Reader sensibilities: Just how considerate should an editor be?

When what you publish is likely to really piss people off — and let’s define “people” as your average work-a-day readers, not powerful politicians, rich developers or prized advertisers — should you hold back (or at least thoroughly weigh the arguments for holding back)?

And should you be at least as considerate to the sensibilities of your average reader as you are likely to be toward a powerful politician, rich developer or prized advertiser?

We have two real-time examples to consider this morning.

The Brooklyn Paper (my old pub) yesterday broke a story on its Website about the prevailing practice in Park Slope (a notoriously [sic] child-friendly, “socially-conscious,” uber-liberal neighborhood that is at the heart of Brooklyn Paper country), of paying nannies off-the-books.

The story originated with Park Slope Parents, a popular local blog, which produced a beautiful 73-page chart-filled study. The Brooklyn Paper did little original reporting (beyond publishing a column attributed to an off-the-books nanny); it simply reported someone else’s findings. The story was packaged by The Brooklyn Paper with its familiar hysterical slant — the paper called the news “earth-shattering” — and it was quickly picked up by local blogs and, this morning, by the NY Post.

Should The Brooklyn Paper have stated without equivocation that a large number of its readers are flouting the law and, perhaps of greater importance in a community like Park Slope, exploiting workers who, because they are largely third-world immigrants, many here illegally, are at a significant disadvantage in an employer-employee relationship? Ouch.

The survey did include findings that might be interpreted as image-affirming by self-conscious Park Slopers (such as that most nannies get vacation time and sick days, and that more than 40-percent of employers help their nannies find subsequent employment); but The Brooklyn Paper failed to report these findings or chose to downplay them in relation to its off-the-books lead.

Was The Brooklyn Paper correct in its approach?

As of this morning, 28 readers had posted comments online — this is an extremely high number for The Brooklyn Paper’s Website. Most expressed strong views, but they were divided. How about you?

• • •

Now comes this item from Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander:

Powerful photographs can have lasting impact, and a Post photo of two men kissing is an image that many readers can neither forget nor accept.

The photo, which ran on the newspaper’s front page and online last week, captured Jeremy Ames and Taka Ariga kissing outside DC Superior Court on the day that the District began accepting license applications for same-sex marriages.

Almost immediately, I began hearing from upset readers.… A few of the readers have engaged in rants, often with anti-gay slurs. … But most simply said The Post had offended their sensibilities by publishing the photo, especially on the front page.

A 65-year-old woman who’s been a subscriber since the 1960s wrote to say she had canceled:

“I realize that the world is changing rapidly – much more rapidly than I would like it to. While I realize that the Post must report on these changes – even the ones with which I do not agree – I feel that the picture on Thursday morning was an affront to the majority of your readership. It is not something that I want coming into my home. I believe that even your editors know that it would have been better placed in the Metro section and that it would have mitigated its impact to do so.”

Alexander reports hearing similar sentiments on the ombudsman’s call-in line. “Put it on page 10 or page four,” said one caller, “Put it in the paper, but I do not like it right there where I can’t avoid looking at it.”

Post circulation vice president Gregg Fernandes told Alexander that within a few day, 27 subscribers had canceled, citing the photo. (Alexander adds that “in contrast, The Post reported only two cancellations immediately after last July’s ethics uproar over its ill-advised plan to sell sponsorships to off-the-record ‘salon’ dinners at the publisher’s residence.”)

Here’s Alexander’s conclusion — what is yours?:

Did the Post go too far? Of course not. The photo deserved to be in newspaper and on its Web site, and it warranted front-page display.

News photos capture reality. And the prominent display reflects the historic significance of what was occurring. The recent DC Council decision to approve same-sex marriage was the culmination of a decades-long gay rights fight for equality. Same-sex marriage is now legal in the District. The photo of Ames and Ariga kissing simply showed joy that would be exhibited by any couple planning to wed – especially a couple who previously had been denied the legal right to marry.

There was a time, after court-ordered integration, when readers complained about front-page photos of blacks mixing with whites. Today, photo images of same-sex couples capture the same reality of societal change.

—Ed Weintrob

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One response to “Reader sensibilities: Just how considerate should an editor be?

  1. Pingback: Advice on transporting your illegal-alien nanny « Coney Media

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