No bad deed goes unpublished

Tuesday’s Record Searchlight front page headline was about a particularly ‘incendiary’ editorial (vagueness intended) that was written by the Shasta High School newspaper.

After I read the article and all of the offended and/or inflammatory comments that resulted in the Web space thereafter, I realized something:

Further reporting about something that is already offensive only serves to proliferate and diffuse the offensiveness.

Instead of two hundred potentially offended readers, there are now millions.

Yes, millions.  The Record Searchlight article, “Shasta High Volcano Erupts” was picked up by the Associated Press and was published in several newsprints, internationally.  A paper in France even cared to publish the story.

Though I wouldn’t necessarily like to imply that the Record Searchlight is now competing with a high school newspaper for a good story, I don’t particularly understand why the paper, acknowledging the damaging effects that the Shasta article did to those who read it, would make the discretionary call to further the damage.  Now the community will be in an uproar over a once very isolated and probably misinterpreted issue.

I understand the importance of shedding light on offensive issues as to bring about positive change.  In this situation, however, the Record Searchlight has just extended the role of Shasta High’s newspaper, further commencing activities that the paper denounced in the same article with various opinions and argumentation.

One part of the Record Searchlight’s article highlights that the high school’s publishing of the original news article was a “lack of news judgment.”  In other words, the Record Searchlight made a [insert your adjective(s) here] “news judgment” to bring more attention to Shasta’s “lack of news judgment.” 

Are we seeing the irony here? 

In many ways, the negative international focus on the Shasta High article is one of Redding’s global debuts.  Despite all of the great things the Redding area has to offer, Redding will now be remembered by some as that place with the faulty high school newspaper and/or high school administration.

All of this could have been avoided.

While the Record Searchlight paints itself as heroic by bringing international disgust over Shasta’s principal’s decision to deny students their right to Free Speech (even though the original RS article condemned the students), the author of the Shasta Volcano article, Connor Kennedy, couldn’t have dismissed their help more.

Connor said that his editorial was well accepted by the intended audience of high school students and that the original Shasta Volcano issue has been in Shasta’s trash and recycle bins for more than a week without any mention of any offense taken by any party.

In essence, the Record Searchlight recalled the “burning issue” — which, at the time was more “old” than “news” — to extend the editorial’s educational punch to an originally unintended audience.

In calling attention to the two-week old high school editorial, the Record Searchlight reporting staff alerted Shasta High’s officials that the Volcano’s editorial would become a heated local issue.

Consequently, the Shasta High administration had no choice but to denounce the Volcano’s article in an effort to smother the flames that would inevitably result from the Searchlight’s involvement. 

Shasta High’s staff was already reconsidering the possibility of having a school newspaper for the Class of 2009 due to economic woes. 

Wouldn’t the world be a lot better if people weren’t awarded attention by creating controversies?

I get the same feeling when I read articles about school shootings, frat hazing or controversial YouTube videos.

Half of these articles usually include a quote from the person who caused the original offense, claiming that he/she did it to “get a reaction” or to “get attention.”  Then, after attention is given to the YouTube video, for example, five new equally or more offensive videos pop up the next day.

The latest Virginia Tech gunman referenced the Columbine shooting as an influence. 

Everyone wants his or her five minutes of fame. 

From my limited experience with different journalists of different agencies, it seems that many adopt the “there is no news like bad news” sentiment and feel that it is their duty to dig deep to expose every truth, and that anyone against them is infringing on their freedom of speech.  The freedom of speech is one of America’s best qualities, but most Americans misinterpret the First Amendment and forget that it is a protection from the government, not from other Americans.

Just as companies are held liable for conditions, statements or products that lead to the injury or encouragement of injury to others, the media should be held responsible for providing the prize of publicity to the most careless individuals of our society, furthering the demand for future carelessness.

I realize the inherent hypocrisy within this article.  I wrote a story about a story about a story.  I’m sure some of you will inquire into the subject of the controversy.

Though I hope this article did not serve to “spread the offensiveness,” as I have denounced, I hope this is the piece that starts a brush fire of pieces that helps our local media understand that we are all better than this. 

Rocky Slaughter is a political science student at Northeastern University in Boston, MA.  He is currently a law intern at a local firm and an owner of a web design company. Read his blog at http://blog.rockyslaughter.com

Rocky Slaughter

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