Friday, 21 October 2011

The Gaddafi front pages: Brutal but justified

The death of Muammar Gaddafi is one of those rare stories that makes me wish I was still drawing up pages for a morning paper. It has all the fascinating ingredients - shocking if poor quality pictures, worldwide reaction, masses of political soundbites, headline opportunities galore, huge international ramifications, more analysis and comment than you could ever print and questions of taste to be considered. The key question though is how comfortable will your readers be with pictures of a bloodied dead body on their breakfast table, even if it is that of man with masses of blood on his hands? Well, if you'd had pictures of Hitler's death would you have used them? Of course you would.  Today's front pages certainly don't shy away from the task. Thanks as always to @suttonnick.

The Daily Telegraph has no qualms about using a graphic picture of a dead body. The paper may be one of the last remaining broadsheets but this is classic tabloid treatment. A shocking eight-column picture with a big banner headline using a play on 'mercy' and 'merciless' and with blobbed subdecks. The Sun and Mirror were coming in for some Twitter stick last night on grounds of taste but this is as bold and in your face as it gets.  

And those worried about the tabloids, should take a look at the straight-laced Guardian. The picture is a bit grainier, the headline straighter and there are plenty of serious words ... but it's just as graphic and powerful.
The Times uses an unusual crop. At first glance you miss Gaddafi and see a picture of the rebel. Is it on grounds of taste perhaps? The picture certainly has a news context ... showing what happened. But I would have made the main player centre stage. 

The Daily Mail is arguably the most harrowing. It's a moment in time ... and far more newsy than the corpse pictures. The obvious choice of photograph might have been the dead body but the final seconds of Gaddafi's life, the panic in his eyes with a headline that is almost a speech bubble is gruesomely powerful. Pleased to see there is no glitzy blurb ... although I would certainly have dropped Free Duvet on this occasion.  
The Mirror is also pretty disturbing ... and some say the most outrageous. I do wonder whether a bloodied corpse across the front will do much for casual sales - but there's no denying its impact. It was pulled from the Sky News paper reviews last night for being too graphic - but having watched the video Sky showed I find that hard to believe. It's a dead body - supposedly too gratuitous - but what is the difference between that and the Telegraph? A pretty thin line. I recall plenty of dead body pictures - remember that of Che Guevara? The headline, the same line as the Mail's, captures Gaddafi's desperation and panic. For once, the exclamation marks are justified. It would, of course, have had more impact without the column off and the blurb.    
The Sun brings it all back to home ground with a splash headline aimed at getting its readers cheering - a modern day variation of Gotcha. The subdeck and strapline are very powerful too. Unusually the Sun didn't take the picture across six columns - perhaps concluding it would have broken up. Given the Telegraph and Guardian treatment it could have gone bigger, but it is still a classic Sun lesson in how to make an international incident relevant to your readers. 
The Independent and its sister title i can't resist the sequence which is usually a good call when the best pictures are grainy and low-resolution from a mobile phone. The i goes for six, the Indie for four and both adhere to the basic rule, using all the pictures the same size. But the readers could do with a bit of help - captions telling what is happening step by step. The Indie makes an attempt but the i leaves us wondering what is going on. The pictures are in different order, so are they really sequences? The other papers had the confidence to go bigger with the pictures. Maybe it wasn't the right call after all. 

They all contrasts with the American view. The International Herald Tribune goes for a celebratory picture - and relegates the dead Gaddafi picture to a two-column down page position.

A remarkable set of front pages ... a moment in history captured with confidence and impact.           


  1. One factor not mentioned is that there was never any picture released of Osama Bin Laden's body. Newspapers were itching to have some very graphic demonstration of the fall of an enemy of the West.

    1. A tyrant brutally murdered by fellow tyrants lol how ironic. Now the country is being destroyed by islamist.

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