on October 12, 2019 by Sean Michael Milligan in Journal, Comments (0)


I have a number of issues with Samantha Schmidt’s Washington Post article “Parents navigate the dress code debate.”

First, why now? The article, which centers on girls’ clothing choices as they head back to school, was published other a month after most students in the Washington metropolitan area returned to classes. It seems odd that an article like this would be published only just as the weather is starting to turn, rather than back in September when it would have been more relevant.

Second, I feel the headline is somewhat misleading. For me, at least, the connotation of the phrase “dress code” makes me think the article’s focus is school rules. In reality, however, school rules are mentioned only briefly; the article is primarily about cultural standards.

Third, the article feels biased in favor of one side of the “debate” the headline mentions. The clearest example is the article’s subhead, which reads “As teens fight for their clothing choices, parents push back.” This sentence casts teens as struggling against injustice and parents as obstinate and backwards.

Fourth, the photographs don’t support the article very well. I know there are probably standards of photojournalism at play here, but the juxtaposition is downright confusing at times. The very first sentence of the article describes the outfit high school senior Sky Bloomer chose for her first day back at school: “red-and-black Air Jordan Retro sneakers, black leggings and a tight, spaghetti-strap crop top with a koi fish print from Urban Outfitters.” Immediately above that sentence is a picture of Sky wearing a completely different outfit: blue sneakers, cutoff jean shorts, and a light blue pullover hoodie with a flower print. The other pictures accompanying the article don’t do much to illustrate the fashion choices the article discusses, either.

Finally, I don’t feel the interviewees were chosen well—not because they didn’t have good things to say, but because of their names. Two of the teenagers that Schmidt interviewed were Sky Bloomer and Sydney Acuff. Both were referred to by their first names, and as numerous articles indicate, having two characters with names that look similar on the page — say, both starting with “s” and containing a “y” — tends to confuse readers. Of course, journalists, unlike fiction authors, don’t have the luxury of simply making their characters’ names up, but it’s still a good principle to keep in mind.

Overall, I feel this article works better as an example of errors to avoid rather than techniques to emulate.

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