KSJ Tracker January 23, 2013

CJR: The Swimsuit Edition

Columbia Journalism Review-Jan/Feb 2013 cover

Earlier this month, my Tracker colleague Paul Raeburn posted a detailed and substantive critique of Columbia Journalism Review's big cover story in this year's first issue, which he described as a deeply flawed take-down of diet and health reporting by The Atlantic's David Freedman. I'm not planning to pile onto those story criticisms though.

I'm here to criticize the cover illustration that went with it.

I've posted an image of that cover, which features the jokey teaser headline for Freeman's piece "Why is Diet Research So Thin?" But really the headline is only secondary to the main focus of this cover which appears to be a swimsuit model. In fact, a thin yet nicely endowed model wearing a two piece suit with a, um,  slightly suggestive top.

Really, CJR? Your idea of illustrating a story on the complexities of weight-loss science, health journalism, and the genuine struggles that many people have with obesity is a glossily polished, swimsuit-clad woman on the cover? That conveys the central idea of Freedman's story?  Which would logically be that the only point of health journalism is to get us girls to look better on the beach?

Or - as seems more likely - are you just taking a cynical "sex sells" approach here?

I suspect the latter, obviously, but what makes that such a strange conclusion is when one considers the magazine's basic audience. As smarter people than me have pointed out on Twitter (thanks to Kathleen Raven for starting the discussion) CJR is a primarily a trade publication, one aimed at raising the bar in journalistic practice. It's read mostly by working journalists and journalism eductors, male and female alike.

And speaking as one representative of the female slice of that audience - and as a long time fan of the magazine - I hope that this doesn't indicate a trend in how CJR presents itself. I'm not arguing that this is a major journalistic crisis. But I would like to argue that cheap salesmanship cheapens the product itself.

                                                                                                                                                                                               --- Deborah Blum


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