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January 4, 2006

West Virgina: Positively Negative


Using a montage of front page covers, The Talent Show has an interesting visual analysis of the media coverage of the mining disaster in West Virginia (Undoing A Miracle – link).  In a debacle reminiscent of “Dewey Defeats Truman,” it had been initially (and erroneously) confirmed that the miners had all been saved.

By juxtaposing the covers, TTS offers several powerful examples of how the same image — depending on the context — can move us in completely different directions.  The last example in the post (The Kansas City Star vs. The Boston Herald) is particularly dramatic.  Whereas one photo implies a scene of grief, the same image in the other paper reflects tears of joy.

(images:  January 3, 2005.  Via

  • Hobbes

    The print on the left looks a lot brighter (pink instead of red).
    Thought it might of been a print run issue but the whole picture looks brighter compared to the previous. The previous picture looks clearer tbh, so not sure why they would mess up the shot.

  • Hobbes

    Meh not thinking this morning :) They are two different papers so it is unlikely that photo manipulation happened unless you have other examples?

  • marysz

    The only time the images of ordinary people are featured in the media is when something extreme and extraordinary occurs–in this case, a mining disaster in a white, working-class West Virginia town. Otherwise, such people are of no interest to the mass media (except as consumers). People who are culturally invisible are given visibility by these unusual events.
    The miners’ neighbors and families lack power, celebrity and don’t fit our current perfectionistic ideals about physical beauty. Watching the news reports, I was struck by how peeved both the CEO of the mining company and the governor of West Virginia were that they had to go to this small town and be confronted by people who they usually feel free to ignore. The anger and sadness the townspeople are feeling now is not only due to grief, but also because this disaster revealed to them how marginalized and unimportant they are to the powers-that-be.

  • janinsanfran

    marysz — have to differ about “the only time the images of ordinary people are featured in the media is when something extreme and extraordinary occurs.” Maybe it is just my local rag, the decling SF Chronicle, but they seem more and more to picture quite ordinary people on the front page (and the metro section as well — more important as more content is original there.) The photos are strong, dramatic, but the people are not famous. This may be happening because of an exceptional design department or because of the pressures to get noticed as their circulation declines (paper has an identity crisis — urban or suburban– or neither.)

  • Victor F

    Most of the people I photograph for the small daily I work for are quite ordinary, and actually, I think they are more interesting than the politicians and corporate big-wigs who are featured every now and then on our front page. When “something big” happens, though, the news agencies pick up the stories and pictures and send them all over the place. I think this creates the illusion that “ordinary people don’t matter to newspapers.” Of course, a paper like USA Today or the NY Times has subscribers all over the country, so their front pages may have fewer photos of “ordinary” people just because of content issues.
    As to the difference in brightness: when we get photos from the AP, the photographers have to make sure the pictures will reproduce well on paper. We have to adjust brightness and contrast, among other things, to make sure the details we see on the monitor will translate over to paper. This means there is room for variation in the brightness of a picture simply because a person has to process it and might make a mistake.
    This will be another damning event for American journalism, which is already held in low regard and for good reasons I suppose. Sloppy is the only word for it. Journalists are “ordinary people,” too, so they are just as succeptible as any other person to be swept up in the wake of a rumor, especially given how competitive the business of news has become. Still, if there is any doubt, conclusions can’t be rushed.

  • marysz

    Thanks, janin and Victor for your thoughts about the visibility of “ordinary” people in the media. But I wonder if there isn’t an unofficial quota of some kind on the representation of “regular” people in the news. After a certain point, the sight of too many ordinary citizens can become downright populist and in that sense, become a real threat to the ruling powers. Those angry people in West Virginia bad-mouthing the mining company to the media present a powerful and de-stabilizing image.

  • paulsen

    Just another messed up situation that will have one in tears. God Bless

  • jt from BC

    MARYSZ said “I was struck how peeved both the….”did you later see Wilbur saying the organization was contributing $2 million toward a trust fund, requested others to add to the pot, then the coup de grace all management fees would be waived!!! Who is this guy ???
    .. multi billionaire investor Wibur Ross.. a “vulture investor.”..Business Week profile.. vulture investing is “a corner of the finance world dominated by big personalities who rise to prominence in times like these, the bust after a boom.”..not usually interested in long term involvement..preferring instead to get improved returns and a fast exit by reselling the “distressed” companies at a profit..involve some form of restructuring.. new management, cutting corners so that profits will increase, or new sales strategies are the favored “improvements.” After these.. vulture investors then sell investments for a profit, usually to even larger companies. As the Business Week article puts it, “ultimately he (Ross) makes money from others’ misfortune.

  • Cactus

    The horror is that apparently the mine owner knew early on that 12 miners had died and kept it out of the news. Why? To get his excuses in order?
    The use of the same image to illustrate the safety, then the deaths of the miners, just seems to be laziness. Each publication wants to be first and can’t wait for a new photo. Maybe they have 50 photos from AP or whoever and it’s just too time-consuming and tedious to sort thru to find the latest ones (if any) after the bad news came out.

  • ummabdulla

    This photo doesn’t really illustrate either situation. The woman doesn’t look like she’s relieved and celebrating after hearing that the miners are alive, but she also doesn’t look like she’s sad and upset after finding out that they’re dead. She just looks like she’s worried and waiting to find out what’s happened. Maybe they purposely chose this photo to be ready for either outcome?

  • readytoblowagasket

    Speaking of making money from others’ misfortune, someday we’ll be able to buy these newspapers on eBay.

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