You and your newspaper

If you’ve lived in a community for any amount of time, you will turn up in the newspaper occasionally. My personal relationship with the Syracuse Newspapers began as an error. I was listed in the “Sons To” column (instead of the “Daughters To.”) This is in my baby scrapbook — ha ha, hee hee — but sometimes I wonder, in this age of Googling one’s prospective friends, employees and mates, someone is going to see this “fact” in the archives and assume all kinds of juicily wrong things about me.

My next (and perhaps final) fifteen minutes of fame came when I was a contestant in the Herald-Journal-sponsored National Spelling Bee. They used to make a bigger deal of the Bee back then and there was a lot more coverage, so I was in the paper more than was entirely comfortable for a shy teenybopper. There was a very nice reporter who covered the Bee and even acted as a chaperone of sorts in Washington. But I must note something that caused me some private consternation. In one interview I was asked about study lists — the question was, did I know the words in one particular list in front of me? I think my oh-so-articulate answer was “Um, yeah.”

Imagine my horror the next day when I was confronted by a kid at school waving the paper and saying, “So you know all the words, huh? Wow, stuck up or what?” Aghast, I looked at the article, and in quote marks was me saying that “I knew all the words.” I know that is no big deal to an adult reporter — an honest shortcut maybe — but to a middle-schooler of dubious popularity such a quotation was pretty mortifying. I remember wondering, “Why did she (the reporter) write that about me?”

I just want to take this opportunity to deny it again. I never, ever said that. (However I would like to thank Jeanne for never writing about how I cried on the flight to D.C. because I was so nervous.)

Since then, my relationship with the newspaper has been fine. But maybe some other people haven’t been so lucky. The Post-Standard recently took some reader heat when they identified a family who had been foreclosed and evicted from their Town of Onondaga home. A matter of public record? Sure. The same as reporting on a crime or arrest? I’m not so sure it was necessary to name and shame them (particularly, as noted by some readers, another family that faced eviction wasn’t named). I admit I don’t understand what journalistic rationale calls for a reporter to call out ordinary people like this, however many months delinquent they were. Their names didn’t seem important to the story that was being told (a day in the life of an eviction crew).

Maybe the paper got the facts straight this time, but judging by some of the comments and letters from readers, there’s a fine line between serving the community trust and violating that sense of trust.

2 Replies to “You and your newspaper”

  1. I’ve stopped reading that newspaper online because of the comments.

    I don’t read it enough to know how often they “name and shame” though on one day I did notice that the woman stealing from walmart had her picture in the paper but the white collar criminal embezzling from his employer didn’t.

    But the comments are horrible. When someone dies from an accident people just pile on and laugh about it and say it’s their fault and then the family members of the deceased get upset and it just turns into a huge screaming match.

    I’m glad I never read that stuff before we came here it would have made me very worried about living here. Maybe we would have ended up taking the offer in Albany instead.

  2. Melsky, I find the comments often disconcerting too — although (as in this case) sometimes they seem to fulfill the function of a way for “community buzz” to complain about how the paper chooses to publish something. But most of the time, I agree, there’s a lot of pointless ugliness.

    I don’t know if syracuse.com is too different from other newspaper websites around the country, although there doesn’t seem to be a lot of moderation going on. I can’t say that Syracuse is any less racist/sexist than Albany.

    What’s weird to me is that invariably someone logs on claiming to know the defendant/victim/perp – either there are a lot of liars out there or the Syracuse.com comments really ARE a social hub…

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