Letters + Opinion » Publisher

A Matter of Principle



A month or so ago I went to my mailbox in Fieldbrook and pulled out Time magazine. Gross! Here was a beautiful Afghan woman with a hole in the middle of her face right where her nose should be. It was over-the-top sensational. It made me queasy. The editors were trying a little too hard to grab my attention so I would read every word of the cover story. What's next, I thought? A close-up of female genital mutilation?

Fast-forward a few weeks. I drove into our new offices in Old Town Eureka for a meeting on Wednesday. I stopped by the newsstand at the door and picked up that week's Journal, with the bloody giant hooks in the back of some woman. That queasy feeling returned.

Readers might be surprised to learn that I read the Journal the same time they do each week. That's what publishers do. We give general direction and guidance, and we coordinate and manage the people and budgets to maintain the website, to publish a newspaper once a week, and to publish and print several magazines and special publications yearly. I have not been the Journal's editor for many years.

Our editor, Hank Sims, accepts responsibility for the art chosen for the story and he can speak for himself. I know he has answered many phone calls and e-mails these past two weeks.

At a meeting of the Journal staff last week, I prefaced my comments by saying this was not an easy black-and-white issue. There exists a spectrum of opinion in the community and on our own staff. How many of us have pierced ears? It's a form of self-mutilation. Are we objecting to blood specifically? Would the hooks in the back without blood be OK? What about all those people who take their young children to church and are confronted by a bloody Christ on the cross with nails through his hands? Is that OK because we've become desensitized to the crucifixion? From a libertarian point of view, no one hurt someone else. The Journal cover truly was not like the woman on the cover of Time because this woman did this to herself and she did it for her own selfish reasons.

The other end of the spectrum was well represented in last week's letters to the editor.

It should be noted, however, that this spectrum of commentary is not just as a pile of opinions on one seat of the teeter-totter v. a pile on the other. There are opinions all along the spectrum up to and including the tipping point.

As publisher, I am ultimately responsible for all content. I understand the libertarian arguments, but personally I am aligned with those who concluded the cover was unnecessarily graphic. I sincerely apologize and am asking our readers who were offended to forgive this lapse.

Our mission statement has guiding principles and one of them says that when we make a mistake, we admit it -- and apologize -- and we try not to do it again.

As a postscript, very few people objected to the story itself and I agree. It's not pleasant, but it is something that found its way to Humboldt County from the big cities. It's newsworthy. It's factual. And it was well written. And the story itself was compelling and thought-provoking all on its own.

It didn't need that cover.


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