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Editor says sorry for front page ‘criminal mug shot’ of city’s black mayor

A regional daily’s editor has said sorry for publishing a front page picture of a city’s black mayor which has been likened to “criminal mug shot”.

Mike Norton has apologised after the Bristol Post drew criticism for its portrayal of Bristol’s directly-elected mayor Marvin Rees when it splashed on his ‘State of the City’ address.

It is the second time such an apology has been issued by the Post, which last year said sorry on its front page for a 1996 splash it had run which featured headshots of black men looking like “slaves in cages”.

The front page featuring Mr Rees, published on 17 October and pictured below, was criticised on social media last week by, among others, Bristol’s deputy mayor Asher Craig and NHS leadership academy head of inclusion Tracie Jolliff, who described the image as looking “like a criminal mug shot”.

Bristol mayor

Mike initially defended the front page, saying on Twitter the tight crop picture was “standard” on page one and branding the criticism “beyond ludicrous”, but he has now issued an apology in a Post piece which stated the splash had “angered many people” in the city’s black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.

The article included an explanation about why the image was deemed offensive from Sandra Gordon, of Bristol’s Commission for Racial Equality, who wrote: “It was offensive because it was not fitting for our first black mayor, a role model to many, our current city leader who was addressing our city about its most important issues and challenges. It was not appropriate. It didn’t give Bristol Post’s readership the right message about Marvin’s position in the city and about the importance of his role or of this address.

“Nor did it promote a positive image for our local black readership so they feel this paper represents their community and justly portrays black leaders as they present white leaders – as people of influence with important roles in our city. This is not about not being able to take criticism or black people being ‘too sensitive’. It is about just, accurate, appropriate media representation of our successfully diverse city.

“If in doubt, just Google Bristol Post images of our city’s white politicians and leaders. George Ferguson – our last mayor – was portrayed in respectful stances, smiling, in front of Bristol iconic buildings, talking or gesturing in leadership fashion to his audiences. You can’t find a close up image of him, looking severe, downcast and completely irrelevant to the event being written about.

“It is a shame that a positive, factually correct article was marred by a poorly judged offensive depiction of our mayor. The Commission would welcome acknowledgement of the concerns raised and an apology.”

In response, Mike said he appreciated the Commission’s “measured response” on the matter.

He said: “Unfortunately, my first instinct on Twitter was to defend the page and the use of the picture. Partly because I didn’t see what its critics saw – which I accept is part of the problem – but also because I felt that some of the criticism was disingenuous, using the page to make wider, personal insults.

“But that knee-jerk reaction was ill-judged. In short, we got it wrong again with this page and I apologise for that. Of course, there was absolutely no deliberate attempt to undermine Marvin Rees in the way in which his portrayal has been perceived. But perception is key here and, frankly, this organisation reaps what it has sown in that respect.”

In 2017 the Post officially backed the ‘Year of Change’ campaign, aimed at tackling the under-representation of ethnic minorities in the city, with Mike admitting at the time that the paper had “too few” ethnic minority journalists and had historically contributed to a “cultural divide” in Bristol.

And last year he warned Bristol City Council employees that the Post was “watching” them, after an investigation by the paper uncovered a host of complaints of racist bullying at the authority.

In his response to the Commission, Mike added: “Our mistake is doubly frustrating because the Post’s participation in [Year of Change founder] Roger Griffith’s excellent Year of Change project has indeed brought significant change to our editorial thinking, our content and our recruitment of staff.

“In particular, we have added an extra layer of consideration to our editorial decision-making around the portrayal of BAME people in the paper and online.

“But our thinking fell short on this occasion. What should have been a positive page about a black leader’s vision for our city was undermined by the way we presented it. We will work even harder to ensure that doesn’t happen again.”

16 comments

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  • October 30, 2019 at 9:09 am
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    Another example of falling standards.
    It’s an appalling piece of design. I hope the Bristol Post has more than one picture of the mayor, but it wouldn’t surprise me these days if not.
    The editors I worked for in the past would never have countenanced stuff like this – but they were all knocked into the long grass a decade or so ago. No-one seems to care now.
    Dreadful example of a front page.

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  • October 30, 2019 at 11:43 am
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    I don’t think it looks that much like a mug shot; the criticism seems a little OTT to me

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  • October 30, 2019 at 12:30 pm
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    I agree with @SubMariner. The criticism is so overblown it borders on absurd. Labelling it ‘offensive’ and demanding an apology is in no way a ‘measured response’.

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  • October 30, 2019 at 12:41 pm
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    Thank you @User Generated Content. The furore is, indeed, absurd. I thnk the editor was correct in his initial response

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  • October 30, 2019 at 12:49 pm
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    Mike Norton had it right first time. Yes, it’s not a great picture, and ideally a better one should have been sourced or taken (by a professional photographer), but there’s no way that looks like a Police mugshot. Norton should have stuck to his guns and not succumbed to pressure.

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  • October 30, 2019 at 1:20 pm
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    The more I read contributions from people such as “Saddened Journo”, the more convinced I am that the world is going mad, People will always see what they want to see. Fortunately, the majority of us still retain a grasp on reality.

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  • October 30, 2019 at 1:44 pm
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    my passport photo looks a lot worse. The mayor’s pic is not great but no way does it look like a mug shot. Can you withdraw an apology?

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  • October 30, 2019 at 1:53 pm
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    @digger, I’m torn on this. I agree with you that the world might be going slightly mad but the way a picture is used does provoke a certain reaction.

    A classic, cliched example being someone’s face in an oval frame. You’d presume they were dead.

    I don’t see a problem with the way this image has been used, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t one.

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  • October 30, 2019 at 3:12 pm
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    I’m not sure if it looks like a mugshot but it’s not a great picture, especially the way it was used! The whole design doesn’t hang well. A nice creative picture of the chap in the city centre would have worked better. It would have been worth the effort to work the page round a specially (professionally) taken picture, especially as it’s the splash!

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  • October 30, 2019 at 3:14 pm
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    Pretty decent front page I think. Nicely tight cropped photo makes it look impressive – I wouldn’t dream of apologising.

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  • October 30, 2019 at 3:48 pm
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    Wow @saddenedjourno, chip on your shoulder much?
    Surely the whole point here is the editor received constructive feedback from a point of view perhaps not considered in the newsrooms previously, and acted upon it? Maybe we’d have kept more readers in print if more editors in the 90s had been like Mike Norton.

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  • October 30, 2019 at 5:15 pm
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    It’s a tight crop designed to maximise the impact of his quote – what else would be suitable? Perhaps a full length shot of him with a compo face, or better still, barely identifiable as part of a group shot, maybe chatting with some members of the public to give no illustrative value whatsoever to the splash. As usual, offence imagined by those desperate to be offended to give some perceived purpose to their existence.

    The editor should have stuck to his guns.

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  • October 31, 2019 at 9:33 am
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    That design is dreadful. Full stop.
    I never referred to the row,

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  • October 31, 2019 at 9:53 am
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    Another case of an editor giving in to outside influence. Noit a photo I wld have chosen for the front but nothing wrong with it. Nothing like a police mug shot.

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  • October 31, 2019 at 11:36 am
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    I’m thankful here for HTFP and the Bristol Commission for Racial Equality for making me stop and think, which happens increasingly rarely, the older I get.
    My initial instinct was the same as many readers above, to instantly dismiss the criticism because a police mugshot was the last thing that came to mind when I saw the page design.
    However, I am white, middle-aged and wealthy (in ex print journo terms anyway, so not much). In my privileged existence I have had very little to do with the police, have never been in a mugshot and have never seen any of my friends routinely captured in police mugshots – whether guilty of offences or no. Maybe people like me should take a step back and try and empathise a bit.
    What made me stop and think? The example given by the commission of the sort of photos taken of the previous (presumably) white, middle-aged and wealthy mayor.
    Reading that bit again, instantly dismissing the criticism of the page design seems a bit too reactionary on my part for comfort.

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  • October 31, 2019 at 12:20 pm
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    Surely just a full length picture of him set against the backdrop of the town hall or some other key landmark in the city is the obvious choice? No? Come on Bristol Post – and you put three stars on your masthead like some kind of trophy!

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