Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Part of a vast media conspiracy...

Evidently, I'm deeply embroiled in an insidious media conspiracy. And no, I'm not talking about the right wing's toothless saw about the "liberal" media.

Nope. I'm part of a below-the-radar pattern of keeping photos of black people as inconspicuous as possible in the Tracy Press.

I am not making this up.

Today, a very nice — albeit misguided — woman asked why her son's picture was on the Web site but not in the newspaper, and why it was taken down from the Web site. All the while she suggested that a clear pattern had emerged at the Press, wherein pictures of black athletes and persons were continually (though probably not purposely) downplayed or excluded.

I explained that the Web issue was a mistake, and that the story in question had accidentally been posted twice, once with the photo and once without. )The picture-less duplicate has since been removed from the Web site.)

As for the photo not appearing in the print edition of the Tracy Press, the photo selection process is complicated, imperfect and often done during last-minute deadline.

The steps:

The photographers go through their hundreds of photos (especially for a sports shoot) and choose their two to five favorites based on composition, clarity and which photos best fit the story as they understand it from either a reporter or assignment editor.

These top shots are reviewed by the sports or news editors and then given to the copy editors (that'd be me), who try to pick the photos that fit the space already prescribed by advertisements and that best tell the story, all while keeping in mind that stories and pictures on one page often affect how stories and pictures are placed on other pages. (Individual pages, contrary to popular belief, are not designed in a vaccum.)

To be honest, when I see a photo, I don't even register the race or gender of the person in the photo, except to make sure we don't call a "him" "her." I see an item that needs to be put on a page (along with advertisements and most times another story, more photos and headlines) in a logical manner with an accurate caption — and done in a few seconds. On deadline, it's strictly business and accuracy.

And every once in a while, the best photo — for reasons of space or just because we made a mistake — doesn't make it into print. The perfect combination does not always materialize, but a sincere effort is there. Our mistakes are very public, and we take pride in the job.

One of my college's administrators, Dr. Lane Bove, had a way to describe this kind of incident: "A teachable moment." So I tried to explain all this, and I assured the kindhearted woman on the phone that there was no conspiracy at the Tracy Press.

Since my account did not seem to mollify her much, I can only guess that sometimes what a person wants to see overshadows what we might be able to teach one another.

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