hard-to-see photos

We saw in class this week, and were asked to make news decisions for several gruesome photos.

Editors must decide every day when such photos are necessary to tell the story, when they are appropriate, when they offend too much, when they provide too much of a shock to swallow with morning coffee.

I believe that the shock value of a photo should correspond to the weight of the story. Disturbing, bloody events occur around the world daily, weekly, milisecondly. But when something important happens, and it is disturbing, readers need to be disturbed through images that convey the intensity of a situation.

In the case of Pennsylvania treasurer R. Budd Dwyer's suicide, I would use the first photo, when he pulls out the gun, but not later ones that show the gun in his mouth or his death. The situation is an intense one, and since it involves a public official in a public meeting, readers should be made aware through the dramatic photo with the gun. However, the situation is less than monumental, so readers should be spared the full gruesomeness; to show it would just be dramatization.

For a less wide-sweeping issue, I would err on the side of caution more. For instance, I don't think I would run photo, because the victim's tragedy is private, not public. The public doesn't need to be shocked here, and the family doesn't need their tragedy aired all over the media to make a point.

For a case like 9/11, I would have aired some of the most intense photos because this *was* a monumental moment, and the public needed the full effect to grasp the intensity and horror of the situation.

In summary: intensity of photos should be weighted to importance and far-reachingness of story.



In my news editing class this week, we discussed this video from the BBC, which includes quotes from Obama's inauguration speech.

The Poynter institute accused the BBC of twisting Obama's quotes to make it seems like he was talking about alternative energy when he was really talking about science in general and health care specfically. BBC claimed it was using the quotes in "montage" format and that they were not intended to be interpreted as one continuous piece.

My first reaction was to ask myself: Journalists splice quotes often in news stories. I know I've taken what I considered irrelevant parts out of the middle of quotes before, joining two sentences that were not in fact said together by the speaker. Usually I stick in "s/he said" between the spliced quotes to separate them, but not always.

So is this wrong?

Worse, the BBC actually reversed the order of two of the quotes. And I again ask myself, what have I done? I'm sure I've separated two sentences spoken one after another by a source and put them in different paragraphs, maybe with some of my own words and other information in between, or other quotes in between.

And then maybe I've decided to change the order of topics in the story, and suddenly the quotes are reversed, and in the wrong order.

So is *this* wrong?

I don't know.

Obviously preserving the meaning is important. We try to do this. But to discern what a speaker really meant is difficult. And I wonder if I would be upset having my words spliced and diced and shuffled around like that to make a story flow better, if I were the interviewee.

It's tough to say.

But I will say that my initial reaction upon hearing the BBC video was to notice the clear cutoffs at the end of each quote, which indicated to me that the speech was not continuous. Also, something about the tone of the video signaled to me, "collection of Obama's various thoughts on topic X" But if it wasn't this way for everyone, then maybe it was misleading.



So I do have a few...

grammar pet peeves.

Last entry, I boldly proclaimed myself as a descriptivist of language. Now I am going to counter that and sort of backpeddle a bit. The descriptivist in me has taken note of a few grammar points that I see broken every day, and I expect I will continue to see even more.

Apostrophes: people love them. A little too much. Well, I think what is happening is that people have been so bashed for leaving them out in "it's" (contraction) and mixing up "your"/"you're" and "their"/"they're"/"there" that they have become hyperzealous about the punctuation mark, so afraid of leaving it out that they stick it in everywhere. Plurals are commonly taking on apostrophes.

I was first outraged to see a sign at my high school talking about "ID's" (as in identification cards) several years ago. My professor speaks of his "TA's," and I have even seen it recently with non-caps plurals too. It perplexed me because there is no cause for an apostrophe -- they're used for possession and contractions -- but I think it makes people nervous to see especially capitalized plurals and then that naked "s". And the more they see it misused, the more it will *be* misused.

Adjectives vs. adverbial phrases. My friend Lee, a Spanish linguist, is embarking on an incredibly interesting study. At the risk of letting the cat out of the bag, she is looking at how people misuse time phrases such as "every day." "Everyday" -- one word -- is an adjective.

"Misusing these words is an *everyday* occurrence" (everyday modifies occurrence).

Every day -- two words -- is an adverbial phrase.

"No, really, it happens *every day* (every day modifies happens)."

There are several other phrases that I wish I could remember, but the point is the lines are being blurred through analogy ("although" is one word; is "eventhough"?). I had not noticed this phenomenon at all until our discussion, but now I see these mixings-up every day (or is it everyday?) in reputable sources. I saw it one day on a Dove candy wrapper.

I also wonder this: language changes. Grammar changes. We no longer say "thee" and "thou." How long will it take for these errors to become standardized? And at what point would AP change their standard? It's too early to call the changes standardized right now, far too early, but will AP be ahead of the curve or behind it?