The New York Times AME/photography on today’s front page

The Wednesday, November 27 front page of The New York Times.
The Wednesday, November 27 front page of The New York Times.

This morning, The New York Times published a story on the so-called Jewish breast cancer gene. The front page of the print edition — and the lead image online — shows a portion of a 28-year-old woman’s left breast after noting she found a large lump last year. Response to the image has varied from ‘powerful‘ to ‘seriously disturbing.’

SND caught up with Michele McNally, the Times assistant managing editor of photography, to find out more about the editing process that led to the publication of the controversial image.

SND: Tell us a little bit about how the decision was made to pick the lead photo with today’s cancer gene story? 

MM: The photo editor of the science section, who has been working on this series of breast cancer stories, came to me with the pictures a while ago. I showed the managing editor the one we used at that time and we thought it was strong. We then presented it, with other images from the take, in our usual page-one meeting. There was a very brief discussion, and the design director and myself said the picture was powerful, on point, and beautiful. The executive editor liked it, too.

SNDHow does this type of gutsy picture editing fit in with the Times’ front-page philosophy?

MM: The image is a portrait of a cancer survivor. It conveys information [depicting] what that is like. Is it gutsy? I guess the most memorable of news pictures are.

SND: Has the response been what you expected? 

MM: Of course, there were objections from readers. That was expected. There were also appreciative comments, also expected.


In my opinion, the NYT picture in question is not only powerful and gutsy, but mostly informative and even enlightening about what breast cancer looks (and feels) like. Prudish reactions to a picture showing part of a woman’s breast affected by cancer (with great respect if you ask me), may hamper knowledge, prevention and treatment of a disease that is now the second leading cause of death among US women after lung cancer and probably the ailment that causes the most emotional suffering to women.

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