The Politics of the Picture Desks

The snapper stands like an ornothologist – still, silent, patient waiting for the moment, waiting, waiting. The politician scratches his nose Trr, Trr, Trr, Trr the camera shutter flutters. Job done. Next day’s papers we, the public, get a photo of Gordon Brown or whoever picking his nose next to the report about pension fiddles etc. Since it is impossible to sit on a stage for an hour without scratching your ear, nose, head – especially under lights – the snappers know they’re going to get the shot sooner or later – it just requires patience.

Clearly all of this began in the tabloids and the women’s magazines – the getting out of the car up the skirt shot is a peculiar British speciality (I’m told), but the principle has now permeated into what was once known as the serious press.

Now if every shot was like this it would give the game away – so who makes the decision to dish out the embarrassing picture treatment? Well, ultimately the editor, but it’s the picture desk who see the range of available pics and whittles them down. And, when you’re looking to choose a single pic from a big pile, then the “party” shot is always going to make it into the final selection.

Any PR will tell you they’d rather have a pic to go with the copy, which reflects the fact a readers eye is drawn to the picture, then the headline, then the body of the copy. With pictures in full colour on every page the role of the picture is in the ascendancy, which makes the subliminal politics of the picture desk critical. It doesn’t matter if the text says that Gordon Brown was having a good day if the picture shows him slapping his forhead in despair (even though he was only smoothing his hair)



In these last days before the elections I’m offering a fiver for the most twisted published pictures of a politician.


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