Everyone has seen the picture. But how did readers react? Thankfully, Jim Romenesko is on the case. Instead of focusing on the reaction, let’s first congratulate Seattle Times ME Kathy Best for her letter to unhappy readers who were upset about the paper putting it on their front page:
I’m sorry that you found the photo on today’s front page offensive. That was not our intention. We selected the photo because it depicted an historic moment for the U.S. military, vividly illustrating the end of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” era in a striking twist on the Navy’s “first kiss” tradition.
As you know, treatment of gay and lesbian members of the U.S. military has been hotly debated for years, including at military installations around the Puget Sound region. As politicians and military leaders argued, the effect on individual soldiers and sailors sometimes got lost. This photo, which both our picture and news editors described as iconic, showed what the policy change meant at street level.
Part of our responsibility as a news organization is to reflect the reality around us, even if it might make some readers uncomfortable. We do not make those decisions lightly. We debated how and where to use this picture extensively. In the end, we felt the historic nature of the photo merited front page treatment.
The Times was not the only paper that played the great photo as front-page news. The Sacramento Bee, Denver Post and a youth tab by the St. Petersburg Times also ran the pic as its main graphic.
At Charles Apple’s blog at the American Copy Editors Society, he looks at the coverage by Virginian-Pilot photographer Brian Clark–who took the now-famous picture (and video)–and the reaction in Norfolk where they story was front-page, but below the fold.
Q. I noticed you ran the kiss photo downpage today — below the fold. Was this an attempt to soften the blow to the more conservative readers of the Pilot?
A. First, let me say that there was never any question that this was a newsworthy event that merited A1 play. The only question was really about where it belonged on the front page. We didn’t believe that it was a lead story for us. While it is historic, it is not on par with the decision to eliminate the DADT policy, for instance. It is part of the homecoming routine that became less routine, obviously, given the individuals involved. As you know, we often run news items above the flag, but I felt like that could be interpreted by some readers as celebratory, and that’s not our role here in the newsroom. We are covering the news, not promoting a cause.
ME Maria Carrillo also downplayed the success of the video shot at the homecoming, which quickly had over a million hits.
Again, covering the news, not promoting a cause. Always glad, though, for people across the country to see our work.
It’s strange that showing sailors kissing in a homecoming can viewed as “promoting a cause,” but that is the way LGBT issues often are viewed by readers and newsrooms. At the Virginian-Pilot, Romenesko points out that caution may be warranted given the response from readers.
Virginian-Pilot reporter Corinne Reilly tells me that reaction to her story about two female sailors’ homecoming kiss and the photo that ran with it (on the right, below the fold) “has run the gamut, but the vast majority of messages I’ve received have definitely come from readers who found the story and photo offensive.”
Now, it’s not really an act of bravery to put a great piece of art on your front page, especially when tied to a major news story of the year. But it’s important for journalists and editors not to avoid good stories–and great art–just because of complaints in the comment boxes and letters to the editor. So congrats to Best and Carrillo for their good news judgment and leadership.
UPDATE: Romenesko has a nice interview with the videographer who took the picture of the kiss. Journalists knew there would be something different about the homecoming, but no one knew for certain it would elicit such a newsworthy moment.
I suppose with hot button issues I’m always expecting reaction to be across the spectrum. However, I did not predict that it would receive this amount of attention. The video alone stands at over 1-million views in just a few days. Pretty incredible.