Zelizer Shares Expertise on Disturbing Images in the Media

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In the wake of several graphic images making headlines recently — a WDBJ television news crew being fatally shot live on air, the lifeless body of 3-year-old Syrian refugee Aylan Kurdi, being carried from a Turkish beach — public debate has once again turned to the role in and propriety of such images in mainstream media.

Barbie Zelizer, Raymond Williams Professor of Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication, is an expert on the subject and author of the book, About to Die: How News Images Move the Public. Her voice has been a valuable one as journalists themselves debate the subject of disturbing or violent imagery and reflect on their own actions.

These images, she points out in The Huffington Post, are more common than many people realize.

“The history of news,” Zelizer writes, “is filled with memorable pictures, often of children, that were hailed for changing public sentiment about depicted events: a child in the Warsaw Ghetto, a starving Biafran toddler, a Vietnamese girl fleeing a napalm attack, a Colombian adolescent being swallowed by a mudslide, a young Palestinian boy shot to death in a Gaza intersection.”

She is also concerned that the debate further the cause of those depicted. While these images attract attention, advocates of many types need to help maximize their impact.

“How can the picture of Aylan Kurdi continue to have impact?,” Zelizer writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer. “The detail so far provided needs an afterlife. Other pictures with names, stories, and particulars need to follow. Action on behalf of the refugees needs to continue.”

Zelizer’s recent media appearances include (links to full text and video):

You can follow Zelizer on Twitter at @bzelizer. She is also the director of the Scholars Program in Culture and Communication, which is sponsoring several events this semester.

Media Contact: Julie Sloane, 215-746-1798, jsloane@asc.upenn.edu