Monday, March 18, 2013

Globe & Mail apology over Kaetlyn Osmond photo is unacceptable

Globe and Mail front page. Offended?
As a former staff photographer at a daily paper in Ontario, I am not surprised at the kerfuffle over The Globe and Mail front page photo.

The reaction of some readers was to be expected but what is surprising is the oh-so-wimpy collapse of The Globe. They made no attempt what-so-ever to defend their choice of front page picture.

Sylvia Stead, The Globes' public editor, wrote: "The readers and I both thought the photo could be embarrassing to anyone . . . " That's just creepy.

When 17-year-old figure skater Kaetlyn Osmond initially saw the photo large on The Globe front page she tweeted "I really like that picture : p."

Reading this, some reported that the teen tweeted that she liked the shot but others were confused by the emoticon; The "p" represents her tongue hanging out suggesting sarcasm. (Think "Blaaa!")

A few hours later Osmond clarified her take on the image and its play. She tweeted:

O.K. It is now clear. Kaetlyn Osmond may be only 17 but she is an adult. Sadly, the public editor at The Globe and Mail is not.

As a former newspaper photographer, I learned to watch for images that would inflame certain readers but it was impossible to catch all. And I never ceased to be amazed at what some people found offensive. One of the more common approaches taken by these all-too-common attacks was posted as a comment after The Globe apology.

An offended reader wrote: "I just think the use of the picture was calculated and they thought they wud (sic) sell more papers with a picture like that instead of well written and researched stories. That's what bothers me."

I literally cannot tell you how many times I got letters expressing just that sentiment. The first time I got a letter accusing me of picking a picture to "sell more papers", I thought the writer was just a nut. Over the years, and after many letters, I realized a large segment of the population saw all newspapers in the same sad, warped way.

Once, I shot a picture of two girls lying on a large, round, concrete structure catching some late spring sun. They were still in school, this was clear from their uniforms, and they were trying to get a bit of an early start at a suntan. They had their shirt sleeves up and skirts pulled up just above their knees. Their arms and legs touched the arc of the circular concrete form.

I found a vantage point that allowed me to shoot almost straight down. The composition reminded me of the famous Vitruvian Man drawing by Leonardo da Vinci.

I loved the picture of the two girls. It ran on one of the section fronts. Clearly the page editor liked it too. It brought praise from many folk who recognized my inspiration in my image.

It also brought me a very long and nasty letter from a local psychologist, angered by the publication of a picture rich with sexual imagery. The inclusion of the school uniforms clinched the matter in the mind of the good doctor.

I made sure that letter never appeared in the paper. That psychologist took a simple, lovely moment, a celebration of the approach of summer, and made the moment dirty. I kept that letter out of the paper; I did not want to sully the pleasure those kids were enjoying from being featured in the paper.

I wonder if Sylvia Stead is embarrassed. I confess I felt her public reaction to an innocent photo could be embarrassing to anyone . . . "

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