Heated debate between staff leads to topless photo on cover

Point

Erika Williams
Assistant A&F Editor
ewillia6@unca.edu

Larisa Karr
News Editor
lakarr@unca.edu

Of course we wanted members of the faculty and student body to pick up our August 31st issue. We are not currently aware of any publication that does not print the biggest or most controversial topic on the cover. That is what they are for.

We have heard from a few rationales that the decision to feature topless women on the cover was sensationalism. That the image was “no big deal” but the decision to feature it on the cover was tasteless. Those in agreement with releasing the cover do not agree. These activists have spent time and effort to get their message across. We found ourselves in the position of taking their story and presenting it as something other than strange or taboo. We aim to communicate that these women have fought long and hard to have the right for their cause, which does not cause harm in any way to anyone.

Some of our staff believes that those claiming sensationalism are simply offended by the image. People either have breasts, or have seen breasts. They are a part of life and for people to trivialize this issue by saying it is exploitative is a form of sexism. Is it the most newsworthy story? Probably not. But, it was news for Asheville this week and the Banner, like all publications, has an obligation to provide voices to people who want to be heard. They were more than happy to share their cause in a city where it is legal to do so and this has been the subject of coverage in the past and will continue to be the subject of coverage undoubtedly in the future.

The Supreme Court ruled in Terminello v. Chicago that speech “may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions are they are, or even brings forth people to anger.”

It has brought forth conversation as well as cognitive dissonance and this is a good thing. We are proud to facilitate a dialogue about an issue that some view as abhorrent and others as courageous. The point of the press is not only to provide answers, but also to raise important societal questions. These women have a lot to say about the role of femininity in society and instead of reporting on a trivial issue, we chose to feature what they had to say because it affects each and everyone of us. Therefore, we stand by our decision.

Counterpoint

Nick Haseloff
Opinion Editor
nhaselof@unca.edu

John Mallow
Editor-In-Chief
jmallow@unca.edu

Last week, The Blue Banner printed on the cover of our first issue a teaser photo of a lineup of topless women with their breasts clearly visible. This photo was taken at the topless rally that occurred downtown on Aug. 28 and was the subject of an extensive debate amongst the editorial board. Editor-In-Chief John Mallow and Opinion Editor Nick Haseloff were the only two on staff that took a strong stance against it. Although the reception of the cover by faculty and students was generally positive, we were the only editors who disagreed with the final decision. We wanted to make our points apparent and we also felt the need to show a bit of transparency in how decisions are made in our office.

Ultimately, this sort of decision comes down to John. His say is final on every aspect of the paper and the final decision to go ahead with the controversial cover was his alone. While this decision was a difficult one, it was not without a lot of debate from the other leaders of our publication. We debated as an editorial staff about this photo for days before John finally decided to side with the majority and print it.

Our reasons for not wanting the photo on the front cover were rather varied. Overall, we did not feel that it reflected the integrity of our paper and its history of what sort of content we previously chose to print in the past. We have run photos displaying nudity before, but we have no precedent of ever running it on the front page. We felt this sort of photo would garner a more sensational response than anything else. The photo was run in the interior of the paper alongside the story as well and no one on the staff had a problem with that particular placement. We were worried people would pick up the paper not for the content inside of it but for the image on its cover.

Along with our concern against needless sensationalism, one of the main reasons for not putting the photo on the cover was it not meeting the artistic standards we usually operate under. The photo is a cliché we refer to as a “firing line” and not a good example of the talent of our staff photographers. If you take away any of the controversial issues and look at the photo from its most basic elements, it is simply a group of people standing side-by-side posing for the camera. If it were not for their nudity, the picture would not be interesting in the slightest. John asked the question of why any other photo would not be just as deserving of placement on the cover and desired an explanation from the opposing editors.

Most important of all, The Blue Banner is a forum enabling us to exercise the First Amendment rights afforded to us as citizens of the United States and as student journalists. As such, there is no law requiring The Blue Banner to publish only content the public agrees with or finds inoffensive. To abide by those constraints would take away any impact or influence a free press would otherwise have. The social issue this particular photo and article deals with, which in this case is gender inequality, must not be overlooked. Without adequate press coverage, such an issue would not be given the attention it deserves nor would it spark the kind of public discussions that are the lifeblood of a democratic society. For that reason, the final decision was made to feature the photo on our cover regardless of the negative criticism it might receive.

3 thoughts on “Heated debate between staff leads to topless photo on cover

  • September 16, 2016 at 10:41 am
    Permalink

    This is a thoughtful and articulate discussion by both the Pointers and the Counterpointers. A few questions.
    What was reader reaction to the photo?
    If the editor-in-chief makes the final decision, why didn’t his view prevail?
    Is there a newsstand, print edition of the paper? Would visitors to campus (children?) have been unable to avoid seeing the cover? Was that considered in the discussion by editors?
    And, finally, shouldn’t the heated debate been among the staff and not between them?

    Arnold Wengrow
    Arts Writer/Editor
    Correspondent for the Asheville Citizen-Times
    Professor Emeritus of Drama

    Reply
    • September 20, 2016 at 11:27 am
      Permalink

      The decision did come down to me. I put aside my personal objections of the photo and allowed it to be printed because of the overriding need to bring attention to a social issue such as this. The importance of getting conversations going about this issue outweighs any sort of qualms I might have had about the appropriateness of the photograph.

      We made some compromises involving our distribution of that issue; we didn’t deliver to anywhere off campus (i.e. Ingles, Firehouse Subs, etc.) and only chose to have the issue on UNCA’s campus. Regarding your concern about children viewing the cover on campus, this is a college campus comprised of adults who have chosen to participate in an environment that was designed to challenge their ideas and conceptions of the world. If it so happens that children had visited our campus and seen the cover, I don’t believe it is graphic or extreme enough to cause an outrage.

      There is nothing obscene about the photo either. Also, the reader reaction was tame at best, and after our adviser did an informal survey in his media ethics class, those students did not object to the cover either. I am proud of this issue and stand behind it completely. Like I mentioned above, we are not obligated to write or print only what is agreeable.

      John Mallow
      Editor-In-Chief

      Reply
      • September 21, 2016 at 4:26 am
        Permalink

        Thank you for thoughtful answers.

        Reply

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