Thursday, November 11, 2004


I’m fascinated by the absorption of rules without critical thought. In some cases, it’s rewarded because the opposite is punished: If there’s no walk signal, but no cars coming, either, it’s still jaywalking to cross the street. (Crossing the street with a walk signal and intense, speeding traffic is legal, if fatal, so far as I know.)

Why it happens in journalism, I have no idea, but examples abound. Here are two:

Newspapers try to avoid starting a story on one page and finishing it on another, because readers don’t like making the jump. Usually jumps are done solely from the front page of a section. At a tabloid newspaper, though, like a magazine there’s only one section, meaning one front page. The business section might start on page 39, for instance, with three stories jumping to later pages.

Sometimes the section will start on an even-numbered page, though, and readers will get two facing pages of news at once — pages 38 and 39, for a second instance.

Suddenly the question of jumps becomes far more complicated. Can you jump all six or so stories from those two pages? Do you stick to jumping only the stories on what is still technically the first page of the section, 38? Do you jump only from the second page, 39, because it’s the traditional right-hand page, where readers’ eyes go first? Do you jump no stories? Can you jump from 38 to 39?

The right answer is: No one cares! About 0.01 percent of newspaper readers think about these rules or even know of them, so clenching up, sweating and grappling over the choices with aggrieved desperation is a waste of time. One editors engage in all too frequently. Here’s my call: Jump stories from your front, even if it’s a two-page front. Also, consider getting a life.

There is also a long-standing rule that photographs in a newspaper aren’t supposed to be “posed.” It’s to ensure that the pictures are, in essence, factual, not fake: To reassure readers that, just as reporters aren’t making things up, photographers also aren’t faking action or results, and that newspapers represent reality and tell the truth.

But not every photograph shows breaking news of an actual event. Some are, in fact, posed, because that’s the risk you run in assigning a photo for any story from restaurant-hires-chef to chef-donates-kidney. Photographers aren’t always allowed in the kitchen, or the operating room. Sometimes they only have time to shake hands, explain who they are and shoot a few frames.

Editors come across pictures of people looking directly at the camera or holding things up for display and complain that they look posed. Yes. Because if a news photographer asks a subject to act as though they’re doing something they normally wouldn’t be, and to ignore the camera, that’s more fake than a picture that is obviously posed. Which is called, not to put too fine a point on it, a portrait.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of when I was editor of my high school tabloid. We jumped everything to the last page and moved the editorial pages to pages two and three. After discussing this at a conference that was something like the Association of Really Old Women Journalist (I can't remember what was called) a substantial local newspaper began the same "jump" policy. Everything went to the last page of the section. To this day, they've mostly kept it.