The Weirdness of News

A Scrapbook


It's obvious that the object featured in the photo below is not a knife, but the caption says it's a knife. Why? An instance of "sloppy editing?" Were the editors of the Washington Post out to lunch when the picture was selected for its front page and the headline written?

Things like this turn up in the news media with some frequency. Sometimes they are amusing -- as above -- sometimes not. It's easy to dismiss them as mistakes. But on closer examination one cannot escape the conclusion that they are not errors at all, but willful acts that take journalism into the realm of the managed ambiguity of art and literature.

I've been collecting photographic instances of this phenomenon since the early 1980s. Most are pictures from the New York Times. I present here a selection of them, to which I'll be adding indefinitely as time allows. In a way, the subject of this scrapbook is the inverse of those ever-popular collections of "news of the weird." Instead of being about news of odd things, it's about news reported oddly...Stories about space aliens? Don't bother me with them. But a picture of a war-gutted building with a space alien examining the damage and who is not mentioned in the caption?...Now that's more like it...

The Scrapbook

Charles Packer
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