A question for any nascent media ethicists in the house:

Is the photo array on Page One of today’s Wall Street Journal (pdf file, no subscription required) brilliant picture editing or some sort of cruel joke? Steve Jobs’ health is absolutely fair game for news coverage, but the iPods give the series an undercurrent of dark humor that makes me a tetch queasy. Thoughts?

Posted at 12:47 pm in Media |

30 responses to “Thinner.”

  1. Kirk said on January 6, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    You concerned about the iPods growing progressively thinner as Jobs does? It didn’t bother me, and I’m pretty conservative on photo use.

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  2. nancy said on January 6, 2009 at 1:05 pm

    Yeah. The incredible shrinking CEO contrasted with his gadget. Only the gadget keeps getting better, and Jobs likely has a pretty serious illness. But maybe it’s just me.

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  3. Kirk said on January 6, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    My lack of gadget-consciousness could be a flaw in my judgment.

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  4. Matt Mendelsohn said on January 6, 2009 at 1:40 pm

    Well, as a former news section photo editor at USA Today (and faithful reader), I know what you’re thinking. The iPod is shrinking like he is and the photo editor went out of his or her way to find photos that showed this.

    Normally, we would try to stay away from a hint of subversive (or silly) messages via photo editing but in this case I don’t see anything wrong. He’s getting very, very thin and the fact that he happens to holding his product in each photo makes the photo that much better–and that much less a boring head shot. Perhaps no executive in the world is more closely tied to the product produced by the company than Steve Jobs.

    (An example to the converse would be when a photo editor picks a frame of a disgraced preacher giving a press conference. During that press conference, the preacher happens to rub his eyes. It looks like he’s crying when in fact he’s just wiping his eyes. The photo editor selects this frame because he might think it syncs with the mood (somber press conference), when in fact it conveys a somewhat innacurate depicton of what really happened. It’s a bit deceitful but it happens a lot.)

    But here? I think the pictures are very telling and I think the correlation between man and machine is an added visual bonus. (Bonus, not in a happy way, of course.)

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  5. brian stouder said on January 6, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    I suppose the easy joke caption would be something like –

    an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but you’ll starve if that’s all you’re eating

    (if he were a woman , they’d be whispering words like “anorexia” and “Karen Carpenter”)

    and – why do some fellows think that stubble looks good?

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  6. Kirk said on January 6, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    I’m going to ask our photo editors.

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  7. Hank Stuever said on January 6, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    I love it.
    It says a lot of things on a lot of levels (or it doesn’t) and it’s up to the reader to context himself. My reaction, even as I know it’s unfair and certainly don’t wish the billionaire ill, is: Yep, this inane devotion to technology has a withering effect on life.

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  8. nancy said on January 6, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    Great observations, all. Meanwhile, I just checked stocks on my iPhone and note that on a generally up day on Wall Street, Apple is down slightly. Hmm.

    Oh, and also: Proof once again that for certain kinds of stories, nothing works like a still.

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  9. Kirk said on January 6, 2009 at 3:14 pm

    Our photo boss didn’t even catch the iPods. His beef was that the first image is shot with a wide-angle lens, which makes things wider, and the other two were shot with a telephoto lens, which tends to compress, thus exaggerating the ravages of time. But he did consider the general idea legitimate.

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  10. Kevin Knuth said on January 6, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    That explains that first photo then Kirk- I never though Jobs was ever that heavy.

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  11. Matt Mendelsohn said on January 6, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    Hank wrote, “My reaction, even as I know it’s unfair and certainly don’t wish the billionaire ill, is: Yep, this inane devotion to technology has a withering effect on life.”

    That’s a really simple and profound way of summing up my reaction as well. It’s a totally subjective reaction but it’s an honest one. Well said.

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  12. Danny said on January 6, 2009 at 6:00 pm

    Nance et al:

    Best sports line of the day: “I don’t know why everyone is so mad at Matt Millen. The Lions have been terrible for a very long time. It’s not like Matt Millen dismantled the Roman Empire.”

    Paraphrasing a caller to Dan Patrick’s show this morning. Hilarious.

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  13. nancy said on January 6, 2009 at 6:19 pm

    Boy, Kevin, you really have a different definition of “heavy,” don’t you?

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  14. Jolene said on January 6, 2009 at 8:35 pm

    I can’t say that these photos bothered me. Being somewhat oblivious, I’m not sure that I’d have noticed the iPods if you hadn’t pointed them out. There’s nothing more engrossing than another human, and my attention went directly to Jobs.

    I wonder what it is that he has. Seems that, if he really wanted to reassure people, he’d be more explicit. As the caption indicates, his failure to name his diagnosis suggests that he’s got something horrible and life-threatening.

    If it’s not something that serious, then it’d be nice if it were contagious. That kind of weight loss would be worth a little suffering.

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  15. nancy said on January 6, 2009 at 8:44 pm

    He’s had pancreatic cancer in the past, so the suspicion is that he’s had a recurrence. It’s one thing to be slimming, another to be dying.

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  16. Jolene said on January 6, 2009 at 8:58 pm

    Actually, if he’s had pancreatic cancer, I’m amazed that he’s still alive. In most cases, once that diagnosis is made, the patient has only a few months to live.

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  17. Deborah said on January 6, 2009 at 9:11 pm

    Yeah, It was some kind of cancer but I don’t think it was pancreatic. I could try to Google it but I’m too lazy. Regarding Job’s weight there are 7 years difference between the first photo and the last one. When he was diagnosed with cancer he probably decided to live a healthier lifestyle overall and if he lost 5 lbs a year which is not obscene he’d be 35 lbs lighter. I say this because that’s exactly what my husband did. Very slowly he has been steadily losing the excess weight he gained over the last 10 years. If you look at pictures of him 7 years ago and compare them with recent ones you’d have the same reaction. But he’s perfectly healthy. Swimming, hiking and watching the extra helpings has done it for him.

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  18. Jolene said on January 6, 2009 at 9:11 pm

    Here’s an article that explains (1) why he’s still alive and (2) what might be happening re his weight loss. In short, he’s still alive because he had a rare form of pancreatic cancer, not the usual (i.e., rapidly terminal) kind. As treatment, he received a Whipple procedure, a radical operation that involves extensive rearrangement of the digestive system (described at the link above). In a small proportion of cases, patients experience continuing digestive difficulties that lead to weight loss, which may be what is happening to Jobs now.

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  19. Deborah said on January 6, 2009 at 9:13 pm

    Ok you’re right it was Pancreatic. I just got off my butt and Googled it.

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  20. Catherine said on January 6, 2009 at 9:16 pm

    There’s an article about his illness in Wired, I’m too lazy to find a link (EDIT: But Jolene’s not!). According to the article, it was an unusual (benign?) cancer that is typically quite survivable, unlike most pancreatic cancer, which is a death sentence as Jolene points out. He did lose part of his pancreas, and so they had to reroute much of his digestive system. In people who’ve had the reroute, a certain percentage have trouble absorbing nutrients from their GI system, and that was the thinking about his weight loss. I guess it’s turning out to be something else.

    I took the pix as a riff on the before and after pictures commonly found in Jenny Craig & Nutrisystem ads, and like Jolene didn’t notice the ipod subtext there. So much for that art history degree.

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  21. joodyb said on January 7, 2009 at 1:09 am

    i don’t know what this says about me, but did anyone else notice he always wears the same shirt? like, always.

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  22. Gasman said on January 7, 2009 at 1:11 am

    Pancreatic cancer is what killed my dad 28 years ago. He lived 9 months after the diagnosis. It is a hellish way to go. I wouldn’t wish that fate on anyone, ‘cept maybe Cheney.

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  23. Jolene said on January 7, 2009 at 3:28 am

    It’s a feature, joodyb. His wardrobe consists entirely of jeans and black shirts. Saves thinking about what to wear.

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  24. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on January 7, 2009 at 6:51 am

    Dave Barry might be able to make pancreatic cancer funny, though i hope he never has any reason to try . . . but he did make 2008 funny, which is just about the same thing:

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  25. Dorothy said on January 7, 2009 at 8:54 am

    Pancreatic cancer is what felled several members of Jimmy Carter’s family, plus Patrick Swayze. All I know is what I’ve heard – it’s virtually a death sentence. I was unaware until this morning that there was a less threatening form, such as what Steve Jobs had. One of the best reasons to read nnc.c – learning continues on a daily basis.

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  26. Jolene said on January 7, 2009 at 9:24 am

    In other news, Craig Ferguson announced that he’d gotten married, seriously undermining the quality of my fantasy life.

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  27. brian stouder said on January 7, 2009 at 9:55 am

    Craig Ferguson is one of those names that I hear from time to time, but about whom I know nothing else.

    For a second I was thinking of the face of Gregg Craig – and while I agree that the parties he gets invited to would be very interesting to attend – surely Jolene can do better than him!

    And then I thought of the guy who turned out to be Colin Ferguson, and he was who I was expecting to see when I googled “Craig Ferguson”, and saw who Jolene was referring to.

    For me, Googleless = clueless

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  28. Jolene said on January 7, 2009 at 10:13 am

    To know about Craig Ferguson, Brian, you have to be a person who stays up later than most people can afford to do. He’s smart, funny, and has a charming foreign accent. All the key sources of attractiveness.

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  29. joodyb said on January 7, 2009 at 6:38 pm

    Craig Ferguson represents the quasi-rare charming Scot in our TV culture.

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  30. nancy said on January 7, 2009 at 8:04 pm

    We caught him on “Million Dollar Password” the other night. (The things you watch when you watch as a family.) He was a great player, but he profited from being paired with Serena Williams, who was so dumb that one of her clues for “brunch” was “Brady.”

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