LETTER from THE EDITOR

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The Independent Online
As a writer mutating into an editor, I've been grappling with the power of images all week. I was baffled, for instance, to find that using a picture by Degas on the front page aroused the fury of two readers. More to the point, following the first day of the Dunblane inquiry, we used a large picture of a revolver on the front page to illustrate Bryan Appleyard's polemic on gun control. Quite a few readers were offended, thinking we were too hard on legitimate owners of guns. I don't apologise for that; the spread of handguns through Britain's cities is a terrifying phenomenon and more important than the rights of gun enthusiasts.

But I was intrigued and concerned by the reaction of various male colleagues to the picture of the revolver itself. They found it attractive, even beautiful. A couple of times I noticed people reaching towards the picture as if to grasp the revolver. There is a sort of pornography of violence that can be mesmeric. I thought the gun picture was a grim one: but how many people found it a turn-on?

And there has also been, this week, the more straightforward argument about the anorexic-looking models in Vogue, featured with studious attention on the front pages of other newspapers. There was undoubtedly a real story there, since an advertiser had withdrawn in protest at the waif-like and semi-naked images. But newspapers are engaged in a strange game here, bobbing ''shocking'' pictures in front of readers while vigorously tut- tutting about the magazine that used them in the first place. You get the same sort of thing when what Alan Watkins calls the ''prig press'' sternly investigates the tabloids' coverage of some sex story, including every dirty detail - all in the interests of social science, you understand.

Like politicians, newspaper editors are supposed never to admit to self- doubt. It seems a silly convention and one that I hope to breach from time to time in this column. Certainly, two weeks into the job, I spend a lot of time wondering about which images to use, and what their effect might be.

The majority of letters that arrive each day are serious, questioning, thoughtful and generous-natured. But like every newspaper we get some nutty ones. To be accused of anti-semitism and being a tool of Zionist conspiracy on the same day was a bit of a surprise. So was the firm assertion that one is a ''perverd and a friend of perverds''. Other people who shouldn't bother to write again are all those who believe we should be providing regular front-page coverage of UFO sightings and the retired gentleman who begins his missives: ''Sir, I NEVER read your BLOODY awful newspaper, but ...'' (Though, come to think of it, if that's true, he won't be reading this instruction anyway.)

One of the more depressing pieces of information this week comes from the Spectator. PJ Kavanagh - who seems to be have been fired - says that no more poetry is to be published there. We have also gone many weeks without the poetry page in the New Statesman, though its hyperactive editor, my former boss Ian Hargreaves, assures me his poets are only resting and will return. I hope so; though we are a miserably self-critical lot in this country, the energy and naked talent in British poetry is something worth getting excited about. Recent volumes from Adrian Mitchell, Seamus Heaney and Christopher Logue contain some of the best stuff I've read for years. Perhaps we should react by slapping poetry across the front page. Or would you all complain?

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