This post is the musings of two different streams of thought, both about the New York Times.
Two weeks ago, I went with my mother, the journalist of 20 years, to see Page One, a compelling plea of a movie to not only prove the validity of newsprint as a medium, but to ensure the NYT as a media entity in the history of media. It succeeds.
Today, while drinking my coffee and doing my overnight-Tweets catchup, I saw a (re)tweet from @brianstelter that said “RT: @brooke: Pick up a copy of the New York Times today. Look at cover photo. And then ponder how it is that we can’t do SOMETHING. #Somalia“. I was intrigued, but didn’t go to the NYT web site just yet, because I had a few more tweets left in my feed. It was a couple of hours later that I saw a story on the media page of HuffPost that was a reaction purely about the image above the fold of page one that I remembered the tweet.
The movie, as I said, instills a conviction in even the most social-media savvy to pick up a piece of print. And yes, printer ink probably runs in my blood. And I am forever a student of all media, never exclusively the digital kind. But it’s a very convincing film. So. Two weeks ago I took in a narrative about the brave and controversial point of view of the New York Times. How they spend the long journalist hours uncovering “All the News That’s Fit to Print.” (I know, the phrase is a cliche. But they print it on the front of their paper every single day). And I walked away with a respect for the brave journalism that takes place every day in the newsroom, that takes place despite the page two question that always lingers: how long before the dinosaur of the New York Times ceases to evolve?
So. Then today, the NYT runs a picture of a starving child as the very first image below that beloved catchphrase. And while Stelter’s tweet wanted me to be immediately mobilized to “do something,” I was immediately immobilized with a question that is often discussed in non-profit circles: is it ethical to use an image of a child in need to sell something? Isn’t it…exploitation?
But it’s true. The photographer, Tyler Hicks, took that picture in Somalia. That child is in Somalia, starving, maybe even, already a past-tense starved. And from the HuffPost article, it almost seems that the NYT ran that story as kind of an alternative news to the impending-yet-paused debt crisis (of course, the debt crisis article is, actually, running alongside the image). But the “arresting” photo, as the article says, is, in fact, the only large image that would be visible if the paper was in a vending rack. So it is the only image selling the paper today.
The fact that the child is helpless, is what the newspaper is hoping will engage a reader, possibly to action. The fact that the child is helpless, almost makes it seem inhumane to take a picture of it.
My main question is, couldn’t a picture of a starving and curled up adult be just as arresting and representative of the dire situation in Somalia? Couldn’t that sell the front page?
Interesting to note is that online, that photo is not the one “selling the click,” it is instead a photo of a child (partially covered by a sheet) laying on a cot with an adult leaning over them.