The Shooting of Trayvon Martin and the Media’s Use of Photographs

One of the biggest stories in the news over the past month has been the controversy surrounding the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Poynter has published an article that examines how the media has used photography to portray Trayvon Martin, the victim, and George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watchman who shot and killed him.

The dominant photo of Martin shows him 13 or 14 years old, wearing a red Hollister T-shirt. Other photos, none of them recent, depict a young Martin in a youth football uniform, holding a baby and posing with a snowboard. He is the picture of innocence.

The most common photo of Zimmerman is a 2005 police mugshot. He is 22 in the photo, which was taken after he was arrested for assaulting an officer. (The charges were dropped.) He looks unhappy, if not angry.

The contrast — the two photos are often published side by side — has led to criticism that news media have tilted the story in favor of the 17-year-old victim and against the 28-year-old man who shot him.

The iconic photos of Trayvon Martin & George Zimmerman & why you may not see the others [Poynter]

  • OSAM

    Zimmerman followed the youth after being told by dispatch not to, and killed him because he “felt” threatened. There’s no tilting necessary.

  • MrRocking

    It doesn’t matter what pics are used Zimmerman deliberately pursued an individual for the purpose of a confrontation against the advice of the police. As a result a young man was shot and killed. The police have since then failed to arrest and convict that man.

    You could put a pic up of Zimmerman as a toddler with a bunny in a field of daisies with lomo filter, the man is still a murderer.

  • NLoc

    Im not sure I get the point here. Aside from that, Im not sure this is a good subject to be posting about. Its going to stir up a lot of crap you probably dont want on your site.

  • Guest Star

    I’m not sure what has the photos got to do with the crime that was committed? I see their recent and old photos doesn’t change my mind of what Zimmerman has done. He followed a teenager and started an altercation and in the process killed the teenager.

    When I hear the 911 tapes, the ‘help’ screams sounded like from a young boy. I would love for Zimmerman to scream in court so we could compare the voices between the tapes from 911.

    He had no right to chase after the teenager, if he gets free it gives people like him a free pass to mug people who look ‘suspicious’. I guess if a woman gets attacked by a rapist, and then tries to self defend herself and he kills her during the struggle, he can then claim self defense?

  • Really stop

    If I wanted to read about this shit it wouldn’t be on a camera site…

  • Mark

    It’s a very “good” subject to be posting about, because it shows that the news outlets have a clear narrative they want conveyed and they will use photographs to help spread that narrative.  Don’t think for a minute that the “unanimous” outcry, fueled by frightening calls for vigilantism against the accused, isn’t being fueled by this type of purposeful imagery. No one should be jumping to conclusions about any news article, nor convicting a man, until the justice system has had the final say–no matter how angry your “gut” reaction makes you.

    Do you remember the photographs of OJ Simpson on the cover of TIME magazine? The photograph was manipulated to give Simpson a dark and sinister look. Or how about the two drastically different versions of the McCaughey family–on TIME’s cover, the mother has very bad teeth and on Newsweek’s cover her teeth have been Photoshopped. Not suprisingly, the cover treatments reflected the political leanings of each magazine.

    I was in the check-out line today and noticed that the cover of People Magazine shows an image of Trayvon Martin in his younger years. Upon closer inspection, I found that the editors had airbrushed his face, giving the appearance of even more youth.

    Again, the point is that we have to take a cynical approach to the visual media that’s put before us. When an organization has a narrative, they will bend ethics to drive the point home.

    The main point is that even if it’s “your side” that benefits from questionable ethics today, in the future it may be your enemy manipulating the truth. Everyone should be outraged that the truth is being filtered passively by subtle manipulation–regardless of this case or any other.

  • Budwardo

    Where is the evidence that Zimmerman continued to follow Martin? Were you there?

  • Budwardo

    “deliberately pursued an individual for the purpose of a confrontation against the advice of the police”.

    Again, there’s no evidence to support what you are claiming. Were you there too?

  • Budwardo

    “crime that was committed”?
    “chase after the teenager”?

    NO EVIDENCE!!!!!!!!!

  • Budwardo

    Well said Mark!

  • Slufdriver7

     OSAM, buddy, were you there?  You should get on the police report as a witness.  Otherwise STFU you racebaiting piece of crap.

  • MrRocking

    Do you not have Google where you are?

    Listen to the recordings. Do you hear Zimmerman saying? “OMG the black kid in the hoodie has spotted me and is about to beat my ass.”

    Do you think the screams on the tape are from George Zimmerman?

    I’m sick of people like you and your blindness to fact. If Zimmerman had phoned the police an left it at that Martin would be alive.

    You don’t have to like it but that is the truth.

  • harumph

    “has led to criticism that news media have tilted the story in favor of
    the 17-year-old victim and against the 28-year-old man who shot him.”

    Just the phrase “favoring the victim” shows how insane this story is. [sarcasm]God forbid anyone should feel any sympathy for the victim of a murder.[/sarcasm]

  • OSAM

    Was I there? No. Was he told, on released 911 tapes, to stop? Yes. Did he end up killing Martin? Yes.  Therefore he continued to follow him.

    Simply logic.

  • OSAM

    Racebaiting? Hardly.  Even if both the people involved were the same race, it would be a travesty.  

    Calling someone a piece of crap? That’s very mature of you.  Crawl back under your computer desk, you rat.

  • OSAM

    Someone hasn’t listened to the released 911 call from Zimmerman in which he ADMITS he is following the teen, does not stop after the dispatcher tells him not to, and on which we hear Martin after being shot.

  • OSAM

    Furthermore: At what point did I even mention race? I didn’t.  Go troll elsehwere.

  • JaneÅndDoug Howell

    Michael Zhang, best stir clear of politically controversial subjects. You might lose advertisers, and I do not want that to happen, as this is one of the best photography sites on the interwebs. Let the investigation continue we’ll soon learn the truth.

  • Mark

    Maybe he has enough faith in the community to believe a civilized debate can and should be had. After all, the issue is about ethics in media and journalism, not whether or not a rogue neighborhood watchman killed a defenseless citizen.

    Out of the dozen or so university-level photography courses I have taken in my lifetime, I can honestly say that nearly all–if not all–broached the subject of ethics and journalism.

    Let’s have a conversation around whether or not an organization that serves as a primary news source for millions of people, should consciously attempt to steer its readers into an opinion via visual imagery. That has nothing to do with this case.

  • Tzctplus -

    A bit uncomfortable of the social ramifications fo your hobby? For bunnies sakes, grow up.

  • Tzctplus -

     You can’t avoid politically controversial subjects if you are serious about photography.

    To think otherwise is naive on the extreme.

  • Coyote Red

    Actually, the words the dispatcher used was “Ok, we don’t need you to
    do that.”  That was in reference to following Martin.  The dispatcher
    did not say to not follow him, but that they did not need him to do

    Secondly, one can follow from a distance.  What I got from the call was
    Martin was running and Zimmerman wanted to keep him in sight so he could
    direct police to Martin.

    Thirdly, the dispatcher can not tell Zimmerman to not follow Martin as Zimmerman has the right to go where ever he has a legal right to be.

    Then Zimmerman told the dispatcher that him had, in fact, lost sight of Martin.  It sounds like by the end of that call Zimmerman still didn’t know where Martin was.

    I’ve not heard any recording where one can hear either Zimmerman or Martin after the shot rang out.  If you are referring to the 911 call from the witness reporting the altercation, the yelling for help stopped after the shot.

  • Dave

     Except that one story says he turned around and went back to his car. When  he got there, Trayvon allegedly had double back and asked something like “What’s your problem” When Zimmerman answered “I don’t have a problem” allegedly Trayvon said “Now you do” and started hitting him.

    I am not saying this is what happened because I was not there. What I’m saying is your response cites ‘logic’ when you actually used no logic. You used assumption.

  • Dave

     Are you disappointed because it has been a while since you’ve seen a post about how to make a snoot out of a pringles can?

  • Gavin Stokes

    Think the point that some people are making about evidence is that in a world of so many variables anything is possible and what seems like one thing has turned out to be another in the past. Sure  Zimmerman more than likely killed Trayvon Martin and personally  that’s what i think happened and it played out as described , but if it turned out beyond a doubt he didn’t follow him and Tray was hit by a stray bullet from a kid dicking about in a backyard, most would accept that and move on.

  • harumph

    While I agree with the overall point you’re making, I don’t think there’s any reason to concoct a fantasy world scenario where Zimmerman didn’t shoot Martin. That’s the one thing we can be certain about. Zimmerman himself says he stalked and killed Martin, so those details shouldn’t even be up for debate.

    Even the debate over whether Zimmerman acted in self-defense or not is grotesquely absurd, since Trayvon would of course be protected under the same Stand Your Ground laws that Zimmerman is. In a just world, that is.

    It couldn’t be any clearer who the actual victim is here, so the idea that photography editors would need to somehow “tilt the story in favor” of the victim is, again, grotesque. There aren’t any unrevealed details that would change the fact that an unarmed 17-year-old was shot and killed by Zimmerman.

  • Richard

    Some of you really need to see the movie 12 Angry Men.

    The photographs and their support of the media’s narrative is a great topic for this site. Michael isn’t taking a stand on the case, he’s taking a stand on the media and few of us realize that all the news about this case including the 911 call, the images, the writing, the works, is second, third, and fourth hand to all of us and has been filtered through various media outlets that are perpetuating a narrative that may not be true.

    The reason we have a constitution and courts and police (who seem to have failed in this case) is to give people a fair trial.

    The “internet” would have lynched Zimmerman early on and that would have been as tragic as his (alleged) shooting of Martin.

  • atat

    If only there was a trial. Or even any charges. The “tilting” here is really being done by the police, who are selectively leaking info to the press.

  • Richard

    atat: it just happened, it will take a while to investigate it, build a case on either side and set a trial date. In this country things like this take a year or more to get cleared up as they should. You don’t know that the police are selectively leaking anything, you’re only assuming that. It does seem like they’ve mishandled this but that doesn’t allow or empower the public to play judge and jury. Of course you’re entitled to your opinion but if you judge Zimmerman on the evidence you have now you’re acting as badly as you accuse him as acting in shooting Martin.

  • guest

    there is clear evidence in the form of a 911 call. he was told not to follow trayvon and he followed him anyway. 

  • atat

    No, I don’t think you have your facts straight. It didn’t just happen. Trayvon was shot over a month ago. The police have not arrested Zimmerman. No investigation, no arrest, no trial. This is exactly why this is such a big story.

  • Richard

    sorry atat: I can’t seem to reply to you so I’m replying to me.

    I agree, the police really fucked it up but it’s not up to us to try and convict zimmerman without the facts. The justice department and FBI are on the case now and there will be an investigation. Of course, now that the public is involved, no matter what the investigation turns up people will think it’s a conspiracy.

    My point is that while this has not been handled well it should be investigated and handled legally, not by a court of internet commenters and demonstrators.

  • atat

    The primary reason that there even is any federal involvment at this point is because of demonstrators, internet commentary and the press. And I’m not sure why you’re accusing me of acting badly as Zimmerman. That’s just crazy. Why are you accussing me of judging Zimmerman?

  • Richard

    I’m simply saying to let the investigation run its course. That’s all. Sorry to lump you in with many other people on the internet who would take zimmerman out and lynch him if they could, like Spike Lee.

    I’m not defending anyone, I just do not like the idea of folks on the net judging a situation they know little about (including me it seems). I’m happy to say I know little of what happened. Zimmerman may be as awful as folks on the net say he is and I’m hopefully that the feds will sort this out and put him on trial if that’s what’s necessary. But, the pressure from the public to cut to the chase without an investigation and if need be, a trial is what scares me.

  • Mark

    There is a grand jury scheduled for April 10th. There has been an ongoing investigation insofar as one can be conducted since the police have eyewitness testimony. It’s not a big story because of the things you mention. It’s a big story because it was decided that it should be a big story. It’s sensational (or at least can be made that way) and aggravates and agitates racial tension–a theme we’ve seen for several years now. It is polarizing the country and, like so many things, has started to wear down on the public as opinion polls swing in the opposite direction from only a week ago.

    This is all irrelevant, however, as the main point should be about selectively portraying the alleged assailant and victim. News should not be filtered in this manner. It’s also not only an issue with visual media, but with sound as well, as NBC has now launched an internal investigation into the liberal editing of the 911 tape. There is a problem here, and it appears to be backfiring. Over the past 4 years, we’ve seen the media jump to conclusions and end up looking really, really bad when the facts don’t square with the narrative.

  • Richard

    I agree Mark, that’s why I support Michael’s posting of this topic at this site.

  • Sleep Eludesme

    here’s one they are still leaving out. it makes no difference regarding the incident, but it points to the pathetic state of the coverage.

  • Mark

    Perhaps Admin could amend the post with other examples throughout history, from Stalin’s regime to modern times, to help “balance” the topic in general and demonstrate that this problem has been occurring since the dawn of photography.

  • Richard

    These days the problem is compounded by the speed with which problematic media portrayals bounce around the internet which can have the effect of the old “telephone relay reduction” over (little) time.

    It’s not just the media, it’s the media coupled with an angry public who (in many cases rightfully) doesn’t trust public institutions to do what’s right.

    So yes, there’s a history of propaganda in the world but there’s  also a history of people being open to it like sheep being herded by their media masters.

  • Jackson Cheese

    Then skip to another story, crybaby.

  • Jackson Cheese

    Trayvon Martin, a minor, was being stalked by an older man.  These are the facts.

    If anything, it was he was acting in “self-defense” when Mr. Zimmerman initiated the confrontation.

  • Mak

    I have to admit while watching the news and reading updates I at first thought ya throw him In for life for murder and some of that was influenced by pictures in the media and online then started to think everypicture show is of tryvon when he’s younger or of coarse when he looks so innocent, that defiantly makes people jump to conclusions, although I would say Zimmerman deserves some type of charge because he does follow the young man and anyone being followed would try to get away but mayne him calling his girlfriend when he was being followed shows something about who he was, why didn’t he call his dad or the police if he was in fear for being robbed or Kidnapped, jus some thoughts that started to come to mind when you think about the case itself an not the first judgment and lable from the media (28 year old man kills black teen).. I give a example of myself and nothing to glorify, I have a decent job and when I’m at work I’m professional an nice to people I work with in different accounts because I need a job to support my family, but when I get home, because of the neighborhood I live in and how paranoid I am I drive with my pistol in my trunk just in case.. Just showing how we don’t know how people really are because of a picture or how they know they need to act at certain moments..

  • JWilliams

    There are a lot of assumptions and guesses based on emotions here.  FIrst of all it has not been released to the public what happened after Zimmerman said “ok” when told by the dispatcher not to follow Martin.  The events between the phone call and MArtin being shot also have not been released to the public.  Nor has it been established that a murder took place.  There is a difference between killing someone in self defense and a premeditated act of violence.  And again the facts have not yet been established.  Now the prosecution could not charge Zimmerman until they had established a case, or else the case would have been thrown out due to lack of evidence.  Just imagine how the black community would he reacted if their initial demands for immediate charges without investigation would have gotten the case against Zimmerman thrown out in court?   Now that the prosecution has established a case, they have filed charges and Zimmerman is now facing those charges.  This might be a tough bone to swallow but in this country a person is innocent until proven guilty.  So what is the problem again?    

  • emenot

    Is there another version of the 911 call? Your version is a complete opposite!

  • emenot

    Neighbor Watch as per all police sponsorship sanction: Maintain visual contact and call the police! One cannot report anything without seeing anything!