Did Soledad O’Brien Show Too Much Leg On Magazine Cover?

The depiction of CNN anchor and correspondent Soledad O’Brien on the cover of the August 4, 2011 edition of Diverse Issues in HIgher Education raises some interesting questions about the unintended impact of magazine covers, especially those related to gender and racial diversity.

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I usually don’t pay much attention to the ‘letters’ section of Diverse Issues in Higher Education when it arrives in my mailbox twice a month.

But,  after the great journalism-themed August 4 edition that came out last month,  I was interested to see the reader reaction.

Instead of responding to the story about CNN Correspondent Soledad O’Brien’s upcoming “In America” specials (Latino in America 2 airs September 25 and Black in America 4 premieres in November) the reader was concerned about the depiction of O’Brien, on the cover.

Was the former NBC “Weekend Today” anchor and Harvard graduate presented in a pose that was too provocative?

Did it send the wrong message?

The photo credit only says the image was taken by Greg Miles, presumably just  for Diverse Magazine.   It was unlike the images of O’Brien inside the magazine, which were provided by CNN.

It’s certainly a valid question to pose to Diverse Issues Photo Editor Erica Antonelli.

Here’s the letter from Dr. Laina King, director of Diversity in Life Science Programs Keystone Symposia on Molecular and Cellular Biology  as it appears in this week’s (Sept 1, 2011) issue of Diverse:

I have gotten some comments from individuals who read Diverse about the cover of the issue on journalism.  It is fairly suggestive.  We are not in the publishing industry and so claim no expertise in this area.  I just thought you might want to know what some reactions were to the cover.

It does beg the question if we are trying to get students, especially women and minorities, into college and graduate program, what message does the cover send? Why couldn’t the woman on the cover be sitting behind a desk?

What the Experts Say

While I don’t teach magazine design classes in my role on the journalism faculty at The University of Alabama, I do know a little about publication design as it is part of having formal training in journalism and mass communication.

This is what Sammye Johnson and Patricia Prijatel, authors of The Magazine From Cover to Cover,  call a “Multi-theme, one-image” cover.   It’s the prevailing approach for magazines today designed to grab attention with the image and “clinch the sale” with the cover lines.

Elsewhere in their magazine textbook, Johnson and Prijatel, remind us that magazine cover have the ability to “create cultural images through their covers,” often creating a bond between readers and  movie stars or celebrities.

Soledad’s Star Power

In this instance, the reasonably attractive and well-known anchor and reporter O’Brien, not unlike other television on-air personalities, helps to sell DIVERSE Magazine.

She’s recognizable by many who watch television news (an increasingly smaller part of the American population)  and a celebrity in the broadest sense of the word.    Like all on-air “talent,” she’s part of the brand image associate with CNN’s “In America” documentary unit.

In past years, this same publication has featured other broadcast journalists on its cover– CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux was on the cover a few years ago.

Last year, CBS/60 Minutes Correspondent Byron Pitts was their cover for the annual journalism edition.

You’ll notice that Pitts is presented standing in a conservative business suit,  more consistent with the work-oriented/administrative portrayals of most academics who appear on the cover of this magazine twice a month.

My two cents

I think Dr. King and her colleagues have a point.   When considered in context of most magazine covers for DIVERSE Magazine  (click here to see recent covers),  the lady in the red dress with her legs crossed is a little unusual and could have an unintended effect.

Would I put O’Brien behind a desk next time?  No.

Maybe a tighter (more close-up) photo would be a better choice.   That’s just a matter of Antonelli and her staff taking a little more time editing the cover photograph.  It’s just one suggestion to the DIVERSE Magazine designers.

Since DIVERSE Issues in Higher Education is not really a popular press magazine,  but a trade magazine for those in higher education, I think we ought to focus a little bit more on the information about the trade and not the superficial issues like how much of the cover subject’s leg is showing.

That’s just one African-American male broadcast journalist’s opinion.

Author: George Daniels

George L. Daniels is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Alabama. After spending eight years in the local television newsroom working as a producer at stations in Richmond, Virginia; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Atlanta, Georgia, Daniels moved from the newsroom to the classroom. He’s conducted research on diversity issues in the media workplace and change in the television newsroom as well as media convergence. Before going to work in television news, Daniels worked briefly as a freelance writer for The Richmond Free Press in his hometown of Richmond, Va.

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