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War is about suffering and death. But should those images be portrayed in the news?

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(AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
The coffin of senior police sergeant Roman Rushchyshyn is lowered during his funeral in the village of Soposhyn, outskirts of Lviv, western Ukraine, Thursday, March 10, 2022, in Lviv.

More than seven years after Jody Santos’ documentary film, “No One Left Behind,” premiered, the decision to publish certain graphic images still weighs on her to this day. “It was quite graphic,” she says of her film, which explored the conditions of disabled children who were institutionalized in developing countries. “Looking back on that, I still do wonder if that—showing those children like that—really accomplished anything.”

The documentary depicted children tethered to wheelchairs, and infants with hydrocephalus—a condition in which fluid builds up in the different cavities of the brain, causing the head to become enlarged. Thinking back on “No One Left Behind,” what stands out to Santos, a visiting assistant teaching professor of journalism at Northeastern, are precisely those editorial decisions to show the children’s suffering in an unvarnished manner—and the fact that she and her colleagues had done so without consent or permission because, she says, there was no one to give it on behalf of the children.

“That got me thinking a lot about how do you move the needle on these issues,” she says, “because when you deploy some of these images that evoke pity, there can be an othering that happens.”

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