By: David noack
More than two dozen photos of naked college students are put online but not
in the print coverage of the same event. Web site officials refuse to comment.
The consortium Web site of eight Michigan newspapers has published dozens of photos of fully naked college students that were not published in the print version of the same news coverage.
Michigan Live, the online offshoot of eight daily newspapers in Michigan, posted the photos of nude male and female students taking part in the annual end-of-the-school-year campus ritual in Ann Arbor called the “Naked Mile Run.”
The event, started a dozen years ago by a handful of students at the University of Michigan, takes place late at night. This year there were roughly 500 runners. Police estimate that a crowd of about 10,000 gathered to watch the students dash across the university campus.
The local print affiliate of Michigan Live, the Ann Arbor News, ran a story and one photograph on an inside page about the race. The photo, taken from a distance, shows a dense crowd of obviously nude students but no significant genital details.
Just Like Porno Pubs?
But Michigan Live, which sent its own photographer to cover the event, ran about 30 photographs, including frontal, up-close shots of the naked students. The Web site editors positioned tiny black boxes over the subjects’ genitals ? just as some porno publications do.
During the last week, E&P has made repeated attempts to question officials at Michigan Live and Advance Publications Internet about the propriety of their Web photo coverage. The offices of all those contacted by phone and e-mail failed to respond.
Michigan Live is operated by Advance Publications Internet, a unit of Newhouse newspapers. It contains content from the papers of the Booth Newspaper Group, a subsidiary of Advance Publications. The participating papers are the Ann Arbor News, Bay City Times, Flint Journal, Grand Rapids Press, Jackson Citizen Patriot, Kalamazoo Gazette, Muskegon Chronicle and Saginaw News.
Warning Students of Dangers
Julie Peterson, a spokeswoman for the university, said that it would be difficult for the university to put an end to the race. Instead, an educational campaign has been launched to warn students of the dangers in participating in the race and having their nude photos put on display to a worldwide Internet audience.
The question raised by the controversy is whether or not newspapers should have a double standard about what kind of content is appropriate for the print and online versions of their publications.
Ed Petykiewicz, editor of the Ann Arbor News, said one of the basic policy decisions in covering the event for the print newspaper was to get a photograph that would not be objectionable to readers.
‘Not an Event of Significance’
“We want a photo that would be comfortable sitting on a table in somebody’s home. We’re not going to run frontal nudity, we’re not going to run photos of butts. This is an event that happens on campus with students, and a lot of people turn out. It’s certainly not an event of significance,” said Petykiewicz.
In its print coverage of the race, the Ann Arbor News focused on how the runners were upset by the swarms of self-appointed paparazzi that showed up. The headline in the April 22 edition of the News read: “Naked Runners Piping Mad at Peeping Photographers.”
“What we have done in the past is take photos that show the number of people at the rally, some sense of the students that are running and, depending on what angle you shoot from, you can effectively accomplish all of that without having frontal nudity,” said Petykiewicz.
Journalism pundits are divided on the question of whether there is or should be a different standard between a printed newspaper and its online counterpart.
Outraged but Rational
“As with so many things in journalism, everything depends on perspective,” said Eric K. Meyer, managing partner of Newslink, an online research and consulting firm. “If, while looking through this site, I had stumbled across a photo of my child, I probably would be outraged. The problem is, would I remain rational enough to be outraged at the right people: the child who did it and the university and police who allowed it, or the messenger who merely told me about it?” said Meyer
Adam Clayton Powell III, vice president/technology and programs at the Freedom Forum, said that if the photos can’t be printed in the newspaper, they shouldn’t appear online.
“When I was head of news at NPR [National Public Radio], I insisted on removing four-letter words from taped interviews on Morning Edition, saying our listeners’ sensibilities over breakfast carried more weight than the artistic freedom of our producers or the inadequate vocabulary of our interviewees,” said Powell.
John V. Pavlik, executive director of the Center for New Media at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, said the same rules of community standards that apply to a print newspaper do not necessarily carry over to its online version. “The issue of a double standard across media is more a reflection of the more conservative community that the newspaper serves. It’s a long tradition in broadcasting to present content appropriate to a particular community’s standard, and enforced by the FCC; what might be appropriate in one community might be inappropriate in another. In the case of online journalism, community is defined less by the traditional geographic boundaries in the print and broadcast world, and more by communities of interest. I don’t think viewers of the site will be offended by what they see, and there is a disclaimer warning of partial nudity ahead,” said Pavlik.
Paul McMasters, ombudsman at the Freedom Forum, doesn’t see the differences in coverage of the run as a double standard, but the Net as a different medium. “With the Internet, you have the ability to provide more texture and detail; links to other stories, previous stories, other Web sites, even advertising and advertisers; and to provide interactivity. You also have the ability to go beyond what you might put in the pages of a family newspaper simply because the medium provides ample warning of what lies ahead and requires an act of volition on the reader’s part to go there,” said McMasters.
?(Dozens of photos of nude students were posted on the Michigan Live site.) [Caption & Photo]
?(E&P Web Site: http://www.mediainfo.com) [Caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher May 16, 1998) [Caption]