Wick Communications

The news is never changing

In journalism on 17 Jan 2013 at 5:00 pm

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On June 4, 1968, a gunman mortally wounded Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in the minutes following his triumphant California presidential primary. The next day, then-President Lyndon B. Johnson impaneled a group of VIPs to discuss gun violence and “a climate of extremism” that he said led to the senseless violence that had seemingly engulfed the nation that year.

UPI’s Mike Fensilber wrote:

(Johnson) appealed to Congress to “bring the insane traffic of guns to a halt” with meaningful control on the sales of firearms.

Some things never seem to change, do they?

Recently, we all looked on in horror after 26 children and adults were killed in a Connecticut elementary school. We looked on as if we’d never seen such a thing before, as if there had never been a Fort Hood or a Columbine or an Aurora. As you know, this week President Barack Obama pledged to do something about gun violence and came forward with several initiatives of his own … more than 44 years after Johnson put together his panel. (How did that work out? Johnson failed to get the gun registration and gun-owner licenses he was seeking.)

Forget, gun control. Think about insurance, tort or entitlement reform. Virtually anything that requires complicated, nuanced negotiation comes back again and again in this country.

I think this is, in part, a press failing.

We are very good at covering the horse race of presidential elections. We can get our arms around government meetings. We can lay out the issues pretty well. We are less good at leading the way toward complex solutions. …

This doesn’t just play out on a national scale. Think about issues that just won’t go away in your hometown. (Here in Half Moon Bay, they often revolve around land use.) We cover the rush toward good intention but very often leave alone the most important issues facing us simply because government action has bogged down. There is nothing happening, no news peg, so we write about something less important but seemingly more pressing. The news story of the day is not always the most important story to tell.

The gun debate – one that has simmered for decades – is one current example of the cycle of news brought about by our own ability to ignore what is right in front of our faces until crisis makes that impossible.

Here’s what I propose. Take five minutes to think of three issues in your community that have been big news and are essentially unresolved. Take those issues to your next news meeting and consider opening those wounds again with an eye toward leading your community toward a solution before the inevitable crisis. Lay out the history. Give the possibilities. Propose change on your editorial page.

Clay

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  1. Funny you wrote this, like this.

    We had a incident at a basketball game 10 days ago where pushing and shoving moved from the underneath the basket, to the front of the bench, which led to a verbal exchange between a coach and an opposing player, which led to the coach grabbing the kid ,which led to fans becoming very angry, which led to six police officers being called in to make sure things did not get out of hand.
    I separated the incident out of the regular story about the game. Confirmed what I saw, what the consequences should be and had the coach admit the transgression. It was the story of the week and continues to echo.
    I followed this with a column in the next issue that personalized the event and clarified to the community that there was no fight. The term fight had hit the rumor mill, via text instantaneously and the old fashioned way, conversation. I also made clear that everyone there did catch themselves and remained reasonably sportsmanlike.
    Last year we had a gym cleared and officers brought in. There was no fight. I was told taking the position as sportswriter in August, there was. This was not true, the gym was cleared, officers brought in, but no fight. So during the season this year, I wrote an earlier column expressing definitions of sportsmanship in relation to basketball. Sportsmanship and safety are my two priorities in reporting sports. It was my hope to send a message out early that I would be watching and would report on it.
    An event did happen again, but I did not brush it under the carpet, which the schools would have rather I did not report on it at all. I took it on for its face value and explained how things took place and what we should do in the future. I did this even though I knew initially it might be unpopular. To my surprise there has been no public outcry, other than a call from a unhappy coach who expressed every reflex objection you could think of about having something negative (as benign as possible written—just the facts and the quote) written about himself in the paper.
    Our audience knows how I feel about it and now know I will write about these moments and bring them to light, not matter how positive everything else I write is. I don’t want to write about these moments. But its my job, and I take it very seriously. I won”t sensationalize, but I will follow the story to a logical conclusion. And an editorial is a great place to step up and do whats right.

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