The Story of the Times' Gory Empire State Shooting Photo
Friday, August 24, 2012 - 03:45 PM
WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGE BELOW
If you went on the New York Times' site Friday morning to read about news of the Empire State building shooting, you might have seen this haunting photo of one of the victims of the shooting, Steve Ercolino. Mr. Ercolino, who was apparently the boss of the alleged shooter, Jeffrey Johnson, reportedly fired Mr. Johnson a year ago.
After a certain period of time (minutes? hours?) the Times took the photo down. It then went back up as the fifth photo in a slide show on the front page.
The photo left an impression on a few of us at OTM. It is iconic and horrific -- reminiscent of the work of Weegee, who was arguably the most acclaimed crime photographer of all time.
But was the photo too gory? Or somehow too beautiful? Some readers of the media website Romenesko and people on Twitter thought so.
We’re guessing someone at the Times reconsidered displaying the image so prominently on the front page.
The Times credited the photo to Sam Gewirtz. After some internet searching, we tracked him down. He is a sales manager at Gina Group, a wholesale accessory company, who works in the same building as Mr. Ercolino and Mr. Johnson.
As Mr. Gewirtz tells it, he entered the building at the same entrance where the shooting occurred about five minutes before shots were fired and went up to his office on the third floor.
Mr. Gewirtz’s desk is not close to the windows and he did not hear anything when shots were fired. His co-workers called him over after they realized what had happened.
Around 10 minutes after the shooting, Mr. Gewirtz looked out the window and saw Mr. Ercolino sprawled on the sidewalk bleeding. Mr. Gewirtz said he knew Mr. Ercolino -- that he’d seen him around the building at least once a day for the past three years. He said he also knew Mr. Johnson.
After watching the scene unfold for several minutes with his head up against the window, Gewirtz opened it, stretched his arm out as far as he could, and snapped one shot with his iPhone 4s. The photo that appeared on Times' front page was taken without an eye behind the viewfinder.
Initially, Mr. Gewirtz said he did not want to do anything with the photo because he did not want to make any money from it. But his co-workers persuaded him to send it to the Times and donate any money they offered to charity. Mr. Gewirtz said the Times paid him “around $300.”
Told of the people who complained about the Times’ use of the image, Mr. Gewirtz said, “I don’t blame them. I think it was too gory also.”