Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Critical Thinking: J-School Students and Industry Vets Tackle the Tough Questions

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Critical Thinking: J-School Students and Industry Vets Tackle the Tough Questions

Article excerpt

Q: In August, The Philadelphia Daily News tweeted a preview of their next-day front page showing a man, Edward Crawford, hurling a tear gas canister back at police officers during protests in Ferguson, Mo. In response to negative feedback on social media, the paper switched to a more sympathetic photo of a woman holding a sign. Should newspapers make these kinds of editorial decisions based on real-time reader feedback?

A: Editorial decisions shouldn't be second-guessed on deadline because of feedback on social media. The Philadelphia Daily News made a poor decision when it swapped front page photos because of online pressure to appear more sympathetic.

The photo that ran doesn't best depict the events of Ferguson accurately. The original photo captured the anger and frustration of the crowd. The photo of the woman holding the sign fails to place the Ferguson unrest in context: It wasn't taken at night, when most of the conflict occurred, and it doesn't show the tear gas. If you were to summarize Ferguson in one photo, it would be the photo of Edward Crawford hurling the gas canister back at police. A good news photo is one that captures the emotion of a scene the best and portrays the story accurately.

The news is filled with unpleasant truths, truths that readers sometimes must be encouraged to see. If it were up to most readers, I have the feeling, newspapers would only run photos of celebrities, cats and other cuddly things.

But I'm not saying all photos should run. Clearly, news organizations made the right call not to use still captures of the video in which (journalist) James Foley is beheaded. But the photo of Crawford isn't propaganda, it's not overly graphic, and is such a great news photo that it has already become iconic.

The Society of Professional Journalists advises, "Tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience boldly, even when it is unpopular to do so." The Philadelphia Daily News failed to find the boldness necessary to convey the magnitude of Ferguson.

Connor Delaney, 22

junior, Emporia (Kan.) State University

Delaney is an English secondary education major from Overland Park, Kan. He has been on the staff of the student newspaper, The Bulletin, for two years, and is now the publication's opinion editor. …

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