We call it the “breakfast test.”
It’s a really simple test and applies to stories that have a certain gore factor.
Here’s the rule: If you are writing something for the newspaper that you wouldn’t want to read over a bowl of Cheerios, find a way to make it more palatable.
The rule applies to photos too, and ultimately makes for some interesting decisions. I’ve been thinking about the breakfast test for the better part of the last week, especially after seeing a pair of brutal photographs and reviewing a video of a child molestation.
The photos depicted dead bodies.
One was a picture of Glenn Patrick Rose, who was shot to death on May 13 after a confrontation with Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies and California Highway Patrol officers. The shooting occurred in an alleyway off First Avenue in Covina just north of Puente Avenue.
Investigators left Rose’s body uncovered for several hours after the shooting. Reporter Amanda Baumfeld and photographer Walt Mancini each took several disturbing pictures of the scene.
Both said later it was nearly impossible to photograph the investigation without getting a picture of Rose’s body. Investigators said they left the body uncovered because they didn’t think any children would happen across the scene.
Mancini ultimately came up with a photo of several police cars blocking a garage that served as our illustration of the story in the next day’s newspaper.
The second series of photos came from reporter Brian Day, who used a point-and-shoot to get photos from a crime scene in the 1100 block of North Stimpson Avenue in La Puente.
Day’s photos depicted the body of Gabriel Guzman Martinez, 19, who was dragged to his death on May 18 by a runaway pick-up truck. The next day, Day returned to the scene and grabbed some photos of a memorial to Martinez. Ultimately we used those to illustrate the story.
I did alter one of Day’s photos and posted it on the Crime Scene blog. There I asked for reader input. Here’s a reader’s comment on that post:
“Altered it slightly? It’s an entirely different picture without the body. Imagine if photos from every battle since the Civil War were altered, we’d never know what really happened, their history would be in question,” wrote someone identified as “Patrick.” “A journalistic photo should be shown exactly the way it was taken, unaltered. If you don’t want to offend anyone don’t show the picture.”
As for the videotaped molestation, it occurred inside a bookstore at the Santa Anita mall in Arcadia. A man, identified by police as registered sex offender Jaime Elvis Elizondo, 33, of San Gabriel can be seen in the tape sizing up a young girl several times prior to the molestation.
Again, Brian Day wrote the story; here’s how he described the attack:
“Elizondo is suspected of ‘touching his exposed genitals up against a young female child’ … , according to Arcadia police Lt. Ron Buckholtz.”
Several minutes later, I viewed the videotape and a handful of screen captures that accompanied it on a disc provided by the Arcadia Police Department.
Based on what I read in Day’s story, I elected not to put the video on the Internet even though it was not visibly explicit.
I learned later that several local television news outlets chose to air the video. Perhaps they didn’t know the details, but it didn’t pass my breakfast test.