Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Reaction to news chronologies

There's a fascinating rant going on on the Miami Herald website, where editors revived a chronology of tragedies involving University of Miami players (and former players) to go with the story about the murder of former UM and Redskins player Sean Taylor. The chrono, first published last year when UM player Bryan Pata was murdered, was written by Herald sportswriter Barry Jackson: Recent UM Tragedies.

The vitriol in the comments is shocking, from personal attacks on Jackson to pleas that the Miami Herald stop drawing negative portraits of UM and its athletic teams. Obviously most commentors are rabid UM fans and want to hear only good about the program. But why should a straightforward list of other events draw such hatred?

Should editors rethink assigning sidebars like this to a tragic story? Does it do anything to help readers to remind them of other tragedies? My thought has always been that readers will ask themselves how many times something like this has happened, and rely on their newspaper to give them that background. But when does it become construed as an attack? Where is the middle ground on something like this?

Over the years I pulled together LOTS of chronologies like this for the Herald, usually at the last minute when an editor suddenly decided a story merited a sidebar, fearful as I hustled that I'd miss some important events because of lack of time to check and recheck. I have to admit some of these requests made me a bit queasy, just because I didn't see the point in digging up a barely related past. I guess there are times when that hesitation shouldn't be ignored.

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