April 11, 2010

Connor: Web interest in march: bottomless

By RICHARD L. CONNOR

Whether or not Ty MacDowell made an impact on women's rights by taking off her shirt is now laid bare to public debate. But one question has been answered clearly, loudly and indisputably.

Our potential audience for the Web sites of our newspapers in Maine is virtually limitless.

More than 899,000 visitors went to the Web to read or take a peek at last Sunday's "Women march topless in Portland " story and photos. The number was still climbing at week's end.

Nearly 1 million visitors to the Web sites of The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel -- all of which posted the story.

We spend a lot of time, money, and newsprint on weighty matters of public policy, government coverage and human interest stories, to say nothing of those that promote causes such as helping the less fortunate and nonprofits among us.

I mean, listen, we are doing the work of serious journalism here. We are giving readers valuable information that they need. We have a higher calling. And now this?

Right there, staring us in the face, is the naked truth -- the truth about the tastes of our readers. We are obliged to keep abreast of these trends.

Men -- mostly men, I'd guess -- looking at photographs of naked women is not a trend. It's a fact of life. It's the single fact about "news" that Hugh Hefner embraced head-on decades ago with Playboy magazine. Skin sells.

In our case, the public has shown us they wanted to read about nude or half-nude women. Prose, not a pose, was the only real option we offered.

The photos we ran by The Portland Press Herald staff photographer Gordon Chibroski were all shot from behind the part-naked parade. If Chibroski had changed the angle of his vantage point, we probably would have racked up 2 million Web hits!

So now that we have the firm data about what our readers really want, what are we going to do next? Aside from trying to predict where and when Ms. MacDowell might stage another nude protest -- and if she does, we'll be there to shine the headlights of public attention on the event -- we will use the Web site traffic information to show how many potential viewers an advertiser might reach through our sites.

We do not see this as a boom-or-bust proposition. We will shed the traditions of print journalism and march unfettered into the world of giving the public what it wants. That is, if we can find it. Our Web sites have an infinite audience -- which is the magic and allure of the Internet. It does not match the mystery of the unclothed body, but we will do the best we can.

Many of us remember the exact day of historic milestones. This incident reminded me of a day I remember with crystal clarity, even though it was neither a milestone nor historic.

Home for lunch from sixth grade at Mary S. Snow Elementary School in Bangor, I saw my mother drop a magazine on the dining room table as she unloaded shopping bags.

"What's that?" I asked.

"Going to New York with Edythe to see some plays and I want to read about them before we arrive," she said, hurrying upstairs. Edythe Dyer of Hampden was mother's best friend and traveling companion.

Alone, eating my lunch, I decided to read about the plays. Opening the magazine, I immediately knew I loved theater.

Page after page had photographs of naked women. It struck me as odd that mother was going to New York to see them in the flesh -- but what did I know about Broadway, other than there were two streets by that name in Bangor, one just plain Broadway and the other West Broadway?

(Continued on page 2)

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