Missing March for Life photos discovered

On Thursday, we looked at the rather shocking slideshow at the Washington CBS affiliate. It was headlined:

Activists Hold Annual March For Life On Roe v. Wade Anniversary

But it somehow hadn't shown a single picture of an activist at the March for Life! Instead, it showed multiple pictures of the same handful of pro-choice protesters who protested the massive March for Life.

First, we have an update. Around 7 p.m. on Thursday, three days after the March for Life, the folks at CBS found some pictures of pro-lifers to include, rather after the fact. So now about half of the slides are of the hundreds of thousands of pro-lifers who descended on the mall and about half are of the roughly dozen or so pro-choicers who protested that same march. And for this, which is still a ridiculous use of a slideshow, we are thankful for the improvement.

We didn't even discuss much of the Washington Post coverage here at GetReligion. I'd pointed out the reporters rather odd crutch on the phrase "antiabortion ideology," which she repeated throughout her piece, but we didn't talk about slides. We did have some readers complain and apparently the Washington Post ombudsman got an earful as well. He devoted his column to the matter:

Abortion is an issue that evokes passion on both sides, and journalists have to be deft in covering it lest their in-boxes overflow with angry e-mails.

So it was this week with the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in 1973 and the accompanying March for Life that has taken place here every January since.

The demonstration was a big event, as it always is. As the Associated Press pointed out in one of its stories that ran on The Post’s Web site on Jan. 23, it is “consistently one of the largest protests of the year in Washington.”

He then discusses how absolutely no one knows the size of the crowd as no one does official estimates. The only event with an actual headcount is one of the masses that precedes the march. It had some 17,000 people, he writes, but that's the only official count that was even mentioned in the story. So how well did the articles and accompanying slideshows explain the size of the crowd? Not so well:

Still, you can find images of the large crowd taken by amateurs on Flickr or Facebook, and I imagine the AP took some, too. Probably Post photographers did as well.

But these shots didn’t find their way into the main Web photo gallery on the march. And I think this is where The Post fell down in its coverage of the march this year. And that’s mostly what antiabortion readers wrote to me about.

The online photo gallery contains 10 photos: seven tight shots of antiabortion demonstrators, two of protesters from the small abortion-rights counter-demonstration on the steps of the Supreme Court and one that showed both sides confronting each other there. In fact, eight of the 10 shots were taken at the high court.

Emotional shots make better photos, yes, but I would have chosen more from the broad expanse of the rally, and at least one photo showing a lot of cheerful, festive people, which is what I see at most demonstrations that I have covered over the years, regardless of the issue at hand.

As anyone who has been at a March for Life can tell you, it is if anything criticized for not being somber enough. It is a festive celebration of life at least as much as it is a somber remembrance of legalized abortion. That photos didn't capture that is not good.

But what I found interesting about the ombudsman column, which is totally responsible and fair, are this quotes from the editors. The local editor basically apologizes for making it sound like the crowd was only 17,000 or so people. The photo editor? Well:

Said Post Director of Photography Michel du Cille, “We can never please this crowd. We try for fairness to show both sides.”

Are you freaking kidding me? Now, you can peruse the several years of March for Life mentions here on this blog and find that we go overboard trying to praise anything even remotely fine about March for Life coverage over the years. And that goes quadruple for the Post over the years. Considering how low the bar was (some coverage at various papers during the 1980s and 1990s still gets mentioned by media observers), we've been downright generous. But I can't think of an incident where the Post photography department even tried to please "this crowd." And let's say they did try to "please" the crowd by accurately portraying the march, that doesn't justify failing to accurately portray it in subsequent years. If he wanted to defend the coverage this year, he should try to do that. Blaming the victim is just not appropriate. And this appeal to "both sides" is not relevant in this case, obviously. It suggests that some commenters to the previous post were right when they blamed not the photographers but their editors.

The rest of the article looks over other aspects of the coverage and Pexton has some favorable and unfavorable comments.

On the other hand, maybe Post Director of Photography Michel du Cille was merely comparing himself to the West Coast, where things are -- somehow -- even worse. The California Catholic Daily says the efforts required by San Francisco’s major media outlets to avoid covering the Walk for Life West Coast bordered on obsession:

Any event that would bring 50,000+ persons to a demonstration, any event that would cause the closure of San Francisco’s busiest street for more than a mile, any event that would cause the San Francisco Muni to reroute rail line F, and bus lines 2, 5, 6, 8, 8X, 9, 10, 12, 14, 14L, 19, 21, 27, 30, 31, 38, 38L, 45, and 71, could fairly be classified as “news.”

But when a newspaper’s agenda prevents it from covering news, one is almost forced to sympathize. It’s like watching a recovering alcoholic stalking down the liquor aisle at Safeway -- jaw clenched, looking neither to the right nor left, hoping to reach the safe haven of frozen strawberries or Occupy Wall Street. ...

The only article the San Francisco Chronicle, the city’s major daily, did on the Walk For Life West Coast was prior to the event -- and that C.W. Nevius’ column advising San Franciscans to ignore it! His editors, at least, appear to have taken his advice. The paper did send photographer Michael Macor to cover the event. He took some nice shots. They reproduced one in their newspaper. No article accompanied the photo. The Chronicle did reproduce nine photos on its website, still with no story, only a caption that read: “Thousands protest abortion Saturday at the eighth Walk for Life West Coast on S.F.'s Market Street. The crowd stretched from City Hall to Powell Street. Abortion rights supporters rallied at Justin Herman Plaza.”

Come on people. And it's not that the Chronicle doesn't cover ongoing protests. According to the California Catholic Daily, over the past 90 days, the Chronicle has published 415 articles on Occupy Wall Street. That's a new ongoing protest and certainly we'd expect to see more coverage of it, but given the size of the crowds and the disparity in coverage, that's just embarrassing.

So there's certainly room for improvement. I'd advise the Post's photo director and all other journalists covering public protests to think far less about "pleasing" people -- whether it's the folks they hang out with in their newsrooms or the masses who are out in the streets protesting -- and far more about just reporting the news as quickly and accurately as possible.

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