The dilemma with the gay marriage story

00 a.m.I was in West Hollywood, Calif., at 6:00 a.m. this morning to begin the day’s coverage of the legalization of same-sex marriage in the state. Along with dozens of other media outlets, I was covering the story at the marriage line in West Hollywood Park.

We in the media ran into an interesting dilemma during our reporting: a very small group of – not even very vocal – protesters showed up, including a man wearing a Satan mask and a sign reading “Pervert weddings done here.”

. . . were we obligated to include. . . protesters in our reporting? For almost all the media there today, the answer was. . .

The dilemma was this: the story today wasn’t about the debate over gay marriage. As far as the laws of the state of California were concerned, that debate was now over. The story today was the historic start of legal gay marriages. But were we obligated to include these protesters in our reporting? For almost all the media there today, the answer was no.

NPR’s Karen Grigsby Bates, a colleague and a friend from my days at NPR who is always just a little bit more astute than other journalists and has a gift for seeing the nuance in a story, interviewed a man who first seemed to be a protester with a religious-based sign, but turned out to actually be there in support – with a message more complicated than his sign might initially suggest.

But for the most part, the media (myself included) ignored the protesters, since they appeared unorganized and only a handful at most. A few outlets did quickly interview them, but didn’t seem to spend much time with them.

When I returned to the Yahoo! News offices and began putting together the slideshow story about the day’s events, the question invariably arose: do we include images of the protesters? In a sense, to not include them, would mean sanitizing the story which would cross an editorial line. But the images of the protesters couldn’t be in balance with the images of the rest of the story, because that would be out of proportion.

Our solution was to include one image at the end, in which the protesters were part of the larger scene – mentioned, but not quoted. It seemed the fairest way to tell the story.

Here’s the finished result: the Yahoo! News photo slide show on the first day of legalization of gay marriages in California.


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