Finding a balance
Bryce Molesworth, pictured at left, believes the Mosier calendar expresses community spirit and a sense of fun.
In our “Letters to the Editor” section in this issue of Good Fruit Grower, a Wisconsin grower made it quite clear that he was offended by our article and layout “covering” the Mosier, Oregon, nude cherry growers calendar (August 2006). His was one of three letters I received expressing similar sentiments on the piece—all three using the word pornographic to describe the photography if not the article itself. A fourth reader called with her complaint, and a fifth, a coworker, marched into my office, dropped the magazine on my desk and told me that the piece damaged the magazine’s reputation and that I had better reprimand responsible staff. Each was respectful (well, maybe not my coworker), but each was earnestly dismayed that this publication would print the piece.
My guess is that if five unhappy Good Fruit Grower readers made the effort to contact the magazine, there were many, maybe hundreds, who reacted similarly, but who did not write or call. I don’t like any of our readers to be unhappy, particularly when their displeasure is a result of a decision for which I am responsible.
But some readers reacted quite differently. We heard from readers who found the article positive, humorous, and/or worth an eye roll—certainly more the reaction the editorial staff had expected. Some knew the men pictured and knew them to be both respectable people and leaders in their community, hardly proponents of pornography.
Although I personally don’t consider the calendar or our reporting of it to be obscene, sexual, or pornographic, I do appreciate that our readership is diverse and that morality and decency is not the same for all. We should make every effort to avoid unnecessary controversy, and the calendar story was not particularly important or vital to our mission. With the benefit of hindsight, I would still run the story, but would alter the layout in favor of something less graphic.
And that’s where this business gets sticky. There is no clear line between unnecessary censorship and a publisher’s responsibility to protect his or her readers from offensive material. Like morality, the line on censorship moves depending upon the values and experiences of the person making the decision.
When I said to staff that it had been a mistake to run the photos in the magazine, and that we wouldn’t be doing any more layouts of calendar men or women—that the only flesh we would show in the future would be of fruit—one staff member suggested that by setting new policy as a reaction to reader complaints was a form of censorship. She even posted an article on the subject the next morning.
She, of course, is right. We all censor what we read and do, for ourselves, for our children, and in some cases, for others who are influenced by our decisions. In publishing, publishers censor what you read simply by their selection of staff and the direction given to that staff. Editors censor what you read by choosing which story ideas are pursued, and which are not. Writers censor what material they include in or exclude from an article. And readers censor which articles are read and which are not.
I think it’s worth setting a new policy if, by doing so, it prevents a bad experience for some readers yet doesn’t diminish the value of the content for the rest of the readership. On principle, I dislike the idea of censoring any material, but this is one time that I will.
Readers won’t like everything we write or the topics we cover. Sometimes we even have to report on topics that are uncomplimentary to growers or advertisers. Fortunately, our readers have always respected our professionalism enough to accept that coverage as our responsibility to you—all of you.