NEW YORK -- Editors at The New York Times and Los Angeles Times showed similar judgment one day this week in running large, front-page pictures of tsunami victims. Faces of dead babies in makeshift morgues were clearly visible. They were the type of images you were hard-pressed to see during hours of television coverage.
In a cataclysm notable for its staggering loss of life, US television news was reluctant to convey that fact graphically.
The early days of coverage were dominated by video, much of it taken by amateurs, depicting the awesome spectacle of onrushing water. When professional TV crews arrived, the cameras focused mostly on the physical destruction -- buildings splintered, cars and boats flung along city streets.
When bodies were seen, they were mostly from a distance and usually covered up. From television's perspective, they didn't have a face.
"What you want to do is show the horrific nature of what happened but do it in a way that you don't cause disgust among the viewers, particularly during the dinner hour," said Chuck Lustig, who coordinated ABC News' coverage on "World News Tonight" and other broadcasts.
With such a decision, journalists walk a fine line between showing sensitivity and giving short shrift to the enormous human cost and scope of the event.
"It anesthetizes the emotion," said Michele McNally, director of photography at The New York Times.
McNally was torn between two pictures she wanted to offer for the front page Tuesday. Both were from the same hospital in India; one showed more bodies but faces were not visible. The other showed fewer bodies, but the children's features were evident, and a mother was clutching her head in agony.
McNally knew from the gasps of other editors that the second picture told a more dramatic story.
Television executives say their medium is different. Parents can better shield their children from gruesome images in a newspaper than they can when a television picture shows up quickly and unexpectedly, said Michael Bass, executive producer of "The Early Show" on CBS.
"We never forget that we are a guest in people's homes," said Bill Wheatley, NBC News vice president. "Any organization would be foolish to give people a steady diet of material that would be so offensive that they couldn't watch."
Tragedy boosts cable ratings
Coverage of the Asian earthquake and tsunami disaster has increased cable news channel ratings during the usually dormant year-end period.
By the end of Sunday, Fox's prime-time total viewership increased 34 percent to 931,000, and its total-day average (from 3 a.m.-3 a.m.) rose to 770,000 (up 17 percent from last year). CNN's viewership dropped 11 percent in total-day to 408,000 while picking up 6 percent in prime-time to 628,000. CNN saw better results Monday and Tuesday, peaking the latter day in prime-time with nearly 1.5 million viewers. Fox did better in the same period, reaching nearly 1.8 million. Fox also outscored CNN in total-day. MSNBC has finished a distant third to the other news channels, averaging nearly 300,000 viewers in prime.
'Trial by Jury' remains on docket
The death of actor Jerry Orbach will not affect plans for the latest "Law & Order" spinoff, "Law & Order: Trial by Jury," the producers have said.
Orbach, who played Detective Lennie Briscoe on "Law & Order" for more than a decade, succumbed to prostate cancer on Tuesday. He had left the original series last spring and was to reprise his popular role on the latest, fourth edition of the NBC drama franchise, which was scheduled to debut early next year.
"While Jerry is irreplaceable, 'Law & Order: Trial by Jury' is an ensemble and will continue in production," the producers said in a statement. "A new cast member will join the company, announcements will be forthcoming."
Globe on NECN
Here's what's happening on "Around the Globe" today on NECN:
9:30 a.m.: "Talk of New England"
12:30 p.m.: "Globe at Home" -- Financial planner Roy Komack offers insight for sound saving and investing in 2005.
4 p.m.: "Around the Globe"
6:30 p.m.: "New England Business Day"
8 p.m.: "NewsNight"
Schedule is subject to change.