Magazine article Editor & Publisher

A Matter of Taste and Space

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

A Matter of Taste and Space

Article excerpt

Newspapers, unlike online services, are limited in the amount of news that they can run each day; but content standards may also differ

AS THERE A difference between the news that is "suitable" for printing in a newspaper and that which is published on the Internet's World Wide Web? Or should there be a difference?

In May, the Bakersfield Californian's print edition ran a three-part series examining the issue of child abuse in Kera County, giving readers an eye-opening and in-depth look of the problem. But one gristly bit of detail was left out of the newspaper version -- the autopsy reports on nine children who had died at the hands of their parents or caregivers over a two-year period.

Instead, those detailed reports -- which one top editor described as "compelling but shocking" -- were exclusively posted on the newspaper's Web site.

While editors at the Californian contend that it was more a "space" than "taste" decision, the editor of a Texas newspaper online service acknowledged that his site this past winter ran a photo of an aborted fetus which would not have run in the newspaper.

Californian managing editor Mike Jenner said the decision to put the autopsy reports on the Web site but not in the print edition was based on both "space and taste" considerations.

Jenner said the length of the autopsy reports prevented the newspaper from running them in their entirety, but also stated that since some of the reports were very graphic, a decision was made to offer them online only.

"We didn't have the room in print but thought the extensive nature of the injuries was very compelling and wanted readers to have the information if they wanted it. With the Web, we could make it available to Web users who chose to select it," Jenner said.

"We had these autopsy reports, which were quite compelling but shocking at the same time. We wanted to reproduce the reports as they were, and the online version gave us an opportunity to do that. Certainly taste was a consideration, but space was the overwhelming factor," said Richard Beene, the Californian's executive editor.

Beene doesn't consider running the autopsies online and not in the printed series as applying a double journalistic standard.

"The same standards for taste that we apply to our newspaper are applicable to our online product. That said, the online world is one that is constantly evolving and changing and challenging us to think in new ways to use it to our advantage. Things could change in this regard, given the audience, access and that kind of thing, but for now we wouldn't necessarily put something online that was considered offensive in the newspaper."

At the San Antonio News-Express, this past winter, the paper sent its lifestyle columnist, Susan Yerkes, to cover President Clinton's second inaugural ceremonies.

Under the online banner of "Postcards from D.C," Yerkes' dispatches were posted on a section of the paper's Web site, where readers got a daily diary and a behind-the-scenes look at the inaugural events and festivities in the nation's capital.

Yerkes' coverage included a photograph she took along the inaugural parade route. It showed a large photo poster of an aborted fetus displayed by an anti-abortion group. Another photograph showed a woman wearing a Clinton mask and holding a bumper sticker that read: "F -- Bob Dole." The photos were only used on the newspaper's Web site.

"They were awful looking [the aborted fetus pictures on placards] showing fetuses aborted and that's not a picture we probably would have printed in the newspaper. …

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