As I was finishing an edition of the Overnight News Digest, I saw an opportunity for a thought experiment for myself. I don't really consider myself to be any kind of journalist. I struggle to understand how well executed journalism is accomplished and I deeply admire those people who provide us with it. But I try to grasp the fundamentals as best I can. I suppose I would call myself a compiler or an aggregator. (I am but your humble scribe.) However, in some of the compilations I can begin to see how I might utilize words and images from different sources which could then be put together in ways that might produce an additional narrative.
One of the articles I included was a scientific examination of the relationship of the perceived focus of the eyes of a cartoon character on a box of cereal and whether or not that character was able to convey a "higher connection [to] or higher level of trust for the brand".
A second article (which is a compilation of two other news articles) concerns a young woman who was arrested for leaving her children in her car while she applied for a job and a man who was arrested for sexually assaulting his 3 year old daughter. At the beginning of the article, there are side-by-side comparisons of their mug shots.
I looked at those two photographs. I looked long and hard at those two people. I tried not to think of the stories behind them. (Either one of them is heartbreaking, although for different reasons.) I looked most closely at their eyes, the so called "windows to the soul".
In his picture, the man is looking directly at the camera. He has a small smile. His hair is in place but uncombed. He appears relaxed... casual. He is white.
In her picture, the woman is looking up and away to one side. Tears are running down her face, down under her chin where they meet and run down her chest. Her mouth is set to stifle a sob. Her hair is a tangled mess. She appears to be in an agony I can not imagine. She is black.
If I had only those photos to look at and I had to try to assess who those people were and how they came to have had these pictures made, which of them would I have a "higher connection [to] or higher level of trust for...".
So I stopped to think.
Is some part of my assessment of this article about them going to be based on eye contact and general demeanor? If so, has the journalist who wrote the article, either by inadvertence or intent, biased my feelings toward them? I realize the journalist may have had few (if any) choices when it came to a selection of pictures. I also realize the power of a word or an image to convey an idea. I have asked myself if the journalist has pushed my perceptions of these people one way or another. Did I buy into it? Does this change how I feel? What should I think now? What can I learn?
The thing is...
I do know something about these two people.
I do know something about their respective problems.
I look them in the eyes. They are not cartoon characters trying to sell me a product.