When a journalist from The Citizen visited the former Walgreens property on Auburn's west side last week to report a story about anti-Semitic graffiti there, she saw crude swastikas painted in multiple locations.
We had learned that this was actually the second time that symbol had appeared at the empty building site this summer. A couple of months ago, it was removed. But now these symbols of hate had returned, and some local residents were rightfully speaking out against the message that someone is trying to convey.
It was clearly a news story worth sharing with the community. But in deciding how to publish the story, we had a decision to make about what photographs to include.
Should we publish photos of all or most of the swastikas, so readers could see exactly what this vandalism looked like? Should we publish no photos, perhaps so we wouldn't be giving extra attention to the criminal or criminals who did this? Or should we find some place in the middle?
In the end when it came to this story, we chose to run a photograph that showed one place on the building where the graffiti had been covered by a piece of cardboard. Publishing the actual swastikas felt too much like we were providing a platform for a symbol of hate.
The offensive nature of the symbols painted at the old Walgreens made that story and the use of photos different from another story we've followed this year about graffiti. We've also run a few stories about the serial graffiti appearing on Auburn buildings showing a stick figure and the word "dereliction." And in that case, we've run photos showing what it looked like.
The top reason for doing that has been that, unlike the swastikas, those graffiti marks were not inherently offensive.
There was also a public awareness component. Both of these stories involve criminal activity that's under investigation by the Auburn Police Department. In the case of the dereliction graffiti, showing people what it looks like could lead to someone recognizing that message from someplace else or someone they know. In the case of swastikas, most people already know what they look like.
There are some folks who would argue that we shouldn't do any of these types of stories because we just give the vandals the gratification of publicity. That's an understandable perspective, but I think it misses the bigger picture of newsgathering and its purpose.
We have a job to bring awareness to the community about situations like these. That, in turn, can help bring perpetrators to justice and possibly foster community conversation about how we can discourage this type of activity in the future.