Naked came the rider

When readers complain about a photo, they usually say the picture was “too much.” In this case, they complained there was “not enough.”

By Robin Hughes, editor

Author bio information is from the time of article submission and may not be current.

Source: FineLine: The Newsletter On Journalism Ethics, vol. 2, no. 7 (October 1990), p. 6.

This case was produced for FineLine, a publication of Billy Goat Strut Publishing, 600 East Main Street, Louisville, Kentucky 40202. Reprinted with the permission of Billy Goat Strut Publishing. This case may be reproduced for classroom and research purposes. Publication of this case in electronic or printed form requires written permission from the publisher and Indiana University. An exception is granted for use in readers designed for specific academic courses.


When The Virginian-Pilot and The Ledger-Star published a photograph of a nude man mowing his grass, some people complained about the coverage, or actually, the lack of it. It wasn’t exactly naked rage, but about 60 readers said they found the photo offensive; some felt it was even pornographic.

The photo, which was four columns wide and about 6 inches deep, ran on the front page of the local news section. The subject of the photo is a member of a clothing-optional group. His decision to do his yardwork in the buff landed him in court on charges of indecent exposure.

Assistant Managing Editor Ron Speer said the decision to run the photo required no “soul-searching.” He simply looked at the picture closely “to make sure nothing was revealed that shouldn’t be.”

After the initial round of complaints, the Norfolk newspapers decided to ask readers whether the photograph offended them. Using Infoline, the newspapers’ telephone information service, 4,361 calls were logged — 65 percent of them disagreeing with the readers who said that the photo was in bad taste.

One supporter responded, “Once again, we have 60 people out of how many in your readership trying to tell me what I should read. I find that more offensive than any picture.”

Another reader said, “To me it’s not as bad as some of the photos the newspaper runs when there has been a tragic accident.”

From another supporter: “Neither my 95-year-old mother nor I thought the picture was offensive. To tell the truth, the first thing I thought of was, ‘He isn’t afraid of skin cancer.’”

A “pro-photo” caller who said she was the 83-year-old mother of two sons said she found the picture of the man “perfectly beautiful.” She added, “God help us, if we had to look at most men in the buff, my sons included.”

But these comments were in the 1500 calls objecting to the picture:

“I have a 9-year-old daughter who now knows what a naked man looks like thanks to you . . . I will no longer buy your paper until you raise your standards.”

“The editor who decided to print this needs counseling.”

“Nudity is not expected in a newspaper. Nudity is abnormal. If it were normal, the editor who put this picture in the paper would be sitting there with no clothes on.

Speer (who does wear clothes to work) said he’s been amazed at the amount of reaction. He said if he had the decision to make again, he “perhaps wouldn’t play the picture so big.”

In case you’re wondering, the indecent exposure charges against the naked rider were dismissed. The story accompanying the photograph said the judge decided “it’s OK to expose one’s private parts in the private parts of one’s yard.”