What’s wrong with being sexy?

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.

UPDATE: Michigan Avenue has additional photos online (h/t Gapers Block).

7 comments for “What’s wrong with being sexy?

  1. November 18, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    On a somewhat unrelated note…I just have to mention that I love the URL of this post. That is all.

  2. November 18, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    There is nothing wrong with being sexy. That's why I've been doing it my whole life.

  3. November 18, 2009 at 4:09 pm

    Dang. Wood already made my snarky comment.

  4. November 18, 2009 at 4:29 pm

    As a producer for Feder's blog, I think the point of his original post was to draw a comparison between the lack of reaction to the new photo shoot and the harsh reaction Deborah Norville got when she did a similar thing in this market.
    Using a recent photo of Anna Davlantes from a photo shoot Feder had already written about doesn't seem controversial to me. Feder never said he thought the photos were immoral or shouldn't be seen, just that the anchors exercised odd judgment in posing for them.

  5. November 18, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    Seriously though, TV news isn't a glamour game? Since when? Those photos don't “expose” anything we didn't already know. The phrase “face made for radio” didn't come from nowhere.

  6. November 18, 2009 at 4:48 pm

    Andrew, if that's the case then why say that the photos “expose TV news as a glamor game” in the hed or say “It also underscores 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.”

    He seems to say that because TV news personalities are willing to look sexy that it means they're only pretty faces who are out for ratings. I agree that along with that point he's saying that the general public doesn't seem to think it's a big deal. But his opinion on the matter contrasts with that.

    If the news personalities exercised odd judgment in posing for them, why is it OK for him to use them to draw attention to his Davlantes post outside of a discussion about the photos themselves. He doesn't follow up the discussion by saying “Davlantes recently posed for some sexy photos.”

  7. November 19, 2009 at 4:28 am

    Not sure I can answer your deep, probing questions. If you want to read it that way, go for it. What do I know after all?

    Have fun in Argentina.

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