I know sex appeal is great, but…

Why Must I Look At Pretty Women?

Recently there was an article in the Inquirer section of The Australian, Australia’s national newspaper, written by the journo who, I guess, takes care of the Media Diary, Caroline Overington.  Ms Overington is, in my opinion anyway, a good writer and clearly an independent thinker. Her first piece in the week’s diary was partially in support of Alan Jones, a broadcaster and talk show host whom the liberal media love to excoriate. Overington maintains that Jones has a right to raise the matter of three Australian soldiers who, following a fire fight in our un-winnable war in Afghanistan, face military prosecution for civilian deaths.

But my question is not about the rights and wrongs of what happened during the incident in Afghanistan; nor is it about Alan Jones’s campaign in support of the soldiers involved, nor about Caroline Overington’s endorsement of Jones’s right to show that support. It is – why do I need not one, but two, pictures of Ms Overington in the Inquirer Section?

While news reporters continue to remain anonymous, it is now common custom to show full-colour head and shoulder shots of columnists and commentators in many newspapers. But why?  It’s not like I’m ever going to recognise them in the street. And even if I did, I’m not going to stop wide-eyed like I might for Mick Jagger or Madonna. I am never going to rush home to say, ‘guess who I saw at the supermarket today? Tim Soutphommasane.’

So why the pictures?   Does printing journalists’ pictures improve their writing? Is it meant to be an incentive? ‘Take over as economics editor and you can get your picture in the paper every week?’  Is it to sex up the paper; make it more show business?  Does anyone know?

But the two pictures of Caroline Overington raises another, slightly more serious, question. The first picture is next to the masthead of the Inquirer Section and shows the half-length Caroline in a semi swivel, turning back towards the reader in the alluring pose I think Renaissance painters called, contrapposto. But why a largish colour picture next to the masthead? Simple. Because Caroline is a good looking woman with a great figure and long, flowing auburn hair. Definitely not hard to look at.  Her smaller picture, next to her piece in the Media Diary is less flattering. The photographer, by draping the golden hair alongside her face, has made it a feature and has tried, by shooting her from above, to get her to look vampish. All the blokes pictures are shot from straight on but Caroline, looking up into the lens, has been ‘feminised’.

And there’s the problem. I think Caroline gets two pictures because she’s good looking. And I, for one, appreciate her looks. Only what have her looks to do with her being a good writer with an independent, even brave, take on a controversial issue? Would she be flaunted so obviously if she was fifty-five and fat, even though she was a good writer with an independent turn of mind?  What do you think?

I think it’s probably unlikely that Caroline has any say in the matter of her picture in the paper.  It may not even be an editorial decision but one from what we used to call in the newspaper industry, ‘management’. Yet the practice of running prominent pictures of good-looking female journos comes from a newspaper that prides itself on its non-sexist stance on issues. There’s a mixed message here; a faint whiff of media hypocrisy.

And where does it end?  Supposing two women, one of whom is better looking than the other but who have equal skills, apply for a job. Does the looker get the job?  And then, further down the track, does a good-looking woman get a job even if her skills are not as good as the less attractive one?

Maybe it’s okay running pictures of Caroline Overington. She can write, and I like her stuff. But it’s still a questionable practice. After all, what does it say about the newspaper? And where does it end?

I merely ask the questions.