I’m so thankful. I no longer have to think. I no longer have to consider facts all by myself and assess them for their meaning. And I owe it all to The Buffalo News.
Today’s front-page story in The News (“Area colleges reassessing security“) by Jay Rey and Gene Warner features interviews with western New York college officials and their comments on campus security plans following the murders at Virginia Tech.
Fine, I think. I’m a professor at one of the institutions mentioned. And, like so many thousands of teachers and professors nationwide, I wonder what my institution is doing â€” and whether it plans any changes. What news has The News gathered for me?
I begin reading the story. At the jump line (“See Campus on Page 2”), I do as instructed and turn the page. There’s the jumped portion of the story under a four-column, 48-point headline: “Virginia Tech is the college ‘9/11′.” (You can’t see that hed in the online version, however.)
Good grief. What’s next in the headline-writing wake of other possible (God, I hope they never happen) mass murders? “The shopping mall 9/11”? “The stadium 9/11”? “The post office 9/11”?
The hed turns 9/11 into the currency of comparison. That sad date should rest uncompared with any other tragic date, even one as sobering, frightening and horrendous as April 16, 2007. September 11, 2001, should not become a stereotype.
That’s an opinion in The News’ jump-page headline. It has no attribution. It is The News applying a label to an event. It’s not the editorial page where opinion should reside (and only reside). What the hell was that “headline” based on? Buried in the story is this paragraph:
One thing is certain. The mindset of college administrators has changed in the last 96 hours. â€œVirginia Techâ€ has become the new â€œSept. 11â€ for college administrators.
Wait. That has no attribution, either. Is that a fair summation of the reporting? Or is it a blanket opinion supplied by the reporters? I read on for evidence to support that paragraph. in the remainder of the story, I find only this:
â€œWeâ€™re in a post 9/11 environment, and we need to be better prepared,â€ State Sen. Antoine Thompson, D-Buffalo, said. Tough issues loom.
That’s it. And Sen. Thompson isn’t even one of those “college administrators.” That’s the entire support for that “fair summation” paragraph, which is the only support for the headline for the jumped portion of the story. (Frankly, I’d like to decide for myself whether the issues are “tough,” what the “issues” are and whether they “loom.”)
The News has done a lovely job pre-digesting the facts and churning out opinion so that I am not required to think for myself. But The News is not alone in doing my thinking for me.
I’m sure our regular S&R readers have many such tales to tell. I no longer feel compelled to think. It’s so much easier when the press does it for me.
I can still hear my newsroom godfather, the late Neil Perry, yelling at me when I put opinion into my stories instead of fair summations of the facts: “Just get the facts into the story and get them right. If you want to find truth, find it on your own time.”
Thank you, Neil. Some of us remember what a journalist’s job really is: Find out what you can and tell people what you know. The readers get to decide whether it’s the Truth.