Should our images represent reality or the way we want it to be?

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Thursday, August 10, 2017

When we choose a Trains cover should we select an image of the way we want things to be or the as they are, even if a portion of the shot depicts something that’s not 100 percent right?

That’s the question I asked myself after the feedback we received about our August issue and readers were critical of our cover image showing the last Ringling circus train crossing a bridge in West Virginia. It’s a great picture, and it accomplishes something that’s a difficult task: It shows the last circus train cars on the road, which is the point of the story. The gripe was with a group of fans standing to the side of the tracks near the abutment where they could witness and record the passage of this historic event.

Said one reader, in part, whose note was typical of the responses we received: “The cover of the August 2017 issue of TRAINS magazine is most disturbing. The seven people shown in the photo are very obviously trespassing on railroad property, being only inches from a moving train on mainline track. Trespassing is trespassing and it should not be encouraged as your cover image does. Please, let’s stop encouraging such blatant irresponsible behavior.” We also received a letter from Operation Lifesaver, the grade crossing safety organization, and we are printing that letter in our October issue.

At Trains, we encourage readers to play it safe, not to trespass, and to be additional eyes and ears for the railroads and report vandalism, criminal activity, and safety issues. It’s important that we play it safe, keep out of the way, and be an asset rather than a liability. That’s the goal.

But it doesn’t happen 100 percent.

The reality is that fans still do get on railroad property, especially on days when something special is going on. On these days, we’ve noticed that the invisible fence around railroad property is lowered. There seems to be an unwritten rule that on those days railroaders are willing to tolerate fans being closer to the tracks as long as the behaviors don’t become extreme or dangerous.

In the past, we’ve published images of railroaders wearing inappropriate clothing for work, locomotives with front doors open, and other pictures where things just aren’t completely right. We don’t publish those images to embarrass anyone or try to get them fired. Rather, we pride ourselves on telling you how railroading really is and not a fantasy about how we want it to be.

I welcome your thoughts on where we draw the line when it comes to choosing images we publish.

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