Why This Newspaper Ran an Issue With No Photos After Publishing a Disturbing Refugee Image

Editor: Shielding readers just makes 'the needy more invisible'

Headshot of David Griner

Few photos in recent memory have had the devastating emotional impact of last week's pictures showing a Syrian toddler drowned on a Turkish beach.

Many news outlets were criticized for running the heartbreaking photos, a decision that many reached only after intensive internal debate. "It was brutally disturbing, yes," noted Kim Murphy, assistant managing editor for the Los Angeles Times. "But it promised to trouble our readers not by its violence, but by its searing sadness."

(You can read Murphy's full note online, but be warned it prominently features one of the most crushing photos of 3-year-old Aylan al-Kurdi)

While most news outlets simply defended their choice to run the photo, popular German tabloid Bild pressed the issue even harder and far more dramatically.

Tuesday's edition of the paper contained no photos whatsoever, instead showing blank spaces where each image was supposed to be.

Even articles shared on Facebook ran without images, instead showing captions over a gray box.

"Without pictures, the world would be more ignorant, the needy even more invisible, more lost," wrote digital editor Julian Reichelt in an online note about the issue. "Many crimes would simply be forgotten without a visual reminders, no atonement, no penance, no apologies to prevent learning and memory. Photographs are the screams of the world."

It's worth noting the level of gravity with which Bild originally ran the photo. Underneath the image of the drowned boy, the paper's editors wrote a lengthy note calling on Europeans to prevent such disasters from happening again:

Images like this have become shamefully commonplace.

We cannot bear them any longer, but we must show them, because they document the historic failure of our civilization in this refugee crisis.

Europe, this immensely rich continent, will be guilty if we continue to allow children to drown at our coasts.

We have too many ships, too many helicopters, too many reconnaissance planes to continue watching this disaster.

This photo is a message to the whole world, to finally unite and ensure that not a single child dies again on the run.

After all, who are we, what are our values really worth, if we continue to allow this to happen?

@griner david.griner@adweek.com David Griner is creative and innovation editor at Adweek and host of Adweek's podcast, "Yeah, That's Probably an Ad."