As a media critic, I respect Robert Feder about as much as I respect anyone in the field; he and Phil Rosenthal are the best examples in Chicago of how it should be done. But this week, I think Feder’s trying to have it both ways in criticizing some local news personalities who appeared in an upcoming photo exhibition at a local art gallery.
Last week, in a post on his Vocalo blog, Robert Feder criticized a photo shoot that appeared in in Michigan Avenue magazine that featured local television anchors and reporters – Mark Suppelsa, Anne State and Anna Davlantes, among others – in “sexy photos.” The personalities in the pictures aren’t nude or even scantily clad. But they are sexy, in a well-scrubbed, preppy kind of way. Feder reported the photos are part of “they’re among 30 photos of local broadcasters…in “On TV/Off TV,” an exhibit opening Nov. 20 at Packer Schopf Gallery.”
Here’s the crux of Feder’s point in a post titled “Sexy photos expose TV news as a glamor game“:
“[The photos underscore] the willingness of these media people (and their approving bosses) to risk whatever journalistic credibility they have in order to ratchet up their Q scores and Nielsen ratings.”
But let’s be clear about what these pictures are: they’re part of a gallery’s photo exhibit, and were also printed in an upscale, local magazine that chronicles the social scene of Chicago. They weren’t created by the news organizations these people work for, nor were they primarily intended to be used by their PR flacks for publicity purposes.
I disagree with Feder’s take here, but I respect his opinion and the point he’s making: If you’re too sexy, you won’t be taken seriously in your chosen occupation. It’s a legitimate point of debate and Feder’s right to discuss it in a journalistic context, like his blog. But again, I disagree. And, not for nothing, but as editor of Playboy.com, I know a little about outward displays of sexuality.
From my point of view, a person’s sexuality is as much a part of who they are as their job. And expressing a confident, healthy, honest sexuality should be admired in the same way as one’s skill in the boardroom or the newsroom. This isn’t about forcing your sexuality on someone else or using it to make up for a lack of talent, this is about letting someone express their whole self in an appropriate context. (If you saw any of these folks in public dressed in the same outfits from their photo shoot, would you think it was inappropriate?)
Arguably, all the people in this photo shoot are talented, in-demand professionals. As if to underscore that point, one of the women in that shoot, Anna Devlantes was just signed to a new contract at Fox Chicago.
Feder broke the news of Davlantes’ move on his blog. But instead of using her standard head shot (something that, as a longtime media critic, Feder would have easy access to either from his files or after a quick phone call to her publicist), he went with…one of the “sexy” photos.
What gives? How can Feder criticize the sexing up of these news professionals while using use the same photos to sex up the visuals of his blog? Plus, Feder’s blog is a journalistic endeavor. If these photos do not add to the journalistic conext of these men and women, then why use them again here?
I tweeted about this, and Feder’s response (via Twitter) was: “From the editor of Playboy.com?” His point, I assume, was that I have no standing in this debate as Playboy engages in the sexing up of a person’s image on a daily basis. But as I said above, I think that’s exactly what makes me have some skin in this game, pun intended.
I sent a couple responses to him, essentially the same points I made above. Feder’s response was “Just because I question their judgment in shooting them doesn’t mean the sexy anchor photos shouldn’t be seen.”
Fair point. Again, Feder’s a journalist. He has a responsibility to discuss the images of news personalities in town and how it affects their jobs. But his initial post on the existence of the photos was last week, effectively putting the photos into the public eye. There was plenty of conversation about it, so it’s not like his post disappeared into the ether.
So I don’t understand his reuse of the photos in a different context. Either he’s trying to contribute to their supposed erosion of journalistic credibility through their continued use (which I doubt, the man’s a professional) or he’s just trying to sex up the visuals his blog about journalism. Nothing wrong with that, but if it’s not OK for local journalists to crank up the hotness, why is it OK for one of their chief critics’ blogs?
To reiterate: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being sexy, and I don’t think sexuality prevents a person from doing their job effectively. While there are perfectly valid counterarguments here, you can’t say sexuality has no place in journalism, while trying to…find a place for it in journalism.