Friday, July 19, 2013

19-Jul-13: Memo to mainstream publishing industry: Want to understand those declining fortunes? Look around

If you have been following the economic fortunes of the magazine publishing industry, you will be aware that the story is gloom and doom. See for instance this major story from a recent issue of Medialife Magazine: "Yet another down year for magazines | Ad pages fall for the seventh straight year, down 8.2 percent". It starts this way:
Heading into 2012, magazines hadn’t seen a year-over-year gain in ad pages since 2005. That didn’t change last year. For the seventh straight year, ad pages declined for the industry, down 8.2 percent... Certainly the economy hasn’t helped the industry. Last year marked the steepest magazine ad page decline since 2009, when the country was in the depths of the recession and pages plummeted... But the economy isn’t entirely to blame for magazines’ woes. You have to go back to 2005 to see any ad page gains, and even then it was a modest 0.5 percent... [Medialife]
We're no experts on magazine publishing, but let's let the images do the talking.
Enthusiastic jihadist, and murder/terrorism suspect on the cover of
the August 1, 2013 edition of Rolling Stone
Good Housekeeping's current edition: 8 page coverage plus cover devoted
to interviewing a blood-drenched tyrant's friends and family
Pan Arabian Enquirer quotes Good Housekeeping contributing editor Poppy Marigold, who spent two months interviewing the Syrian dictator's circle, saying 
“We wanted to get to the heart of the man behind the monster... Many of our readers will be of a similar age to Bashar and will be interested to find out if a family man at the head of a regime accused of murder on a truly horrifying scale has any kitchen secrets or tips for keeping his palace tidy.” 
(UPDATE: Could be, as a friendly reader suggested, we have fallen for a prank and this Good Housekeeping image, and the quote from Poppy are a prank. If so, sorry to have not noticed.)

Placing monstrous people on magazine covers is nothing new. See "A Visual History of Evil People on Magazine Covers From Stalin to Tsarnaev" in the current issue of New Republic for numerous examples. 

What's different here is the subtle and not so subtle effect of humanizing a person whose victims are still in the throes of the suffering caused by his evil. There is such a thing as excessive understanding. Not every story deserves to be examined in a dispassionate way: a story about an unrepentant, convicted killer, for instance, or a tyrant responsible for killing untold thousands of innocents and for whom no explanation and no alibi will ever be an excuse.

A couple more examples of editorial decisions that reflect the utter absence of a moral compass:

Syrian tyrant's wife stars in a Syrian-government-funded Vogue magazine
spread in  February 2011: "Glamorous, young, and very chic - the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies"
The Australian weekly magazine New Idea ran a story in early 2003 focusing on a Palestinian woman,
Dareen Abu Aisheh, who exploded at an Israeli security checkpoint en route to carrying out a terrorist attack on behalf of Hamas. 
The Australian weekly magazine for women, New Idea, ran a story in early 2003 focusing on a Palestinian woman, Dareen Abu Aisheh. A series of editorial decisions there set some kind of low point in professional good sense and journalistic discretion. Abu Aisheh ended up exploding at an Israeli security checkpoint en route to carrying out a terrorist attack. She was sent to her death by the thugs of Hamas. You can see the absurd imagery above. Here's a taste of the sickening text:
"Dressed to kill on a cold February night last year. Wearing an open-necked blouse and leggings, her face delicately shaded with mascara and rouge. Dareen had dressed carefully for what would be the most important night of her life..." 
Below, by the way, is the real, now deceased and unglamorized Dareen Abu Aisheh, sans the childish hyperbole of New Ideas' editors and the panting fantasies of the article's writer and photo editor:

Dareen Abu Aisheh, intending murderer, now deceased. 
In its June 27, 2007 edition, the editors at the New York Times, the world's most influential newspaper and news website chose - from a considerable selection of available photos - the picture you see below of our daughter's killer. We wrote a pained protest about this at the time; it's still online at "28-Jun-07: About sweet-faced young women". (You can see we were reluctant to reprint the face of Malki's principal murderer on our own blog. But the psychopathic young woman has appeared in the media hundreds of times since then, and in those depressing circumstances we are less unwilling to add to the total.)

Take a quick glance at the photo. Then ask yourself how many readers could look at the smiling, virile face and - without reading the text - would feel disgust or revulsion. Very few, most likely. We think that is exactly what the editors intended. People will take in photos and illustrations faster and more viscerally than they will absorb news text - and that's the point.

There is a spine-chilling dissonance between the happy outlook, the tilted devil-may care face on one hand, and the fifteen lives snuffed out, the 130 others maimed, the seething hatred that the woman (considered a psychopath by those who met her in prison) exuded in the court hearing the put her behind bars and in the many dozens of interviews she has granted since being unjustly freed in October 2011, on the other.

She is a proud, committed, convinced murderer who says she wants to do it again. She was happy then. She is happier today.

New York Times, June 27, 2007
Now ask yourself this: what would be the impact on you if any of the individuals publicized so gently and generously in the handful of examples above had killed your child? How appreciative would you be of the editorial decisions and the professional judgement leading up to that face appearing in the media?

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