Picture perfect

Every week, the newsroom decides on a question for which we’d like to solicit answers from the public for our Streetalk column—usually but not always relating to the week’s feature story or current news. It’s a valuable column, providing feedback and opinions from the citizens we aim to inform, and we appreciate their time and willingness to share their thoughts. But there’s usually a sticking point: when they’re asked to stand for a photo.

People otherwise content to chat all day suddenly clam up tight. Those who hadn't given any thought to local issues will demand minute changes to lighting and hair. Some insist on posing with their friend or pet or other visual distraction. But, most disheartening when it happens, people will completely abandon the chance to share an intelligent, poignant response because they don't feel “camera ready.”

Of course, no one wants to risk looking silly as a matter of public record, especially on a moment's notice. However, from a journalistic perspective, this creates a problem of representation.

Anecdotally at least, men are more willing to say “whatever, fine” when the camera's pointed at them. It's unfortunate, but women have been more likely to back out of an on-the-spot photo, simultaneously requesting that we not print their thoughts. As a result, women who, for any number of reasons, seem to equate their opinion with their appearance go unheard. Obviously, this is problematic for civil discourse, and men are far from blameless here, too. However, as we witnessed once last fall, not everyone enjoys the choice to publicly state one's thoughts.

While asking patrons at Reno Town Mall about who they were planning to vote for in the local elections, we received enough answers like, “I don't know, but they'll be [insert political party here],” “I don't follow politics,” or “go away.” However, we talked to one young woman walking with an older man. The older man made it clear he didn't want to answer, but the young woman proceeded to list her thoughts on local policy, candidates and women's health—a topic that was important to her.

As she began to give her name, though, the man suddenly barked “No!” and interrupted, insisting our reporter use a fake name for her. After he declined to take the false name, it was clear the interview was over, and the young woman followed the man wordlessly out of the mall. Perhaps the man was a family member simply doing what he believed was best to protect her, but it was clear this woman's opinion wasn't hers to share—and as for her preference on the photo, we'll never know that either.