Picture and Words Tell the Story of Boy and Police Officer’s Hug

Estimated read time: 3 minutes

Boy and police officer hugging in Portland Oregon
Photo by Johnny Nguyen www.chambersvisuals.com / Instagram and Twitter @chambersvisuals (Published here with permission)

Audio extra: WMT Radio Interview:

This photo of a black boy and a white police officer hugging in the aftermath of a 2014 shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, where a white police officer killed a black man, is touching on its own, but it also reminds me that stories are most powerful when words and photos compliment each other.

The photo rounded out with written details from the boy’s mother and people who were present when the hug happened make the story even more powerful.

A picture is worth a 1,000 words, but couple that with a few hundred more actual words that share additional details and you have a great story that people can relate to.

And finally, photos won’t be shared hundreds of thousands of times – like this one – on social media – unless somebody takes them and then shares them publicly.

According to Pix 11, a New York TV station, the photo was taken by freelance photographer Johnny Nguyen, who was attending the rally to take photos for himself. The photo was later widely published on mainstream sites as well as by many on social media.

Takeaway No. 1: We have to take photos to capture moments like these and share them with others. In this case, we were lucky enough to have a professional photographer capture it. (Looking at Mr. Nguyen’s photo, at least one person took a picture with her smartphone. I bet she shared it immediately on her social media account(s).)

Then tie the photo in with the overall story. This typically means that whatever happened will be explained through written words or maybe a podcast. In addition, some people might offer their opinion and analysis of what’s happened. I saw some of this going on during TV news channel talk shows. While it’s certainly OK to voice your opinion, let’s not mistake this for storytelling.

This Yahoo News story story does a very nice job adding context to the picture. The details from the boy’s life and his mom’s comments really flush out what happened.

“Devonte was struggling. He wouldn’t speak. He was inconsolable,” his mother wrote. “My son has a heart of gold, compassion beyond anything I’ve ever experienced, yet struggles with living fearlessly when it comes to the police… He wonders if someday when he no longer wears a ‘Free Hugs’ sign around his neck, when he’s a full-grown black male, if his life will be in danger for simply being.”
Yahoo News

Takeaway No. 2: Get the details from the people involved and allow them to share them in their own words. If it’s your own personal story that you are sharing, write it down quickly before others can influence your own recollection.

The story behind the story also can be powerful and worth sharing. When I worked in the news business in the 2000s, I often worked with photographers and we hardly ever shared the stories of how they got a photo or what they or did to get the photo (or story). Today, some photographers and photo journalists blog and that’s a great way to share stories that otherwise might not have gotten shared.

Pix 11 had several details from Mr. Nguyen on what he saw (in addition to what we could see in the photo).

“When I came across Devonte, who was holding a ‘Free Hugs’ sign and tears running down his face, I knew right there and then there was something special about him,” he said. “My gut told me to stay at the scene despite other photo opportunities in the crowd.” – told to CNN and reported by Pix 11.

Takeaway No. 3: Don’t forget about the stories behind the main stories. Share them, too, when possible.

This photo has spread on social media and has gotten plenty of media attention. Why? Because it’s powerful and it’s different. In a week where much of media coverage has focused on riots after it was announced that the police officer would not be indicted in the shooting, the photo offers hope.

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