By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

“Death in the Garden”

“I can’t believe I saw him die right in front of me” begins Boston Herald photographer John Wilcox’s story today about taking pictures of a man shooting up in the Boston Public Garden and then watching him keel over. It’s a stunning story – accompanied by an even more stunning online picture gallery. This is must-see journalism.

Given that this is the Herald, the inevitable comparisons will be made to last October, when the paper ran a graphic, color photo of Victoria Snelgrove’s bloody body outside Fenway Park. As I predicted, Herald publisher Pat Purcell later apologized.

Wilcox’s report, though, is nothing like that. The front-page photo, though dramatic, isn’t graphic. And though I don’t have today’s print edition and thus can’t see how it was played inside, every photo in the online gallery is newsworthy without being exploitative.

This was a self-inflicted public death, and it’s not a bad idea to show people as directly as possible what drugs can do. As Wilcox writes, “The men I photographed in the park yesterday didn’t look like back-alley junkies. They were clean and dressed like working people. One of them was wearing a roofing company shirt.” In other words, this could happen to someone you know.

After Matter: (Thanks for the phrase, Jay Rosen.) Adam Gaffin has a roundup of commentary on Universal Hub.


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7 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    Why can’t the “Newspaper of Record” do this kind of enterprise reporting? (In Greater Boston that is, they are top notch in Belfast or Fallujah).

  2. David Amulet

    I agree with your comment that it’s not a bad thing to show the public the true cost of drug addiction. Great story (in that sense). — d.a.

  3. Anonymous

    If this is the kind of enterprise reporting the Herald has in mind, maybe they have a future after all.

  4. Anonymous

    Three factual questions on the Herald’s drug photos and story. 1) It’s been described as “an unidentified heroin user in the process of killing himself.” I went through the photo gallery several times, and I don’t see a photo of the guy who died shooting up. We have a photo of his friend shooting up, but not the guy who died. Do we know that he did? 2) Do we know that he died of an overdose of heroin? 3) Did the photographer really show the cops photos of the other guy shooting up, leading to his arrest? Is that the right call?

  5. Dan Kennedy

    As I see it, the person who died is the very first one – the same person who’s on the front page: the beefy white guy. I agree that whether or not Wilcox should have showed his pictures to the police is an issue, but I don’t have an immediate opinion. I’d say he probably did the right thing, but it’s something a journalist ought to think about. As I’m sure he did.

  6. Anonymous

    Sorry, but these questions are still unanswered. Could someone from the Herald provide the facts? 1) It’s been described as “an unidentified heroin user in the process of killing himself.” I went through the photo gallery several times, and I don’t see a photo of the guy who died shooting up. That is, we see a photo of him, but we see no photo of him shooting up. We do see a photo of him while his friend holds a needle. But no photo of the deceased shooting up. Right? 2) Do we know that he died of an overdose of heroin? Has there been an autopsy? The first story said he died of an overdose of heroin, when that couldn’t possibly have been known at the time, right? 3) Did the photographer really show the cops photos of the other guy shooting up, leading to his arrest? Is that the right call?

  7. charles edwards

    Although the public have the right to know of these things I do not thick that these photos should be published, this is someones son or husband or brother, I saw someone in a similar position under the garden parasols in a public garden area but there has to a line, I wonder if the photographer or journalist would be so quick to put this forward if it was a member of their family, their wife or brother, would the editor publish pictures of his family I think not.

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