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Do you like your Loughner big or small?

Pioneer Press photographer/videographer Ben Garvin pointed out a stark difference between his paper’s front page and the Star Tribune’s this morning. It boils down to, “How big do you like your possibly crazy accused mass murderer?”

Garvin’s paper went in-your-face:

The Strib opted for a photo of togetherness, with the accused nearly a visual afterthought:

Garvin — who emphasizes he had nothing to do with the PiPress front — knows which one he favors.

“I’m proud to work at a paper that puts the head shot of Loughner on the front page,” he says. “It’s such an extraordinary photo that reveals more about this fellow than anything I’ve read so far.”

He knows people will criticize play-it-big papers for indulging a possible killer’s ego. “Who cares what he thinks?” Garvin asks rhetorically. “We oughta first ask the question, ‘What photo advances the story in a way no other does?’ And today, it’s the portrait of insanity.”

I should note a MinnPost piece quoting an expert cautioning people against concluding Loughner is insane — at least so far.

I’ll admit, I was riveted by the mug shot yesterday. But when I picked up my Strib today, I was moved by a fractious Congress standing together.

Maybe there’s no right answer here — what do you think? Were “big-play” papers indulging in tabloid trash, or staring truth in the face? And were “small-play” papers acting responsibly, or cowardly?

By the way, as big play goes, it’s probably not a shock that the New York Post played the photo as big (and unequivocating) as possible:

Then again, the New York Times also played it more like the PiPress than the Strib:

Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by CJ McCormick on 01/11/2011 - 02:30 pm.

    Small, please. I actually felt relief when I saw the cover of the Strib. We know of the horror he allegedly perpetrated. I don’t need to see his big creepy face to drill in the message.

  2. Submitted by Nancy Gertner on 01/11/2011 - 03:38 pm.

    When the suspected killer is in custody, I see ZERO need to broadcast his image to the public. I want to see the faces and hear the stories of the people that acted to disarm an armed man. These are the people I find newsworthy.

    I heard on MPR today that the suspected killer’s mother is finding it difficult to get out of bed, and asks “Where did we go wrong?” in raising our son. The newspaper images of her son seem to only make her life more haunted and difficult. I don’t know if she could have done anything to change fate . . . I grieve for the families of the fallen and the wounded, but also for the family of the suspected killer, who can be tortured by thoughts that something they did or did not do influenced his actions on a fatal day.

  3. Submitted by Hal Sanders on 01/11/2011 - 07:08 pm.

    I didn’t care for either. There was no reason to make the lunatic’s mug bigger than life. As far as the STrib, I was struck by the fact that the Congress used the moment of silence as a photo op. Pretty cheesy. There were plenty of photos out of Tucson that could have been used. It wasn’t necessary to make Congress the story.

  4. Submitted by Neal Gendler on 01/11/2011 - 09:19 pm.

    It seems to me the news-value matter of size turns on two questions:

    1. How much information does the photo provide? That is, does the reader gain any significant information from making the photo large? The answer for the photo of members of Congress and their staffs is “yes.” I would argue that the answer for the killer’s head shot is “no.” IMHO, large headshots usually are space-wasters; we just want to see what a person looks like, not count the pores on his nose.

    2. Does a very large photo (as in the PPress, NYTimes and NYPost) properly reflect or greatly exaggerate this person’s importance? This is a harder call. I would say the man’s wretched *deed* is important, but because he’s an individual with no known significant accomplishments or stature, a more-modest headshot — say one or at most, two columns –would be appropriate.

    The news itself is sensational. The huge head shot is a space-burning attempt at sensationalism.

    (Disclosure: Yes, I’m from the Strib, but that doesn’t make me a reflexive supporter of all its decisions. For one thing, I wouldn’t cut off the top of the guy’s head.)

  5. Submitted by Lars Negstad on 01/11/2011 - 09:46 pm.

    We get the Chicago Sun-Times, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Interesting that the NYT was the largest of the three. I was a bit taken back by it, actually. I agree with the previous comments; small is better, in this case.

  6. Submitted by David Hanners on 01/12/2011 - 09:27 am.

    While one can debate the small-vs.-large question, I will say this: As someone who has spent the past 30-plus years looking at booking photos, I would be extremely hesitant to make any judgments or try and draw any conclusions about a person based upon a single booking photo.

  7. Submitted by Molly MacGregor on 01/12/2011 - 11:14 am.

    I vote for the Strib front page, nice

  8. Submitted by Ben Garvin on 01/12/2011 - 11:36 am.

    I agree with NYT’s editor Bill Keller who was quoted in a WashPost story about the image and their decision to put it on the front page. I’d make the argument this articulately if I were able!


    “It felt to me like the obvious right choice,” said [Keller]. “This was the picture of the day. First, it was the news – our first full-face look at the accused subject in a crime that has captured the attention of the country. Second, it was intense and arresting. It invited you to look and study, and wonder. The unflinching gaze. That crooked smile. That bruise around his left eye. Just as articles are meant to be read, photos are meant to be looked at, not looked past.”

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