Editorial: Newspaper’s job is about documentation

Several weeks ago The Whidbey Examiner ran a story on its front page about a human jawbone discovered on a beach in Coupeville.

Within that story we included a photo provided by one of the young women who found the remains.

The image shows a partial jawbone with a few teeth still intact, laying as it was found on a rocky beach.

On page 5 of this week’s Examiner you will find a letter from Theresa Trebon, who deems it inappropriate to publish the photograph.

Prior to running the photo, the newsroom had a lengthy discussion about the decision of whether or not it should be published. We debated the pros and cons.

The staff agreed there was merit in publication, and nearly all said they would run it if they were editor. Ultimately the decision was mine, and I agreed.

Trebon’s main complaint against running the picture is that it is insensitive to Native American culture. That was one of the issues that was discussed by the staff and I.

When we ran the initial story about the remains, no one had determined them to be Native American. The bone was being taken for analysis.

Even if they were determined to be Native American, I still would publish the photo.

Here’s why: Part of a journalist’s job is to document history. In fact, some say journalism is the first draft of history.

In publishing the photo with the article, the Examiner added information to Coupeville’s already fascinating history.

Images of ancient remains are often published in newspapers, magazines and online. Archeologists contribute to articles in National Geographic and other publications, including photos of remains of our ancient ancestors.

Running the photo of a bone fragment is little different than photos showing the remains of an ancient man or woman. Are those offensive images?

People are fascinated with history and archeology. They go to museums to view ancient artifacts, including mummies, on display.

In a hundred years or so, perhaps our descendants will be looking back at these images and articles that appear in publication.

I am fascinated that a jaw bone was found lying on the beach. It wasn’t dug up and an ancient burial ground wasn’t destroyed.

There wasn’t any evidence of any kind of excavating where it was found.

For now at least, the origins of this jawbone are unknown, but someday there may be an interesting story behind the fragment.

And now we have historical documentation of it.




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