it is available online. We just didn’t feel it was appropriate. Everyone knows he’s dead. How does it advance the story?”
More likely, it advances the idea that Channel 4 and its website might be a little too desperate to get attention.