May 01, 2006
Questions 7 and 8
Two questions posed last week in a blog response and in letters to the editor:
No. 7, from the blog: “I know that newspapers are concerned about attracting young readers. That was my thought when I got over my shock at seeing an article on the front page of the Concord Monitor announcing that a readers’ panel had been formed to comment on the American Idol competition. C’mon – since when should the Monitor stoop to this kind of pandering?”
I disagree with the premise of this question. There has long been more to the Monitor’s front page than war, politics and crime. We always try to put at least one story out there to lighten readers’ day.
Sure, the American Idol panel is frothy stuff. But we know from listening to readers that the opinions of their friends and neighbors are important content. And American Idol is a hit with the young at heart as well as the young.
It’s hard for me to fathom, but 47.5 million calls were dialed to vote after last week’s competition. I’d never call myself, but I do like the show. I’ve learned from it that to become a star takes more than just being able to carry a tune in the shower. Singing isn’t easy even for people with talent. In this celebrity culture of ours, the show also demonstrates how people grow or recede in the spotlight. My favorite episode was the American Songbook two weeks ago, and my thinking is that the competition will come down to a duel between Katharine McPhee and Chris Daughtry.
Maybe the front-page play of the Monitor’s panel is pandering – pandering to the editor. But it isn’t pandering to readers.
Question No. 8, also from a front page last week: Why did you allow a picture showing the body of a drowned man to appear on page one?
This was the case of a man who left his car late one night, jumped over a fence and fell down a rocky cliff into the Suncook River, where he drowned. In the photograph, shot from high above the scene, rescuers in wetsuits were about to retrieve his body, which was just below the surface.
The main reason we chose the picture was that it showed better than any other we had what had happened – and what was happening. The cliff, the river, the sad work of the rescuers: It was all there.
And one more thing: The body was hard to see. You had to look very closely to see it. When editors reviewed the photograph and others at the news meeting the day of the drowning, many of us could not make out the body until Photo Editor Dan Habib pointed it out to us. Even then, people could barely see it.
To use the photo was something of a close call, but we decided it was a grim picture that conveyed grim news, not a picture that sensationalized it.
The news decision was as simple as that, but another thought lurked in the back of my mind. Almost every spring in and around Concord, people (usually young men) do foolish things and wind up drowning in a river or lake. If, after taking a close look at this sobering image, just one young person thinks twice about being reckless on or near the water, using the picture would be worth whatever objections readers raised to its publication.
That is not why we used the picture, but as the editor, I admit to having the thought.
Posted by Mike Pride at May 1, 2006 09:58 AM