How do you want to be remembered? Why we should make this the enduring image of Tyre Nichols.
How do you want to be remembered when you're gone?
What is the lasting image you'd like to leave with others?
Those questions were weighing on USA TODAY news editor Jordan Culver this week as he both directed and watched coverage of Tyre Nichols, beaten and killed by Memphis police.
He wanted readers to remember Nichols' joy of skateboarding, flipping the board as he soared over a flight of stairs, ascending a ramp at sunset, high-fiving a skating buddy after landing a difficult jump.
"I get very tired of the fact that the enduring image so often (of Black men murdered) is these sad, desperate, hopeless final moments," Culver said. "So thinking about Tyre Nichols, the enduring image for me right now is him propped up against that police car, he's crying out. And, you know, if we could do anything to shake that, to just say there's more than just these final moments for these people, that's just so important to me."
So this week, in addition to coverage of Nichols' death, his funeral and the protests, Culver made sure we had this story from correspondent Chris Kenning on the Memphis skateboarding community mourning one of its own.
'We've lost one of our own': Black skateboarders in Memphis and beyond honor Tyre Nichols
Tyre Nichols was a father, a son, a photographer, a skateboarder
Culver has edited so many of these stories – police shootings, mass shootings, disasters.
He thinks often about how people might have wanted to be remembered. What version of their own name would they have used? What image of them will be remembered by the people who knew them best?
He thinks they'd want "a good one."
Tyre Nichols was a father, a son, a photographer, a skateboarder.
The picture we published with the skateboarding story is a close up of Nichols with a confident gaze, wide smile, crisp pink shirt, suit vest, blue striped tie.
It's a good one.
What is your lasting image of George Floyd?
Culver recounts the enduring images he holds in his mind of other murdered Black men.
"The first thing I think about George Floyd is, I always think about Derek Chauvin's knee on his neck," Culver said. "At the risk of sounding too real, that haunts me. I watched the video of Ahmaud Arbery dying. The enduring image that I have of him is him reaching out and it looks like he's trying to reach out for the gun to get it away from him.
"I really do want to make sure that we just give these people a chance to say they're more than just these final moments."
LeBron Hill is an opinion columnist for the USA TODAY Network Tennessee. He was drawn to the skateboarding as well.
"Watching the coverage of Nichols ... has been difficult. The only shred of joy I’ve gotten through the news coverage is knowing Nichols was an avid skateboarder," he wrote this week.
"I think about Nichols and smile, knowing the expected falls and bruises didn’t keep him from skateboarding."
He said we owe it to Nichols to celebrate the story he chose to tell, "the joyous skateboarder who was a beloved son."
Remembering Tyre Nichols: I choose to embrace truth of Tyre Nichols as skateboarder, beloved son. We owe him that.
How should we handle photos of victims?
Do we perpetuate lasting images of people in their worst moments? What is our responsibility to the news as well as the person? We hear from many that we need to show the graphic nature of some events to let our readers know the full truth of the tragedy.
Our visual guidelines state:
In general, we do not show the moment of death, but be as accurate as possible to show the moments leading up.
In cases like George Floyd's murder, where a knee hold or choke hold results in a loss of life, we refrain from using content that goes beyond the point where the victim has lost consciousness or lost their life.
For rare exceptions, the news value must outweigh the potential harm.
USA TODAY visuals director Andy Scott wants to take these further. While those guidelines address coverage of a person's death, there's less of a bright line on how to address that person's life.
"I do think this concept of 'enduring image' of victims – either from mass shootings or by police – is one we could expand on," Scott says.
Standards editor Michael McCarter agrees, noting our guidance constantly evolves and perhaps this area should, too: "It is important that we reveal the whole person and not just images from the worst time in their lives. It also helps our audience connect with them as individuals, humans, and not merely as the face of an incident."
'Can we get a story of joy somewhere in our newspaper?'
Culver is on the case. He advocated for Nichols and will continue to speak up for others. He respects the importance of showing the news, the truth, "but you can counterbalance that with images of joy, with images of happiness, with images of hopefulness. I'm always talking about, can we get a story of joy somewhere in our newspaper?"
"Just seeing that photo of him just looking happy, that can be a new enduring image."
Let's make sure that happens.
Here's the image of Nichols, one more time. Confident gaze, wide smile.
Nicole Carroll is the editor-in-chief of USA TODAY. The Backstory offers insights into our biggest stories of the week. If you'd like to get The Backstory in your inbox, sign up here. Reach Carroll at EIC@usatoday.com or follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/nicole_carroll. Subscribe to USA TODAY here.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Tyre Nichols had full life. His lasting image shouldn't be his death.