More than two dozen readers cancelled their subscriptions when The Washington Post published a photo of two men kissing on its front page last week alongside a story of the D.C. Superior Court beginning to accept license applications for same-sex marriages. Andrew Alexander, the Post‘s ombudsman, received a slew of complaints from readers. One ranted about the Post “promoting a faggot lifestyle.” A 65-year-old reader, who cancelled a subscription she had held since the 1960s, had the more reasonable suggestion of running the photo inside the paper.
“I realize that the world is changing rapidly—much more rapidly than I would like it to,” she wrote. “While I realize that the Post must report on these changes—even the ones with which I do not agree—I feel that the picture on Thursday morning was an affront to the majority of your readership. It is not something that I want coming into my home. I believe that even your editors know that it would have been better placed in the Metro section and that it would have mitigated its impact to do so.”
Alexander’s reply was admirable. “There was a time, after court-ordered integration, when readers complained about front-page photos of blacks mixing with whites,” he wrote. “Today, photo images of same-sex couples capture the same reality of societal change.”
Though readers enjoy an increasing amount of editorial influence through crowd-sourced and participatory journalism, I appreciate the Post‘s backbone. But would an online news community have reacted differently? Probably not.