Opinion: Media Mangle

Show the reader what the story is about

French architecture story accompanied by lake photos

The News & Observer ran an interesting story about Badin, N.C., this morning. It centered on the French influences in that town as a result of the presence of a French aluminum company that located there early in the last century.

As someone who has spent a lot of time in France (I graduated from high school in Paris) I’m always interested in French influences and architecture. I watch the Tour de France each year as much for the helicopter shots of villages as for the biking competition aspects.

Here is an excerpt from the story (emphasis added):

Someone who’d like to see historic, French-inspired row houses for workers could take a jaunt overseas or to the ill-fated Chicago community planned by railroad magnate George Pullman.

But this small town in the North Carolina Piedmont is a lot closer.

French owners of an aluminum company founded Badin in 1913, drawn by electric power to be harnessed from a steep gorge in the neighboring Yadkin River. They built a town based on an overriding vision of attractive design, usefulness and progressive features such as sewer and electric power for workers and bosses alike.

It’s a very special place,” said architectural historian Catherine Bishir. “There was a big amount of reform of workers’ houses during that period. It was sort of a proud paternalism.”

World War I put an end to the company’s plans, but not to the Gallic influence they had brought to Badin, named for the French owner of the company.

This is all French architecture,” Badin Mayor Jim Harrison says. “This was all in progress before the French went back to fight for their country.”

After whetting my appetite with the above, the N&O then invited me to drive the two hours to Badin to see things for myself:

From the Triangle it’s an easy two-hour drive to Badin. In addition to having lunch at the inn or other town restaurants, visitors can explore downtown’s broad, winding streets — another feature described as European — where the distinctive row houses, or quadruplexes, are found on almost every block.

Now I was really getting interested. On the front page of the local section, where the story began, was, inexplicably, a photo of a dock extending into Badin Lake. Not one iota of French influence could be seen.

But surely, I thought, on the jump page there would be a photo of the historic French-influenced row houses. But, no. On the jump page was only a photo of some young people flolicking in Badin Lake, taken at such close range as to feature only some water, some sand, and the tattoos sported by the bathers.

I realize that sometimes the best plans of an editor take a tumble. Back in the days before digital photography one might have concluded that the roll of film containing the architectural photos maybe was light struck and unusable. But everything’s digital nowadays, and digits don’t get light struck.

Another frequent occurrence is that a reporter heads out separately from the photographer and they have both been given different instructions. Was the photographer told to take lake photos, which is what she did? Was the editor crestfallen that he or she had only lake pics to run with an architectural story, or did an editor decide to run two lake pics with the story and ignore the photos that actually showed French-inspired architecture? I have no way of knowing.

All I know is that I hated it for the reader when this kind of thing happened at my old newspaper, and I hate it now when I don’t have the best art for a story in Carolina Journal and deadlines force me to just make do.

Then again, perhaps the N&O‘s goal was to get me to drive to Badin to see the archictecture for myself. If that’s the case, mission accomplished. It’s on my calendar already.

Jon C. Ham is vice president of the John Locke Foundation and publisher of its newspaper, Carolina Journal. He was previously managing editor and director of digital publishing for The Herald-Sun in Durham.