Pander Bears

I can accept valid criticism. Without sincere critique it's virtually impossible to improve. But the past week or so I observed two local media outlets cross the line from objective critique to subjective sensationalism and they need to be called out.

The first instance was with the Cincinnati Enquirer. They published a front page story this week exposing the merger of two of the more economically challenged schools in the Cincinnati Public School District. Apparently the district rushed the merger, moving it up from mid-school year to this past August, which led to a bit of chaos as the new school opened. And, as could be predicted, the decision led to a slew of disciplinary problems, many of which were overlooked. Within a few months the principal had resigned and it seems that, by the beginning of the new year, things had finally begun to settle down. But apparently the Enquirer felt it was a front page story that the public needed to know.

Now I'm not going to defend CPD's ill-advised planning here, as it was indeed a hastily decision that created a disordered environment. But the Enquirer took a non-story and ran with it. Notice the headline screams, "Chaos" and "Violence." They also claim that parents feared for their children's safety. Understand that this is the typical media formula to elicit a response from suburban folk who think inner-city folk are savages [witness: the next day letter from Shana in Green Township].

There's no doubt that these are some of the roughest schools in the city. Absentee parentism and poverty abound and disciplinary problems will always be a challenge in these schools. But nowhere in the story is there a quote from any of the concerned parents referenced. Additionally, the Enquirer cites three incidents that very well could have happened in any school in America and, therefore, feel justified with using the term "violence." To bolster the argument, they include a student dropping an F-bomb to a teacher. Again, I highly doubt that such behavior is only found in the ghetto. The only "eyewitness" quoted is someone who said they never witnessed the horrible behavior described in the article.

This story is doing nothing more than pandering to the suburban newspaper-purchasing public who want to feel like their community is safer and more civilized than the city. Unless suburban schools are held to the same scrutiny, this is irresponsible reporting.

But the Enquirer isn't the only local media outlet dumping on Cincinnati Public. Channel 5 News decided that sweeps would be a convenient time to engage viewers by encouraging even more animosity towards the city. They reported that while the Cincinnati Public School District continually asks for tax dollars, they're actually holding a $6million art collection. News 5 proceeded to produce an entire segment to ask why they haven't sold the art to help make up the budget. Again, this is a non-story that made it on air. The art has been donated to the district for over 100 years by the students and citizens of Cincinnati so that future generations can be exposed to pieces of fine art. These donations weren't intended to be pawned off when budgets get a little bad. But I guess News 5 doesn't think kids in city schools should be allowed to experience culture.

Additionally, if News 5 really wants to probe funding issues, why don't they investigate state governments to see why they don't sell state parks to housing developers to balance their budgets? And while they're at it, maybe News 5 can ask why the US Government doesn't sell Florida to the Cubans so they can balance the federal budget. The premise behind the story is moronic and it can never escape it, so it's a waste— end of discussion.

But if that isn't enough, the same News 5 reporter did another sweeps story about how safe the downtown really is— or isn't. He spent an entire night on the streets of downtown on a Friday night with a camera to do some in-depth research on the topic. Even while citing statistics that prove downtown is much safer than it's been in decades, the reporter gets excited because he finds someone who will sell him crack [he says he chose not to purchase]. Additionally, he's aiming for a Murrow award when he actually films a drug deal going down and observes that there is no police around. Forget to note that he's on Court Street at 3am on a Friday night. There is no residential or restaurant for blocks around that area. Do you think CPD can be everywhere all the time? I'd love to see him do the same thing in Newport, Covington, even Blue Ash on a Friday night and see what he came up with. I'm sure downtown is the only place in the city where drugs are dealt.

But the reporter doesn't give a rip because the fact-ignoring story does the job: pandering to the suburban television watching public who want to feel like their community is safer and more civilized than the city.

Like I said, if there is legitimate criticism that needs to be levied, it's the responsibility of the local media to do so. But if they're going to continue to produce this biased crap without holding suburban areas to the same standards, than they're no more credible than the Onion. Actually, I'll go as far as saying as News 5 should be avoided at all cost. It's junior-high journalism at its finest. And my apologies to those junior-highers I've offended.

I should note that, in the midst of my bitterness, I was pleasantly surprised to see Channel 9 do a story citing What's Good In Cincinnati. It wasn't amazing, but it definitely a positive presentation about our area— much more impressive than the news items referenced earlier in this post. The media should report the news, not create it to sell papers or attract cheap ratings.