Kiss pic or no kiss pic?

licenced kiss 1Our friends over at the diversity and ethics offices at Poynter.org have run a really interesting commentary on a media issue at the heart of debates about fair and accurate coverage of same-sex marriage. On one level Kelly McBride's piece is about whether or not news organizations should run the "dreaded kissing photo." On another level, the debate is about whether pushing same-sex marriage into the faces of readers is (a) good for the subscriber-challenged mainstream press and-or (b) good for the actual cause of lesbigay rights.

This is similar to the debate in England about whether calling The Wedding a "wedding," as opposed to the "blessing of a civil union" is a good strategic move within the Anglican wars.

Here is a key chunk of McBride's post:

Some newsrooms have policies that discourage running photos or video of same-sex couples kissing. Some photo editors and news directors are inclined to run the kissing images, because they capture the climactic moment of a wedding.

Interestingly enough, some advocates of gay marriage bristle at the kissing photos, arguing that they have become a cliche that turns people away from the story. Of course, other gay marriage proponents argue that when editors refuse to show a photo of a simple kiss, they give in to dehumanizing forces.

Four years ago, when public officials around the country began to test the laws that banned gay and lesbian couples from legally marrying, journalists learned a lot. The audience, in some cases, protested mightily over the photos. They accused their local television stations and newspapers of supporting the liberal cause of gay marriage by displaying the images. Others celebrated the diversity of same-sex couples that is rarely represented in visual journalism.

There is, of course, a thin line in California right now between saying that these photos will turn off newspaper subscribers and saying that they will turn off voters.

I can't come up with a reason not to run the best photos that you have. I would, for example, have trouble saying that photos in secular settings are somehow better or safer than photos taken in sanctuaries on the religious left. This is a journalistic decision, although it is clear that there is no "safe" choice. Are "kissing photos" good for the religious right or the religious left? You can argue both sides of that.

Similar issues bubble to the surface in a Los Angeles Times piece by Jessica Garrison that ran with the candid headline "Gay couples are emphasizing low-key weddings -- Flamboyant images from same-sex ceremonies, activists say, could be used by opponents to convince California votes that gays and lesbians shouldn't have the right to marry."

This theme that runs through this story is clear: It's time to focus on public relations. Do what is best for the movement. Here's the lede:

The gay and lesbian couples who packed a Hollywood auditorium last week had come seeking information about California's new marriage policies. But they also got some unsolicited advice.

Be aware.

Images from gay weddings, said Lorri L.Jean, chief executive of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, could be used by opponents in a campaign designed to convince California voters that gays and lesbians should not have the right to marry. Those getting married, she cautioned, should never lose sight of what they might be supplying the other side.

Sitting close to his husband-to-be in the audience, hairstylist Kendall Hamilton nodded and said he knew just what she meant. No "guys showing up in gowns," he said.

"It's a weird subject," added Hamilton, 39, who plans to wed his partner of five years, Ray Paolantonio. "We want everybody to be free, but the image does matter. ... They are going to try to make us look like freaks."

In other words, do not celebrate too much. That's important advice to activists. The question is whether this advice should have anything to do with policies in newsrooms.

Photo: From http://www.samesexmarriage.ca/

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