Several complaints,few cancellations p.12

By: LAURA REINA WHEN LARRY MCDERMOTT, executive editor of the Springfield, Mass., Union-News first saw what was published in his paper on the morning of Dec. 5, he knew he was going to get some complaints. He just had no idea how many.
To be exact, 168. And they were all regarding a graphic photo, plastering the front page, of local high school students looking at cats they just dissected in biology class.
"I have to say we have seen little furor as fierce as that over the cats," McDermott commented.
Though readers were angry and upset, and the paper received a lot of complaints, in the end only three subscribers canceled, said McDermott.
"When people are upset with a newspaper, it's common they will cancel," observed McDermott.
But no advertisers canceled, he said.
The paper took readers' complaints seriously, and in a Dec. 10 editorial, McDermott admitted to readers that publishing the photo was a mistake ? literally. He wrote:
"It isn't a pretty picture, but here's what happened.
"The top editors never actually saw the photograph before it appeared in the paper. They were given a cursory description Tuesday evening, and a city editor who had seen a proof of the picture wondered aloud how cat lovers would react.
"But the folks in charge didn't stop to take a look ? until it was too late to select another photo."
McDermott further explained to E&P how this photo mishap is an example of Murphy's Law at its finest.
Due to technical problems, the photo editor
didn't have prints available to show the news editor, which is a very unusual occurrence. The news editor normally chooses which photos will run in the paper ? but in this rare instance, it was left up to the photo editor.
"The one night it occurred, it presented a problem in the end," said McDermott.
McDermott admitted it was important to resist having too much fun with this, but some "newsroom humor" was unavoidable. For example, he received such books as 101 Things to Do With a Dead Cat, and the occasional "meow" as he passed by, from his staff.
"You have to have levity to keep perspective," he commented.
And McDermott used his Dec. 10 editorial to help put things in perspective for his readers:
"Allow me to note here that editors are accustomed to dealing with the incongruities of newspaper readers.
"For example, not a single reader complained when we published a front-page photo July 21, 1994, showing the bodies of Rwandan refugees, but 168 complained about the dead cats. And while we refused to publish photos showing the bodies of two murder victims lying in the streets of Holyoke this past week because we felt that would be in poor taste, local television did so without, we assume, hearing a peep from viewers."
?(The controversial front page) [Photo & Caption]


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