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Columbia Missourian

DEAR READER: Steer-on-the-loose photo triggers mixed reactions

By Tom Warhover
June 23, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

Dear reader,

The big news of the week: a steer running the streets of East Campus. It could have been funny if not for the serious injury of a man hit by the beast and the beast shot to death in the East Campus neighborhood.

This is funny: An early rendition of the article referred to a “tow truck wench” used to remove the steer.

A wench is a not-so-nice term for a woman. A winch, on the other hand, is a mechanical device used to pull 1,300 pound animals from the yards of 94-year-olds when not employed at ditches, culverts and other car-capturing landscaping dimples.

What is the difference between the right word and the nearly right word? In this case, a vowel.

(Thanks to reader Jim Terry for catching the mistake.)

The steer-on-the-loose report, like any slow moving chase, produced plenty of photos. Some of the earliest came from readers with picture-taking cell phones at the ready. Later in the morning, the work of staff photographers started pouring in.

One photo upset at least one reader, and if a single person takes the time to complain, it usually means there are more people of similar position out there.

The image is one of the steer being dragged out of a yard. The winch isn’t in view, but the heavy chain attached to it is, because it is placed around the neck of the carcass. Three people are shown; it looks like they are guiding the movement.

A colleague told me he thought it was disgusting and had no place in the newspaper. In newspaper vernacular, the photo didn’t pass “the breakfast test.”

I didn’t have the same reaction when I saw the picture Tuesday online and Wednesday in print. I especially thought the print display on Page 4A told a story in three photos: steer runs down road; steer draws a crowd; steer killed.

In fact, it didn’t occur to me that others would take offense. That’s not good on my part: I need to see the world through lots of eyes in the community.

On looking at the photo again, I see the point, but I’m still OK with the decision to publish. There was little blood and the animal wasn’t alive. It was certainly newsworthy, as it’s not every day that a steer is dragged from the back yard of a 94-year-old woman living in the middle of town.

Would it have made a difference if the steer was someone’s pet and not bound for the slaughterhouse? Maybe. If it had been a horse? Probably.

That colleague of mine won’t agree with me. In fact, he called the publishing of the photo the worst decision made by the Missourian in a long time. We’ll leave it as a difference of opinion.

Tom

A postscript, unrelated to photos or winches:

I wish we could remove the word “different” from 90 percent of the articles in the Missourian and elsewhere.

Last weekend, politicians migrated to Hallsville to feed on Heritage Days festivalgoers. “In all, 32 speeches were given promoting campaigns for 13 different political races.” The races were, by necessity, different; otherwise it would have been just one race.

It’s like leaving a quarter on the sidewalk. I’d rather we pocket those “differents” to spend later rather than littering our sentences with them. They are unsightly, most of the time.

Maybe I’m just different that way.