Page A3 of today's Washington Post has a large photo of a sobbing woman standing beside another sad-looking younger woman. The headline above: "Family Grieves Over Death of 10-Year-Old." The caption below: "Jennifer Fox, right, mother of Jamie Rose Bolin, stands with her daugher, Lori Dawn Headrick, during a funeral service yesterday for 10-year-old Jamie at Purcell High School in Purcell, Okla. She was found slain last week."
That's it. No accompanying article. No instructions to turn to another page. No nothing. The extent of this "news" tidbit is a photo of a grieving mom and her surviving child. At first, I could not fathom why the Post would be running such a pic without any related story. An unaccompanied photo of Bush and Hu jogging, or even of Donald Rumsfeld sunbathing, I could understand. But despite the impact of shark-attack-and-child-snatching-obsessed cable news on journalism at large, surely not every youngster's death calls for having the faces of sobbing family members splashed across the pages of a major daily several hundred miles away.
A quick nexis search reveals that the details of poor Jamie's murder were indeed gruesome, involving (as briefly as possible) a mentally unstable neighbor, a cutting board, suffocation, sexual assault, and some disturbing blog entries about cannibalism. But only people already following this case--which has, unsurprisingly, been all the rage on CNN--would understand the point of today's Post pic. Clearly the paper is trying to have it both ways: It wants to signal to readers that it is still keeping an eye on this sensational story, yet it doesn't want to stoop to rehashing any of the grisly details and open itself to accusations that it has adopted cable's tabloid mentality. So it runs an exploitative, seemingly pointless photo without any explanation.
Pompous, tawdry, and confusing. Quite a journalistic achievement.