SubScribe: Just a pretty face Google+

Wednesday 11 April 2012

Just a pretty face

Maria Sharapova seems to be a cutie when it comes to business. She may not be doing quite so well on the tennis court these days, but she has amassed wealth estimated at some $90 million and is the world's most highly paid sportswoman. This is in large measure a result of her eight-year deal with Nike, which should earn her at least $70 million. Her sports clothing range is achieving buoyant sales, even in the downturn, and the shoes that bear her name (and sell at $150 a pair) have been hailed by fashionistas as the perfect ballet pump.
Not entirely surprising, then, to see her on the front page of the Telegraph's business section then? Well yes, actually.
There she was, all grit and determination, under the headline 

Disadvantage Sony Reforms to cost 10,000 jobs.

Excuse me? Has Sharapova lost her job? Perhaps the caption might be more enlightening?

Sony, the electronics giant and sponsor of the Sony Ericsson Open in Florida, has suffered falling sales. Full story, B2

Sharapova isn't identified and even the word tennis doesn't appear, so a  business reader with limited interest in sport wouldn't have the faintest idea what this was all about. In fact, the photograph appears to have been taken during the final in Miami the previous week - a match that Sharapova lost to Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland.
None of this is mentioned in the front page or in the fuller story inside - a story, by the way, that describes Sony as a retailer and then goes on to explain that most of the job cuts will fall on the chemical unit. Of course, every retailer has a chemical unit.
The iPad edition was even more enigmatic: its business front carried the same photograph under the heading 

Disadvantage Sony

There was no caption, so even the tenuous link of the tennis tournament was lost. The  story a few pages on made no mention of tennis, but focused on the straight news - and was accompanied by a photograph of the chief executive in front of a presentation screen.
Illustrating business stories is difficult if you don't want your pages to be filled with a succession of middle-aged white men in suits, so designers and chief subs are always on the lookout for an imaginative alternative.
The preference across Fleet Street is to use pictures of women wherever possible on all news pages. Men like looking at pictures of women; women like looking at pictures of women. Fair enough. But surely there must be some rationale behind the choice of illustration  - and the least a chief sub can do is to let the reader into the secret by identifying the person in the photograph and explaining what she has to do with the story.
This was an extreme example, but the Telegraph is beginning to resemble the Sunday Express of the John Junor era, where pages were randomly illustrated with pictures of pretty women for no reason other than that they were pretty women.
The Telegraph has its favourites: the Duchess of Cambridge is clearly at the top of the list, closely followed by the Queen, Samantha Cameron, Michelle Dockery, Kate Winslet and Helen Mirren. Liz Hurley, who was top of the charts when the Times was going through its Johnny Wilkinson phase,  has fallen out of favour.
Do readers really want to see these same faces day after day? It might be understandable if they were doing something unusual or the image was in some way remarkable. But they are largely simply standing and staring at the camera. And why this fixation with stand-alone pictures that are frequently incongruous with the serious stories surrounding them? What is wrong with having photographs or graphics  that  have some bearing on the real news being reported on the page?
Stand-alone pictures have become such a staple of the Telegraph formula that a formal style has been established for captions. There is either a little box in a corner of the photograph that allows a couple of pars of copy or an 18pt head that sits along two lines of caption. In each case a pun kicker is required and this is set in blue. Sometimes the blue heading is followed by  another in black as on page 3 yesterday

American dream Acting ambitions

In this case, there were four pars of copy about some Olivier-nominated actors who had given interviews to the Radio Times - which was credited in the story and with a cover photograph.
This is another feature of this picture policy: most are blatant puffs with no news value at all.
Listed below are a series of headings and captions taken from photographs published in the paper over the past two weeks. Every one is given in full and with the published punctuation and capitalisation. I leave you to judge their merit:

I spy A Russian doll 
Anna Chapman, who was deported from the US on charges of espionage, models in Moscow
Page 2, March 23. Double-column  photograph of red-haired woman on catwalk

Sister act, Jagger-style
Sisters Jade, left, and Georgia May Jagger, daughters of Sir Mick, in Soho, London, at a dinner to mark the release of the latest issue of Another Man magazine
Page 8, March 24, bottom nib photograph of the two women hugging

Mirror, mirror...
Model Lily Cole prepares to help launch The Body Shop's "Beauty with Heart" marketing campaign
Page 10, March 24. Double-column photograph of woman in front of make-up mirror

Taking flight Firebird premiere
Adela Ramires catches the eye as "Lead celebrity" in the English National Ballet's new version of The Firebird, choreographed by George Williamson. The ballet had its premiere at the Coliseum in London this week
Page 16, March 24. Four-column picture of ballerina being lifted by leading man

Respect Aretha at 70 
Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, celebrates her 70th birthday at a party in New York on Saturday
Page 7, March 26. Double-column picture of Franklin with cake

Maddening Parents are too uptight, says star
Parents were more relaxed in the 1960s but have now become too uptight about raising children, according to January Jones, one of the stars of the TV series Mad Men. Jones, who as Betty Draper slaps her on-screen daughter, said that while she did not condone the practice, the show was right to remind viewers of changing times.
Page 8, March 26, Double-column photograph of January Jones in character

Kate resurfaces Titanic returns in 3D
Kate Winslet, at the world premiere of Titanic 3D at the Royal Albert Hall last night. The original version, in which she starred, is the second-highest earning film of all time
Page 11, March 28, Double-column red-carpet picture of Winslet in black dress 

Sunshine skater 
Alex Hamilton, 33, of Notting Hill, made the most of the sunshine yesterday with a skate in Hyde Park. The warm weather is to continue before clouds roll in at the weekend Weather, back page
Page 8, March 29. Three-column picture of bare-midriffed woman skating by the Serpentine with dog on lead

Biker chic Samantha in leather
Samantha Cameron chose a leather jacket instead of the lycra gear favoured by many cyclists as she rode out from No 10 yesterday
Page 10, March 29 Double-olumn photograph of Mrs Cameron on her bike 

Ace of hearts Dame Helen's first aid
Over the years, Dame Helen Mirren has warmed many hearts. But yesterday she learnt the secrets of heart massage with the London Ambulance Service. The actress is a patron of a charity supporting volunteer lifesavers
Page 8, March 30 Three-column picture of Mirren on her knees gazing at an ambulance person while pretending to pump the heart of a dummy

Spectator sport Party time for Samantha and mother
While Samantha Cameron attended a book launch in London for her friend Alexandra Shulman, her mother Annabel was at The Spectator party just a few streets away with her husband Lord Astor. Miss Shulman, the editor of the British edition of Vogue, was launching her novel Can We Still be Friends. Also attending the Spectator party was the actress Olivia Grant, far right
Page 14, March 30. Three-column picture of Cameron and Shulman, single-column of Lord and Lady Astor, half stick of Grant

Helena vamps it up
Helena Bonham Carter in the first production stills for the forthcoming vampire film Dark Shadows
Page 15, March 30. Double-column picture of the actress posing with full make-up - and cleavage

All heart Sport talk
David Walliams, the comedian, and his wife Lara Stone were at No 10 to discuss Sport Relief
Page 8, March 31 Double-column shot of the couple in a clench on the steps at Downing Street

Smooth finish Swimmer in shape
Jenna Randall, the captain of Britain's Olympic synchronised swimming team, has won a new title as the legs of Braun shavers
Page 12, April 2 Double-column picture of Randall in provocative pose in swimsuit and killer heels being splashed with water

Olympic babe Team GB nappies
Paula Radcliffe, the 38-year-old British marathon runner, holds her 18-month-old son Raphael, who is wearing a nappy created by Pampers to celebrate the London 2012 Olympic Games
Page 2, April 3 Four-column picture of Radcliffe and son both with huge smiles. The toddler is in a red, white and blue nappy

King's cast Stars in Soho story
Annia Friel, top, filming The King of Soho at the Savile Club in Mayfair. The film also stars Steve Coogan, above left, as Paul Raymond, who opened the UK's first strip club, and David Walliams.
Page 5, April 3. Double-column pic of Friel in clinch with unnamed man, single-column shots of Coogan and Walliams

American girl Dockery stars in the States
She is already one of the most recognisable faces on our television screens, and now Downton Abbey has made Michelle Dockery a star in the US as well.
The actress is a cover girl for the latest Vanity Fair, which hails her as one of the "most watchable women" on television.
Dockery, 30, posed in bed with the actresses Julianna Margulies, Claire Danes and Sofia Vergara. The magazine called Downton "a sophisticated sensation".
Dockery said she was still getting used to US fame: "I was in a tea shop in New York and the couple next to me were talking about Downton Abbey and recognised me."
The May issue of Vanity Fair is on sale on Friday.
Page 5, April 4. three-column picture as described. Single-column magazine cover shot

Wheels of power
Oliver Letwin, the Cabinet Office minister, arrives at No 10 Downing Streets on a Brompton bike yesterday
Page 6, April 4. double-col pic of minister on a bike (photographed by Steve Black, who also took the cycling Sam pic - and the jogging Sam pix of a few weeks back)

Flower girl Ballet opens
An English National Ballet dancer performs in My First Sleeping Beauty, which opened last night at the Peacock Theatre in London
Page 10, April 4. Three-col picture of unnamed dancer on points

Big step Ballet fun
Four-year-old Daisy Anne Bolton meets the Sugar Plum Fairy, Northern Ballet dancer Lori Gilchrist. Northern Ballet is seeking sponsorship following a 15 per cent cut in core funding
Page 2, April 5. Three-col pic of dancer on points with the little girl at the barre

Charlize Single mother
Charlize Theron poses for the May issue of Vogue, in which she discusses her new role as a single mother. The Hollywood actress, 36, recently adopted an African-American baby called Jackson. In the magazine, out on Monday, she describes her son as "the greatest gift", adding: "I've always known I wanted a family."
Page 9, April 5. Five-column  pic of actresss lying on couch or bed in low-cut dress with legs apart

No problem Sound of Music star is back
Connie Fisher, who starred in The Sound of Music after the TV talent show How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? is in Wonderful Town at The Lowry in Salford Quays. She was told last August she might never sing again because of a throat condition
Page 10, April 5. Double-column pic of Fisher dancing on stage in dress slit to the crotch

Stung Kiss for Meryl
Meryl Streep and Sting perform in the Concert for the Rainforest Fund at Carnegie Hall, New York
Page 12, April 5 Double-column picture of Sting kissing Streep on the lips

Step up Paula leads
The marathon champion Paula Radcliffe on Westmiinster Bridge yesterday with fellow athletes ahead of the Great British 10k run on July 8. The route goes past the Houses of Parliament
Page 14, April 5. Deep three-column pic of a dozen women running past Parliament

Titanic task
The singer Katie Melua will be part of the Titanic commemoration show in Belfast on April 14. It will be broadcast on BBC Two
Page 15, April 6 Deep double-column of Melua in long red dress, sitting on a trunk

Stop! Stop! We get the message, I hear you cry. 
But this barely scratches the surface and almost entirely ignores the obsession with the Royal Family. During this fortnight, we had pictures of the Queen and the Duke going to Waltham Forest and having a disagreement over whether they had been there before; Kate increasing the sales of hockey kit; Charles playing basketball (in the same issue); Camilla visiting Liverpool and remembering that teenagers used to scream at the Beatles; Zara playing with her nephew; the Queen visiting the BBC Salford studios and doing stuff for Sport Relief; William and Kate not going to a memorial service for the Queen Mother - followed the next day by a line-up of all the royals who did attend. It goes on and on....and don't get me started on the Camerons.

And all this before we even begin to examine the picture choices and caption writing outside of this stand-alone format - a three-column shot of Helen Mirren in that bikini to illustrate a story about a row over her Italian villa, for example. And, to my mind the worst of the lot, a double-column picture of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in Manchester United shirts alongside a story headlined 

I'm no longer haunted by last photo of murdered girls, says Holly's father

It is nearly ten years since the girls were killed by Ian Huntley and Kevin Wells gave an interview to announce that he would be running the marathon to raise funds for the Grief Encounter  bereavement charity of which he is patron. He told the charity's newsletter that he didn't want to talk about what life had been like the past ten years, but said that he now imagined his daughter as a woman of 21 and not the girl in the famous photograph. "That photo no longer impacts on me," he said.
Maybe not, but I still feel it was crass to use it as the main photograph.

A newspaper's use of  pictures  defines it almost as strongly as its splashes and its columnists. And caption writing is one of the supreme arts of the sub-editor. The Telegraph is strong on wildlife, often picking up photographs that are under-displayed by rival papers. But this sub-glamour PR handout approach demeans it as a quality broadsheet , and the banality of the captions compounds the problem. 
OK, in some of these instances there is barely room to say anything, in which case it is the sub's job to approach the page designer or chief sub or night editor and ask for an extra line or three. None of these pictures would suffer from a little being shaved top or bottom.
But even where there is enough space to make something of the job, there is no apparent enthusiasm. An actress adopts a child and says "I always knew I wanted a family." Well, wowwee, what an unusual woman; move the story to the front. 
And that five-par Vanity Fair puff. This magazine has its finger on the pulse. Those four actresses didn't fall into bed together by accident: they are the real TV stars of the era. Juliana Margulies was watched by an average audience of 10 million in her ER days, in the Good Wife she draws 12 million; Sofia Vergera's performance in Modern Family picks up a regular audience of 14 million; Downton averaged 10 million at its peak.  Claire Danes may not be reaching quite those figures with her stunning performance in Homeland, but she has been nominated for a hatful of awards - and the programme has been endorsed by President Obama.  Perhaps some of that could have made its way into print? But no, we get this vapid comment from Dockery about being recognised in a tea shop. God save us.
Maybe it's  too much to ask subs to use their imagination in the face of such pappy subject matter. But surely they shouldn't be so disenchanted by the material that they can't be bothered even with the basics - such as identifying the woman in the picture on the front page. 

Thank you for sticking with it to the end. Please do share your thoughts below. And please take a look at the other posts. They are all media related.

Sold down the river the Beeb's flotilla and fireworks fiasco - and a feeble fightback. Why didn't the top man have his hand on the tiller?

Hello and goodbye to Wapping a personal diary of life inside the fortress in the days before the strike that changed newspapers forever

Out of print a love letter to newspapers in this digital age. Why they don't have to die if we have the will to let them live and thrive

Why local newspapers matter Why we should care about the revolution in the regional press

Missing: an opportunity How the hunt for Madeleine McCann could be turned into a force for good instead of just a festival of mawkish sentimentality

Riding for a fall Does buying a ticket for a jolly day out at the races mean you are fair game for the snobs who sneer and snipe?

Food for thought a case study in why we should take health advice with a pinch of salt (and a glass of red wine and a helping of roast beef) 

The world's gone mad Don Draper returns and  the drooling thirtysomethings go into overdrive But does anybody watch the show? (But there is more Whipple in this post!)

1 comment:

  1. The Telegraph would have lost me straight away (ignoring the improbability of me opening it in the first place)as a non sports fan. Surely the important thing in that story was the loss of jobs, not some spurious link to an unimportant sports competition? I too would prefer relevant pictures in the newspaper -or am I just jealous that so many of these women are attractive - oops, that was a different story!