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I realize that there are lots of important media ethics issues to discuss surrounding this week’s special New York Times Magazine issue about “Saving the World’s Women” (that white knight–inflected title would be a good place to start), but my friend Shannon pointed out a pretty glaring, if ultimately less weighty, issue: does the special text surrounding the online magazine preview really have to be pink?

I guess the online producers wanted to distinguish the “special issue” in some way, but I can’t interpret the decision to use pink in any way that doesn’t undermine the theme of many of the issue’s articles: that women’s struggles deserve to be taken seriously by policy makers and should be treated as “hard news” in the media. The pink color marks the weighty issues addressed in the articles (including women’s role in economic development, sexual slavery and human trafficking, and Liberian politics, among others) as belonging to a special interest, and places them in opposition to the magazine’s “normal,” “universal” fare.

Using pink to brand things for women is a historically suspect enterprise. For decades, manufacturers of all sorts have used it to pitch their wares to women while entrenching rigid gender roles and distinctions. The “pink for women” marker would have to be used in a pretty innovative way* for it to seem like a useful journalistic tool, and I don’t think the Times met that bar. I’m curious to see what the print version will look like.

*I would love to hear thoughts from anyone familiar with the breast cancer awareness campaign, which has clearly used “pink for women” to great and serious effect.


I caught this headline on the front page today, and was impressed with the irony of its placement on a front page that regularly features breathless coverage of celebrities and human interest stories far more prominently than “hard news.” I might have been prepared to consider the article an unaccustomed (and hugely inadequate to the task) example of self-reflection on CNN’s part, if it weren’t for a promo I found when I clicked through to the article.

Here’s the front page—I know the text is tiny, but the highlighted headline reads “Too much attention to Kate, Jon and ‘Octomom’?”:

The front page of CNN, August 17, 2009 around 3pm

The front page of, August 17, 2009 around 3pm

This is what the article looked like when I clicked through the link (how could I resist?). The highlighted text is a hyperlink that reads “Don’t Miss: Cops called to Jon and Kate Gosselin’s home“: screenshot, August 17, 2009, about 3pm screenshot, August 17, 2009, about 3pm

That’s right, in the center of the article, there is a large, prominently placed promo for a People article about police being called to Jon and Kate Gosselin’s home (an incident in which “no one was arrested and no citations were issued”). The original article itself does little more than recap an episode of Reliable Sources from the previous Sunday, though it does have the audacity to select its primary examples of “infotainment”-style news coverage from other news organizations. I know that the promos are very likely generated electronically, but I don’t think it requires human agency to demonstrate how deeply embedded the infotainment sensibility is at CNN. And, of course, at both of the other major cable news networks.

Here is a close-up of the article (from later in the day–apparently no one has pointed the indelicacy of the promo out to the editor in charge), so you can read the text of the article surrounding the “Don’t Miss” promo:

Screenshot from 12:30 am on August 18, 2009.

Screenshot from 12:30 am on August 18, 2009.

I don’t really have too much to add to these images. It seems obvious to me that it’s unethical for media organizations that bill themselves as news purveyors to pay so very much attention to celebrity and human interest stories of little or no political or social value (I can’t agree with The Baltimore Sun‘s David Zurawik, quoted in the article, that Jon and Kate represent an important sociological phenomenon. Perhaps the attention to them is an important sociological phenomenon, but that’s not what gets covered…). The “the public demands it” argument carries little weight with me since it is not the business of news media to offer the public exactly what it demands (judging by ratings, for example, the public demands House and Mad Men, which news networks clearly recognize as outside of their purview). Perhaps more importantly, I believe thyat there is a complicated relationship between what the news media offer, how they offer it, and what the public “demands.”