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We have been getting some criticism from readers about our selection and presentation of photos of Barack Obama and John McCain.
Some of this reminds me of when I was covering one of my first campaigns more than 30 years ago. I started getting calls from readers who were measuring each story about a State Senate race in Southwest Virginia. If one of the candidates was getting an inch more of type, I heard about it. The most partisan supporters on each side assumed I was in the tank for the other guy, and that explained any discrepancies in the amount of coverage.
Sometimes, it just worked out that way because the other guy had more to say that day.
Anyway, we got a complaint from some readers because we ran a photo of Senator Obama kissing a woman at a campaign stop in Ohio on Oct. 12. The photo ran on Page 3a. The woman was white. One reader emailed us:
"Who was the person responsible for putting a photo of Obama kissing a blond, white woman on the cheek? Whoever did is either ignorant of the southern racist undertones that still exist today in NC, or wanted to enflame those same racist feelings purposefully."
This reader said "you better watch out, your Republican bias is showing."
It is not often we are accused of harboring Republican bias. That notwithstanding, I think this reader is selling North Carolinians short.
I also thought it was an interesting photo that showed the candidate interacting with voters, which is what happens on the trail. If we decide that we can't show Senator Obama doing the same things that any presidential candidate would do on the stump because we are afraid it might provoke bigots, then we are giving him special treatment.
Let's deal with him journalistically for what he is, a politician running for office. Not an African-American politician; just a politician.
We also caught heat from a reader about the selection of photos that ran on Page 3a on Saturday, Oct. 18. The photo of Senator Obama, at the top of the page, showed him at the podium with arms outstretched. The photo of Senator McCain was downpage on the right hand side of the page. The photo of Senator Obama was a fairly conventional one, with a straight-on perspective. The photo of Senator McCain was shot in a more dramatic fashion, from below.
Here's what the reader said: "The cropping of the second photo, below the fold, of Senator McCain with his head at the bottom of the photo and a large blank area above was appalling. It showed a total lack of respect for the Presidential candidate." The reader cancelled her subscription as a result.
Steve Merelman, the editor in charge of our copy desk, emailed the reader back. Here is some of what he said:
"....I am looking at the very page and I cannot say I agree with your analysis of the pictures. It is true that the picture of Sen. Obama is higher and the picture includes his slogan, though I doubt at this date that its inclusion will sway any votes. I think the picture of Sen. McCain is actually rather flattering. Photos taken from below, as this one is, emphasize the stature of their subjects. And that's not blank space: It's the American flag."
I think the best way to approach this is the way that our folks approach it. The photo editors and page designers have conversations about campaign images - those taken by wire services like AP and those taken by our own photographers. They're paying attention to positioning on the pages, to the way the photos are cropped, and to a balanced presentation.
I don't pretend that everything comes out perfect every day, but things should even out over time.