Thursday, October 15th 2009
First of all let me have full disclosure from the start . . . I heard a story from a friend last week. It is a second hand story and I have not seen the particular article or publication involved – so bear with me. A good friend of mine told me of her journey into work on the Bus in Leeds and how she had been pleasantly surprised on her journey. She – like many others around the world have a phobia of spiders – arachnophobia I think is the term. Now for my friend this can be quite disturbing and even paralyzing at times, at any moment the dark shape on the floor can her into a spiraling downward whirlwind of emotional and physical reactions. This can be embarrassing and sometimes dangerous. Even a picture of the eight-legged insects can give her nightmares. This is a bad thing and she has my sympathies as I have my own phobias and I can relate
I explain this because on her journey was made not better, but was not made any worse by the publishers of The Metro – a free daily newspaper that I believe is distributed on public transport in and around Leeds (I ride a bike or walk – for all I know busses have a Playstation and satellite TV built into the seats . . .) This is her story and my reaction to it.
The previous day – she had picked up her copy of The Metro and begun to read through – and at some point (she did not go into THAT much detail) she was drawn to a notice of some kind – some form of printed (and possibly colored box?) warning that on the next page there was a picture of some form of spider and that caution is advised. She was pleasantly surprised to see this and was – I am sure – relieved to have been spared the reaction that she was sure that she would have, be that from a simple shock and sick feeling for a while – to outright fright and possible embarrassment. She went on to say that she had heard or been privy to information that readers have in the past complained (possibly with strong letters) to publications such as The Metro, that the printing of pictures of spiders was upsetting a significant proportion of their readership (with arachnophobia being a quite common phobia – statistics can be found on the internet for staggering numbers of sufferers), and that they would be grateful for something being done (yours faithfully yadda yadda).
Now . . . this is where it gets silly. SOMEONE at The Metro got this message, it could have gone straight to the top, it could have been a thing that was passed from one person to the next, it could have been a slow day and someone read a few of the crazy letters – I don’t know. Somehow it got into the system. The thought that some of the (Loyal?) readers of The Metro would boycott their paper on the off-chance that there may be an image of some scuttling monstrosity lurking in the pages frightened – or perhaps amused someone at The Metro. At some point – someone in a position of power or control made a decision, not a bad decision by any means (on the face of it). Solving the problem of upsetting a significant proportion of the readership (for comedy value – lets say eight percent . . . spiders, eight legs and all that . . .). This person chose to put a warning on the page before the picture of the spider . . . Well done, nice work . . .
In a time of diminishing resources including water and energy, excessive use of high-waste processes is inexcusable. To print a warning about something that is on the next page is wasteful, thousands of copies of the publication are run through presses at an astronomical pace, water to wash rollers, ink and chemicals, not to mention the paper (including wastage will amount for a not-too-shabby lump of paper pulp) this cost is passed directly on to YOU and affects your bottom line, no matter how small the percentage.
Another point to make is one that will affect your business in possibly a more direct and obvious way. If you WARN people that there is a picture of a spider on the next page, they are VERY unlikely to want to even PEEK at that page, let alone proceed with caution. This is counter productive for the whole business they are in! That person will miss out a whole SPREAD of your paper – never mind just that article!! Whole stories that may have been of interest, importance or even amusement will be quarantined for no other reason than being near this picture – and to take this point further, what about adverts and notices? Who would want their advert to be on the same page as a spider picture if the very same publication warns them away??!!?? The warning before you go any further idea only works on the internet – where warnings about possible adult or upsetting material WORK for most websites, information and images can be quarantined and housed in places with warnings so that the viewer can choose for themselves – work round offensive material and still get the full experience from other parts of the internet.
One possible reason for this warning about the spider picture could be that The Metro were trying to maintain their readership with a patch to a problem. On the one hand you have the readership that may enjoy the story about spiders found in imported fruit deliveries, with the standard picture of a bemused spider sitting atop a cluster of bananas or on a hand for extra shock points, they are trashy and disposable, a real-life urban myth captured for tabloid consumption. Whilst on the other side of the coin they do not want to alienate readers who don NOT like spiders – and do whatever it takes to make their life a little easier, stop them causing a scene on the bus or something . . .
In my speculative opinion – the decision was made to try and please BOTH parties – and have overlooked the downsides for both. The intention was honorable and perhaps the solution was a good one to start with. The problem is that the solution was not taken to its logical conclusion, and without further discussion about this politically correct way of dealing with the problem, it will become another situation that “Has always been . . .” – a problem that the printing (and especially the newspaper) industry is facing in the economic climate and with changing technologies forcing print to evolve.
So how about this for a better solution . . . Do not print the warning, let the arachnophobes deal with the problem that they face – that they may encounter spiders at any point in their daily life. That includes any of the free media (TV, Free Papers and the Internet). If the readership are THAT upset – they will have stopped reading your paper already. Another solution perhaps (If you are THAT worried about upsetting people with this phobia). Don’t print pictures of spiders . . . end of . . . You save ink, resources and can print other amusing, interesting or informative stories in its place. The mass majority of people who read it will not know or care that you now have a censored pictures of the eight-legged foreign invaders, and the arachnophobes will rest easy in their seats.
Two solutions, both with downsides, but with much better upsides . . . Written by a man who is not afraid of spiders (except the ones on the internet that eat Tokyo – maybe them) but has a problem with orange peel.
(P.S. If you have any stories that need pictures of orange peel – print a MASSIVE warning on the page running before, waste as much ink as you like . . .)
And for those of you who want to see the article – Sally has dug this link fro the Metro Website for me, I have no idea if it IS the spider or article in question, but you get the idea. Oh . . . and if you are an arachnophobe – WARNING – THERE IS A DIRTY GREAT BIG SPIDER IN THIS LINK. DON’T CLICK IF YOU DON’T LIKE THEM!!!!