We know the Marathon Bombings were a bloody, terrifying tragedy. Other papers ran equally shocking images of the explosion or of legless victims being wheeled away by first responders. The import distinction being that those images told a story: here’s what happened; these people were affected; these are the people helping. Journalism is storytelling and the soul of a good story is the details. Showing a bloody sidewalk dotted by two aimless police offices is both gore for its own sake and a subtle way of calling the response effort bumbling and ineffectual. Is that the message you want to be sending about Boston’s Finest in a time of crisis? I certainly hope not.
If you, the editorial staff of The Chronicle, have been checking your Facebook page, no doubt you already know that your dwindling readership is furious about the headline you ran. For those who missed it: ‘You’ve gotta run’. Granted, it’s a quote from the article itself, but it’s also a pun on the circumstances surrounding it. Let me be perfectly clear: whether you meant it or not, this is not the time for New York Post-style headlines. This is not an event to be glib or insensitive about. Hofstra draws a lot of students from Massachusetts, and I cannot imagine how much angrier I’d be if I saw this cover after someone I knew was hurt or killed in the Marathon Bombing, or the shootouts that followed.
But let’s jump back to that small lesson about storytelling. “You gotta run,” tells us nothing in the way of specifics. Oh, there’s an explosion? Yeah, most people would run from that, full-speed and screaming, regardless of where it happened. Likewise, “Student shares experience at Boston Marathon” completely disregards the gravity of the situation. From those words alone the story is about a kid who ran a marathon and nothing more. We’re talking about a domestic attack without precedent that crippled an entire city. Jimi Hendrix was an Experience; this was a tale of survival, fear, a major metropolitan area united against two very troubled boys, and the professionalism, bravery, and genuine human kindness that kept the situation from devolving into chaos.
Everything about this cover suggests it was written and designed by robots, but the sad fact is it was checked and rechecked by actual human beings who wanted to grab the attention of readers more than they wanted to empathize with the victims they were writing about.
I had the honor of working with some of the brightest people I’ve ever met in my four years at the Chronicle but this makes me ashamed to have any association with you. I have news for you Chronicle, and yes, that pun was intentional: the ship is sinking. This latest blunder is beyond the pale. Your readership hates you, and a retraction just won’t cut it for this one. But a public resignation from your Editor-in-Chief might.
One of many disgruntled alumni,