Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Does putting a murderer on our front page glorify him?

I was greeted with two voice mails from readers commenting on our front page in Monday's edition. On the left side of the page was a story about Jorge Alcantar, an Arroyo Grande High student from a family of field workers. He has earned a 4.67 grade point average and will attend an Ivy League school in the fall. Next to that story was one about John Rodriguez, a 94-year-old prisoner at the California Men's Colony. Serving out a murder sentence, he is the oldest inmate in the state, which made him newsworthy. And the number of senior-citizen inmates is ever growing.

Here are highlights from the voice mails:

"I am disappointed with you guys. You are glorifying a murderer by putting that story on the front page. You could have done a guy who won a medal in Iraq."
_ Gary Avila, correctional officer at the CMC

"Whoever did the spread on the front page is a genius. It made me feel better in these days of deep sadness. Thank you for displaying that young man, Jorge Alcantar, so prominently. I'd like to meet that young man."
_ Gwen Henry, Los Osos

Both these e-mails address interesting aspects of news judgement.
First, journalists are mindful that front-page stories get high readership. That's why they are on the front page. That's why Ms. Henry saw Staff Writer Nick Wilson's story about Jorge Alcantar and Mr. Avila spied the piece about the oldest prisoner.

But journalists don't think about front-page stories as "glorifying" their subjects. In our world, we seek to report and publish. Of course, we want to cover things we think you will find interesting. But we leave it to readers to decide whether someone is worthy of acclaim. Some of you reading this may think I am being less than truthful. But the fact is, in nearly 25 years of professional journalism, I cannot recall a time when a reporter or editor argued that a story should be on the front page to "glorify" someone.

Do you agree? Post a comment to let me know.

_ Tad Weber

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Putting the VA tech murderer on the front page was in poor taste, plain and simple. The word 'glorify' is the wrong one for this particular instance. The point is not that you 'glorify' whoever you put on the front page, it is that whatever gets put on the front page gets the most attention. The Virginia tech photos? Bad choice. The young man from AG with the great grades? Excellent choice. Your'misses'are bound to illicit accusations that all you are doing is trying to sell more papers. Put the bad stuff on the front page because is is reality and newsworthy, but take the high road in doing it - that's all we're asking.

Jackie Woods
Paso Robles