Pornography and the New York Times

She’s on a Greek island, overlooking an Orthodox monastery, but she’s not dressed for religious services. No church would let in a bra-less, shirt-less woman whose only clothing is a skimpy garment that barely covers her ass. What is it about topless women and the New York Times’ magazine called “T”? The latest issue is really a recycling of earlier themes from the magazine, which traffics in…well, let’s just say the magazine should probably be called “T&A.” Is that a bad thing? Depends on your perspective.

In 2007, there was a rightful public outcry against the Times and “T” for running a photo of a 17-year-old model with her breast exposed. Critics called it “child pornography,” while Times public editor Clark Hoyt said the models’ images had “a certain Lolita quality to them.” The Times’ management disagreed, but one thing on which everyone agreed is that “T” is a cash cow, bringing in millions of dollars in advertising revenue from the likes of Louis Vuitton, Delta Airlines, and Donna Karan.

At a time when newspaper revenues are shrinking precipitously, “T” is an example of papers’ growing reliance on skin pix and other titillating fare. I wrote about this issue two years ago, when I interviewed an analyst who used the term “soft porn” to describe the racy movie trailers that the Chicago Sun-Times was putting on its web site.

Pornography entered mainstream culture many years ago, with HBO and other cable networks embracing it in a stylistic way. Former Baltimore Sun writer David Simon — now known for his HBO series “The Wire”says newspapers should embrace the ethos of cable networks and start charging for online content. Making an analogy to X-rated offerings, Simon says newspapers’ online content has to be something that readers are willing to pay for. “You can sell porn (but) it better be porn you can’t get anywhere else,” he said. “It’s all about bringing somebody to the tent who’s willing to pay for that which they can’t get anywhere else.”

For now, the New York Times is happy to stay the course and give its images away for free. For the island photos in the latest edition of “T,” the paper’s editors knew what they were getting in the photos of Camilla Akrans. She has a reputation for images of scantily clad women in exotic locations. The ones from Greece published yesterday were mild by comparison, but they did the job that Times editor Jim Schachter says is the mission of “T”: “To put out a beautiful, exciting, eye-popping, page-turning magazine without crossing the line to being offensive and without being shy about walking right up to the line of being provocative, and that’s going to cause debate when you get close to that line.”

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