12/06/2007 04:50 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Score One for Journalistic Principles

After a while, tipping them just isn't exciting enough

This photo of a police officer shooting a cow triggered a reader outcry when it was published with a story in the Sanbury (Penn) Daily Item about two cows that "darted" onto the grounds of a middle school. My children read this newspaper! readers shrieked.

In response, the newspaper's editors confidently and correctly defended the decision to publish the picture: "The incident happened and it was extraordinary. It was news... The newspaper's decision to print the photo should help readers decide whether they think police acted appropriately. It provides context."

The editors reach this conclusion even as they acknowledge that "photos have power that words cannot match. Decisions about publishing disturbing photos are never taken lightly." In other words, describing the photo would not have been good enough.

Score one for journalistic principles. And yet... if the cop had said, "We shot that fucking cow," I can absolutely guarantee you that there's not a single mainstream newspaper in the country that would have published that extraordinary and newsworthy quote, context be damned. They would have settled for describing the quote instead.

Some words still do have the power to make even the most courageous journalists cower in fear.

News item via Romenesko