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MCLEAN, Va. (CAP) - In a move that industry analysts say illustrates the challenges facing traditional media outlets, the Gannet company announced this week that it would run only photos of attractive people in its newspapers, including USA Today.
"Actually especially USA Today," noted chairman Craig A. Dubow.
"We asked ourselves: Is there ever a time that a story is better served by showing an ugly person?" said Dubow. "And then we answered ourselves: No, there isn't."
Dubow noted several recent focus group studies from the Columbia School of Journalism that cited an audience preference for seeing attractive, well-groomed people in the publications that they read. If a less attractive illustration is necessary - say, for a story on obesity or electrolysis - they preferred a cartoon caricature to a real-life overweight or hairy person.
"This is good news for our editorial cartoonists, most of whom lost their jobs in the latest round of layoffs," said Dubow, noting that several of them have now been commissioned to draw fat and hairy people on a per diem basis.
The decision by Gannet is only the latest move on the part of media companies to tailor their products to modern audiences. Dow Jones, which publishes the Wall Street Journal and was acquired by media magnate Rupert Murdoch, turned heads when Murdoch announced all stories would be fewer than 300 words long and be "85 percent action verbs."
"People don't have time for a whole lot of nouns or, God forbid, conjunctive adverbs," said Murdoch, noting that the new WSJ will have stories "as fast-paced and action-packed as a Michael Bay movie." And next fall, it will also introduce Wingo, he added.
Other recent moves by newspaper companies have included:
- "Choose your own ending" news stories (Knight Ridder);
- "Who's the Secret Source?" contest (Ottaway);
- "Plug Away!", a section of the top of the front page where advertisers can put whatever they want (Cox Newspapers);
- A woman in a bikini in every section, including Obituaries (Boston Herald).
Boston-based media critic David O'Kennedy lamented the fading away of the traditional newspaper model - with its long stories on topics nobody was particularly interested in - but noted that newspapers must adapt to keep up with the Internet, which features naked pictures of Vanessa Hudgens.
"That's the challenge - finding the common ground between long and boring and naked Vanessa Hudgens," said O'Kennedy.
In a related story, Community Newspaper Holdings has announced a new "Naked Vanessa Hudgens" section in every one of its more than 290 daily and weekly newspapers.
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