Pondering the "Cheerios Test"

Staff PhotographerAugust 21, 2008 

The litmus test for whether a graphic photo can run is often called the "Cheerios test" or "breakfast test."

Why Cheerios? I don’t know. I’ve always been a bacon-eggs-sausage-and-ham breakfast kind of guy.

Essentially, the test aims to determine whether the image will cause an unfavorable gut reaction if seen during the reader’s breakfast.

As a kid who grew up loving that scene in RoboCop when the future dad on That 70’s Show liquefies his toxic-waste-basted henchman, I’m definitely not the most qualified in the newsroom to make this call.

Not that I’m burdened with such a responsibility.

If I was, readers might have opened up their Metro section to this:

supplementing the brainless photo that did run.

The story was about a class at Oasis School in Richland, which used a sheep brain dissection during a three-month project on the brain.

On a side note, the students in this photo, Emily Carlson and Santhosh Paila (I’ll let you guess who is who), are both 11, and I was impressed with the maturity level that the young class presented during a lesson that would have had my middle school classmates throwing pieces of brain at the girls.

This brush with the breakfast test got me thinking about the changing nature of acceptability. It’s obvious that yesterday’s scandal is commonplace today. Racy bare ankles have been eclipsed by mini skirts deserving of a new term that truly conveys how small they are.

And yet the family-friendly sensibilities of the daily newspaper have stayed fairly constant throughout the years.

Now, I’m not narcissistic enough to be making the argument that my brain photo not running is proof that newspapers are stuck in the past. After all, with the shrinking news hole, two photos appearing in print is quite the luxury these days.

I am curious, however, about how the quest for younger readers will affect the Cheerios test of the future.

Will a generation raised on Mortal Kombat and Kill Bill be more inclined to publish violent and gory imagery? How will this affect war coverage? Will the absence of flag-draped coffins be replaced by splattered soldiers splashed across the front page? Or will we be so desensitized to violence by the time that such practice is acceptable for those images to have an impact on public opinion?

Ow. My brain hurts.


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