Reactions to Time Magazine’s Boston Bombing Cover
Design community offers opinion and advice on potentially controversial covers.
A powerful image offers much more than visual stimulation—it can make you hear, feel, smell and almost taste the events of the day. That is certainly the case with Time magazine’s special tablet-only edition on the Boston Marathon bombing that took place earlier this week.
The image (pictured below) shows a terrified little boy up close and very personal in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy. Boston-based freelancer Bill Hoenk captured the image, which might be one of the only photographs captured following the second explosion, reports Yahoo.
FOLIO: contacted industry designers from many sectors and asked them to comment on the use of the image. They also provide insight on the ways media teams should balance the decision to run traumatic images.
Q1: What do you think of this Time cover?
A1: I don’t think it works well as a cover, especially in terms of the high standards, design- and influence-wise, of the Time brand. I have no argument with putting edgy and uncomfortable images on a cover when the situation demands it. But there is some gravitas and universality missing here. Of course, choosing a child is extra-tricky, but counter-intuitively this could be a photo of a kid who fell down and hurt his/her head in the playground.
It is not gaining extra power by the child being the focus. I don’t see it as being immoral or BAD that they did this, it just does not seem to be representative of that particular horrible event.
Q2: If and when a brand gets the opportunity to put something impactful like this on the cover, how should a team handle that decision process?
A2: There needs to be layers of meaning to the photo, not just one shocking image. It’s that picture worth 1,000 words thing. The justification is that the photo ADDS to the understanding of the event, that it’s not just an ILLUSTRATION of the event. More now than ever, with every level of atrocity easily viewable online, it needs to be journalistic, needs to help the reader to a new or expanded way to view the event. If not, it will look and feel like this Time cover.
Helene Silverman, Design Director, Architectural Record
A1: I think it’s an impactful cover. I’m not really a fan of the choice of image, but I understand the rationale behind it—get the image that’s going to turn the most heads. Putting a child with a bloodied head on the cover is a bold choice and much more impactful than, say, an adult. Most people are tied to that sense of innocence that exists in children.
A2: Depending on the brand’s circulation model, they may only get 12 issues a year to reach their readers, so I think that needs to be a factor. No one wants to turn their heads when tragedy strikes, but only the brands that it really makes sense for should leap to put it on their cover.
This particular cover makes sense. You have to know that some people are not going to like it and may not pick up your issue because of it. But I think making the statement should outweigh the reach because on the other hand you may reach new readers who want to know more from a reputable source. I think you always need to be thoughtful and careful with the images you choose. Going for ‘shock factor’ may not always be the best course of action.
Luke Hodsdon, Director of Design/Art Director, Churm Media Inc.
A1: As the events of the Boston tragedy swirl, I have seen so many images that are controversial and used in the media.
The Time cover is particularly gruesome as it shows two real tragedies, that children were involved (again on the world stage) and the unnecessary death and wounding of so many people. I suppose that Time needs to look toward such images, and I am sure that the staff thought long and hard about its use.
I think that they could have conveyed the horror and tragedy better though, with a great conceptual cover that summed up the aftermath, which they have done innumerable times before (even for use on special editions). It would also skirt the pitfalls that this image digs up or exploit such a raw wound.
A2: Scientific American, as an authoritative science and technology monthly, rather than weekly magazine, tends to cover longer-term views on any given event. So it is unlikely that we would consider using an image like this for a cover.
We might use an image like this inside in a feature article that discussed an aspect of an event like this, such as the neuroscience of violence or psychology of healing and resilience. While we are committed to depicting reality, as it exists, we also balance that reality against the needs of our reading audience. Scientific American is read in many schools. Like other media, we would use our judgment to select images that show the news but also are not too disturbing.
Michael Mrak, Design Director, Scientific American
A1: An excellent image that conveys a tragic situation, very emotional. I will say this image was a good choice given the other more horrific images that could have been used. One critique, without the words “Boston”—you really don’t get that this was from the Boston Marathon. There are other images of first responders and marathon runners together that could have been considered and possibly were. Could it be that this photo was chosen to make a point? Where can we go as families or as a group that is safe? What kind of society are we leaving for our children? So sad.
A2: I would ask questions like: What if that was your family member on the cover, how would you react? Would that be okay? Would you rather see a more generic image representing the event? Look at other images to see how best to represent the situation. Should it be controversial? Political? Emotional? Shocking? Or all wrapped into one?
What kind of reaction do you want?
Mark Rook, Creative Director, WTWH Media, Inc.
A1: I applaud Time for its decision to quickly ramp up a special tablet edition to report on the bombing in Boston. The cover image Time chose is powerful and personal, and illustrates the innocent victims of the blasts, whereas their sister publication Sports Illustrated chose an iconic marathon-focused image. Time’s print issue this week features their annual Most Influential People Issue. For Time not to cover Boston this week would have looked tone-deaf. More publishers should be using their tablet editions to publish timely content that is not tethered to the print edition’s publishing cycle.
Josh Klenert, Huffington Post Media Group, Head of UX & Design