Thomasi McDonald, our police reporter, was trying to get a vantage point to see what was happening Monday afternoon with the woman who was threatening to jump off the top of the parking deck in downtown, which would have been an 80-foot drop. He got a good view from the BB&T building, and he called Scott Sharpe, the photo editor. Scott's photographers were all deployed, so he grabbed his camera with a long lense and walked over to the BB&T. He went up to the 16th floor and the folks in an office were kind enough to let him get a perch at a window.
That's how Scott got the dramatic photo that ran on the front of Triangle & Co. this morning. Scott had photos that showed the woman's face, but opted to run a picture that showed her from the back.
Raleigh Police senior officer Jamie Priest did a good job of talking the woman off of the ledge of the parking deck. The police took her into custody but said she would probably not be charged with a crime. They did not release her name or what brought her to the ledge. Presumably, I hope, she is getting some help and treatment.
These situations are complicated for journalists.
I had a managing editor when I was a young reporter in Norfolk who applied a rule of thumb in deciding what to do with things like this. He said if it caused a "commotion," then we probably should cover it. In this case the commotion was evident. The police blocked off several downtown streets for several hours Monday afternoon, keeping cars and pedestrians away from the scene. It was a very public situation that disrupted downtown Raleigh on a busy weekday.
At the same time, we wanted to take care with the photo. We didn't need to show her face to tell the story. The woman's got enough problems, and she wasn't charged. There's no iron-clad rule here, and another set of editors might have made a different decision. This isn't accounting, where the debits always go on the left and the credits on the right, and the rules are all written down. In journalism, you make the best decisions you can, applying humanity, experience, some ethical guideposts and common sense, and live with them.
In point of fact, one major focus of the story wasn't the woman, but Officer Priest, who managed to calm the woman down and talk her out of doing harm to herself.
Scott's photo was noteworthy, in that regard, because you could see Officer Priest up close, doing what he needed to do to save a life.