We told you yesterday how Clay Yarborough, Jacksonville City Council President/Self-appointed Guardian of Civic Virtue and Decider of All That Is Wholesome and Righteous, had wandered into MOCA, saw an incredibly benign image of a naked pregnant lady lying on a couch — this thing ain’t Mapplethorpe, y’all — and freaked the fuck out. Here’s the T-U’s version of that story, which tries very hard not to make Yarborough look like a hayseed dipshit.
In that online version of this crazypants debacle, the T-U published on its website a quickly Photoshopped-censored version of this fine arts image that Yarborough has his knickers so in a twist about. And, seeing as how this image is very much art and not at all pornography or obscene — sorry, Clay — that’s a problem for our town’s paper of record. Are we saying that little Jimmy should glance across the morning breakfast table at Dad's tablet as he reads the morning paper and be horribly scarred for life by the image of a couple of well-lit breasts on a pregnant lady? (Little Jimmy, one presumes, was not breastfed, and does not have access to the Internet.) Of course not. But there are better, more responsibly ways to treat the subject matter at hand.
One of the very first rules of photojournalism is that a photo should NEVER be doctored. Repeat: A PHOTO SHOULD NEVER BE ALTERED. Especially if it’s a work of art. Doing so negates trust and makes you look dishonest. Yes, it was labeled as edited, but it's difficult to tell what was blacked out and what wasn't, which always raises questions. If anything, the censorship should have been much clearer. Furthermore, and more troubling, blacking out the naughty bits makes it look like the paper agrees with Yarborough that there’s something shameful here — and holy hell, seriously? Would they censor a painting by Titian or Rubens or Picasso? I can think of works by all of them that are much more scandalous than this one.
A better way to handle the image would have been to not attach it to the story at all, but instead include a link to it. If the T-U needed an image to pull readers into the article, a cropped-in detail or maybe Yarborough's mug would have done the trick.
How a news site handles an image might seem like a small detail, but in journalism, that’s where the devil lives.