November 27, 2013

The photo on the front of today’s New York Times, depicting a woman showing more breast than commonly bared in newspaper photos, kicked up a great deal of reaction this morning on social media.

 

 

A commenter in the adjoining story complained:

I’m appalled at the photograph in the printed Times…why cleavage? why a tattooed Jewish star? Is this to sell papers?ll No other photograph would do? If you’re going to show something–then show the reality of a post-mastectomy chest…or at least a whole body…women are always reduced to just breasts–with the gene and without the gene…Times looks like the Post when it does this. Gina

The photograph helped to drive interest in a compelling story: The difficult choices that Israel is facing over testing for cancer-causing genetic mutations. Jews of central and eastern European backgrounds, says the piece, “are much more likely to carry mutations that increase the risks for both breast and ovarian cancers, according to the National Cancer Institute.” The story examines the cases of several Israeli women struggling with life-or-death health decisions.

Tom Bodkin, the paper’s deputy managing editor and design director (not to mention chief creative officer), has been at the New York Times since 1980. Would such a photo have been able to grace the paper’s front page back then? “Probably not,” says Bodkin, noting that “mores and standards change” over time. Though the Times has principles about presentation of news and photographs, “we don’t have rules for what we show and don’t show” in photos, he notes.

As for the front-page photo by Rina Castelnuovo, Bodkin says it was an “extremely appropriate” choice. Any image that The Times runs, he says, must have news value, aesthetic value and must help tell the accompanying story — all of which boxes this picture checks off, he argues. When asked if subscribers are complaining, Bodkin responded that he’s sure that some indeed are. “If we edited the paper to get zero complaints,” says Bodkin, the New York Times would be an awfully bland product.

The meeting on today’s front page, says Bodkin, looked over a number of photographs, including images that were displayed on the inside pages for the piece. There was a “fairly unanimous consensus” around the photo that prevailed, he says. Precisely as there should have been.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.
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