Gawker Exploited Gruesome Photo of Murder Victim for Web Traffic

On the morning of October 25 in New York, a 21-year-old kid named Christopher Jusko was brutally attacked in the hallway of an East Village apartment building. He was stabbed in the neck and back, stumbled down two flights of stairs and onto the sidewalk, where he collapsed and died.

By that afternoon, Gawker had published a picture of Jusko’s bloody corpse lying dead on the sidewalk. The image wasn’t particularity newsworthy; no other news outlets reporting on the murder ran it. There was no original reporting and barely any accompanying text by the post’s author, Hamilton Nolan. But the image was graphic, sensationalist, and extremely offensive to the family of the deceased. They, along with many readers, complained for 5 days before Gawker editor Remy Stern finally relented and removed it from the site.

The obvious question is, why publish an image so gruesome and disturbing, and of questionable significance? The answer, of course, is page hits.

As the online media world gets increasingly competitive, writers find themselves pressured to produce content that generates eyeballs above all else. Accuracy, grammar, and ethics are increasingly tossed to the wayside by editors primarily interested in advertising dollars.

So why remove the photo at all? Ryan Kearney of TBD.com has his theories:

By the time Stern pulled the photo, Nolan’s post had achieved more than 42,000 page views, which would be huge for a site like TBD but less than half of what yesterday’s Gawker post “7 Things You Should Never Do in a Club” garnered. By the time the Jusko photo was removed, the post was old news; it had already drawn all of the traffic it was ever going to draw. By taking down the photo, Gawker could make itself appear sensitive to its readers’ concerns, perhaps even remorseful (without, of course, making any admission of error).

With hemorrhaging profits and heated online competition, the powers that be are sometimes all too happy to let morals fall by the wayside. It was once the journalist’s job to push the envelope and the editor’s job (with a little help from legal) to be the voice of reason. But the shifting media landscape has left many of us scribes without that support network, and others feeling pressured to betray their journalistic ethics.

Have any of you ever felt pressured by your editors or publishers to make ethical compromises? We’d love to hear your story.

Hat tip Romenesko