Well, we're glad we aren't the only ones who noticed.
On Wednesday, Texas Monthly called out the Houston Chronicle for a slideshow misfire the paper ran on its free website this week. The slideshow in question was attached to an aggregated story on Lacey Smarr, a Longview teenager who died of complications from an eating disorder about a month ago, and the slideshow was composed of photos pulled from Lacey's Facebook page.
That's right. The Chron illustrated a story about a girl who ultimately died from an eating disorder by slapping up a series of photos so that the "interested reader" could click through and actually see her waste away in one handy-dandy slideshow.
Texas Monthly was fittingly appalled. But this isn't the first time bizarre, tone-deaf content has made its way onto the Chron's free website (you won't find Lacey Smarr-type slideshows on the more tony and paid webpage) or Facebook page.
Let us be the first to say that obviously we don't hate slideshows around here. On a purely practical level, people click on slideshows. We don't run photos of scantily clad people and cute puppies out of pure altruism, after all. (Though, honestly, who doesn't love pictures of dogs and half-naked people?)
But last March after Crystal Jackson and Britney Cosby were found dead near a Dumpster in Bolivar, the Chron ran a slideshow that mostly featured shots of the crime scene from different angles, complete with multiple photos of dried blood on the pavement. Then there was the 55-photo slideshow attached to a story about the driver who plowed through a crowd at SXSW in Austin last spring.
There's a time and a place for slideshows, but the problem is the Chron doesn't seem to have a handle on when and where it should be slapping every possible photo up for its readers. In the case of Jackson and Cosby, two women had been brutally murdered. Sure, the Chron needed to post a few photos of the victims, the suspect and the scene. But in what universe was it necessary to show multiple angles of the bloodstained pavement where their bodies were found? There's even an aerial shot. In the case of the SXSW accident, 55 photos, many of them scenes of crumpled bodies and sobbing people, turned a tragic news story into a macabre carnival for the disaster-loving voyeur.
But the Chron's online tone-deafness hasn't been limited to just slideshows. Celebrity stories also get those precious clicks -- we all understand that -- but the Chron's Facebook page has taken that basic (if sometimes exasperating) modern media truth and turned it into something worse. Instead of just covering the rich and famous -- and maybe employing a part-time stripper to do so, the way they used to -- the Chron has now taken to pulling in aggregated stories that specifically focus on celebrity women, their bodies, how those bodies are displayed and how they are -- gasp -- not perfect.
We started noticing this a little while back. One staff member even started collecting screengrabs of the various Facebook posts and putting them in a folder titled "WTF Houston Chron." (We have yet to see the Chron do this type of story post on a male celebrity, btw.) Below are some samples gathered in the last month alone:
There's the Facebook post on Uma Thurman and her face:
And there's this one on Jennifer Lopez and her neckline/"plunging cleavage":
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And the one about Beyoncé and her skin:
So yeah, for some reason the largest paper in Texas -- and one that still regularly cranks out really good journalism -- has been slapping this stuff up to the point it's become a part of its online identity. If it's really the Chron's Hearst-ian corporate overlords that are to blame, fingers crossed they change tactics soon. At the very least, let's see some slideshows charting George Clooney's receding hairline or some Facebook posts analyzing Ben Affleck's paunch.