Controversial Photos, Art and Other Loose Ends

July 25th, 2013 · No Comments · journalism, Uncategorized

By Denise Tessier

Saying it was responding to reader criticism, the Albuquerque Journal provided a service in running prominently (on A2, July 16) a “recent” photo of Trayvon Martin, which it placed side by side with the “younger” portrayal generally used by news media in depicting the teenager killed in February 2012 by George Zimmerman.

Readers who complained no doubt held the view that the photo didn’t fairly depict the young man Zimmerman confronted that fatal night – and that Martin was in fact larger and more adult-looking than the photo used by most media, including the Journal. Placed in a “To Our Readers” box, the more recent photo, the Journal explained, came from the “Hip-Pop”website GlobalGrind.

I wonder how many of the readers who had complained were surprised by this new photo, however, because in running it, the Journal exposed a hoax that was being perpetrated widely by email.

With “Recognize this guy?” in the subject line, the email in question claimed it was presenting a true picture of Trayvon Martin when it circulated a photo from XXL magazine of a rapper named “Game” – who’s older (in his 30s), larger (compared to Martin) and heavily tattooed. The email said the “liberal controlled media” was running old photos in order to portray Martin as a “cute, little hoodie-wearing youngster” instead of a “monster.”  Hence, the Journal provided a service when it responded to its readers and published a more recent – and legitimate – photo of the teen.

In dealing with a different photo controversy — the “public outrage” over a portrait of the Boston Marathon suspect on the cover of Rolling Stone — the Journal followed the media herd.

On July 18, the Journal put a teaser at the top of Page One headlined “Rock Star Bomber?” – a lead-in to the wire story it ran on A8 about the still-raw reaction some Americans experienced in seeing the bombing suspect on the cover.

In doing so, the Journal was covering a legitimate news story – public reaction. And it followed up the next day with the Associated Press story that a Boston policeman – furious about the cover – had decided to release “unglamorous” photos from the day the bombing suspect was arrested. On July 20, the Journal ran one of those photos (back in the D section) with an AP story about the latest development: that the police photo release was unauthorized and the sergeant who did it “faces an internal investigation and possible suspension.”

There’s nothing wrong with the Journal running these stories. But it’s interesting how the Journal enters a kind of ironic matrix when it runs the controversial RS cover on A1 (as a teaser) and on A8 (with the initial story), and then follows it the next day (July 19) with an editorial cartoon skewering Rolling Stone for its cover choice as a ploy by the magazine “to get publicity.”

Any reader of Rolling Stone knows the magazine publishes articles on politics and social issues with as much passion as it covers music. And right with the supposedly “glamorous” photo of the bombing suspect is this, in large type: “How a Popular, Promising Student Was Failed by His Family, Fell Into Radical Islam and Became a Monster.” (A monster, not “a rock star”.)

For a cool-headed perspective on the heated reaction to the magazine cover, may I suggest The New York Times editorial, “Judging Rolling Stone by Its Cover,” which is worth a read in its short entirety. Here’s a highlight:

As any seasoned reader should know, magazine covers are not endorsements.

Speaking of covers, the Santa Fe Reporter got some heat this summer for adorning its 2013 Summer Guide with a bikini-clad woman sipping a margarita in an Our Lady of Guadalupe-type tableau, surrounded by others engaged in summer-style activity like eating ice cream, playing flutes and drinking beer. (A shirt-less cowboy in a pink hat is also doing some lasso work on the side.)

As reported in the Albuquerque Journal, the Reporter apologized with a statement on its web site. And the alternative weekly ran letters it received about the cover – both the initial negative reaction on June 26 and the highly readable mixed bag, both pro and con, it ran on July 3. To illustrate the online letters, the Reporter replaced the offending art with a stick figure rendition of the cover. (Yet the print edition of SFR on July 3  included the offending cover when advertising the Santa Fe Guide on page 21.)

In an enterprising move, the July 3 Reporter also included a feature in which Enrique Limon interviewed artist Alma Lopez, who 12 years earlier had created a stir when she exhibited in Santa Fe her digital collage print of the Virgin of Guadalupe in a bikini of roses. “Shame as It Ever Was” is an engaging piece about art, censorship and Chicana feminism, with Lopez “still surprised” at the reaction generated by the cover of the guide.

Interestingly, in its usual weekly summation feature, “7 Days,” the Reporter took a swipe at the state’s largest daily, saying: “Abq Journal runs big exposé on SFR’s virgin-in-bikini controversy, fails to interview any actual people. That’s what we call ‘journalism’.”

It’s true; the Journal coverage of the controversy did rely on written statements and blog comments. But in fairness, Journal reporter T.S. Last wrote that, “The Reporter’s editor and publisher did not respond to phone and email messages from the Journal late last week,” and also that “Neither the Archdiocese of Santa Fe nor the city’s Our Lady of Guadalupe Church responded to Journal requests seeking comment.”

I bring this up because the same issue of the Santa Fe Reporter carried a story by Justin Horwath that extensively offered a look into the student loan debacle from the standpoint of its effect on students. “Shark Week” included interviews with students, parents and college officials.

In contrast, it doesn’t look like the Journal has personalized the student loan crisis with interviews even close to what Horwath did in more than a year.

To summarize some other JournalWatch loose ends:

The aforementioned“7 Days” feature also ripped from the headlines that Gov. Susana Martinez was ranked 43 out of 45 governors in terms of job creation by The Business Journals – a group of 40 weekly print papers specializing in business news. The Santa Fe New Mexican and the New Mexico Business Journal both reported this; the Albuquerque Journal did not. (Then again, the top two job creators on the list are North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, both in states where oil and gas fracking are booming and creating jobs.)

This might be considered a “nit-pick,” but it struck me as disrespectful when the Journal led off the headline of an opinion piece by former Bernalillo County District Attorney Jim Brandenburg, father of current DA Kari Brandenburg, with “Kari’s dad. . .” The full headline was: “Kari’s dad pans Journal on shootings; Former DA says editorial misses boat on several counts.” Granted, the piece was placed in a one-column slot, which literally narrows one’s options when writing a headline. But “DA’s dad. . .” would have taken about the same amount of space, and I wonder if the headline writer would have chosen to go with the first name if the official being referred to – in this case, the current DA – had been male.

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