The penis-on-the-front-page story

I volunteer guest-teaching journalism for various school newspaper programs. Today I gave my popular ethics presentation.

I show photos that may or not be ethical to run. They deal with issues like invasion of privacy, gore and the moment before death. I give them what-would-you-do scenarios.

And we talk about the difference between libel and ethics. I have lots of newsroom stories where my paper violated ethical standards, but not the law.

One ethical guideline that’s pretty much universal in newsrooms is avoiding photos of dead or nude people.

When I worked at the paper in Boulder, we would get the paper to bed about midnight and wait about an hour to proof the first copies off the press.

Each proofer took a job — page numbers, jumps, headlines, etc.

The longer the proofs took, the less thorough we were.

If they came to us after 2 a.m., we did was called a ‘f**k check’: We were to scan for the F word and approve the edition in its absence.

When we proofed with care, it seemed we never found anything that needed changing, but when we ran a f**k check, we ran a lot of corrections.

One such time got us into hot water.

The centerpiece photo on the front page went with a big feature we did on health care for the elderly. I remember glancing at it and thinking the photo felt washed in orange. I didn’t like the way it made the page look.

At a glance, it was an old man on a bed or gurney in a busy facility.

At a post-lawsuit-threat inspection, it was an old man inadequately covered by a thin sheet. His penis was exposed.

To add insult to infirmity, the man died during the night we were printing that paper.

The family’s grief was met first thing in the morning with this ignominious final photo.

With one feature, we proved both Murphy Law’s and Andy Warhol were right.

Advertisements

Tags:

3 Responses to “The penis-on-the-front-page story”

  1. Fred Bauman Says:

    I once took a photo of Gene Autry, who owned the Anaheim Angels baseball team. He was leaning on his bat, which you could see from his crotch to the ground.
    It effected the illusion it was coming out of his fly. I loved it, but expected a complaint.
    Sure enough, as soon as the newspaper was delivered, Mr. Autry rang on the phone.
    Apparently he wasn’t as upset as I’d predicted. He wanted a hundred copies.

  2. The time my son went missing « Stories O’ Mine Says:

    […] I used to work nights at the newspaper in Boulder. One night we put the paper to bed before last call. A gang of us went across the street to Old Chicago. […]

  3. The time my son went missing « Stories O' Mine Says:

    […] I used to work nights at the newspaper in Boulder. One night we put the paper to bed before last call. A gang of us went across the street to Old Chicago. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: