Here is this morning’s news as the AP is reporting it:
Jerry Sandusky was convicted Friday of sexually assaulting 10 boys over 15 years, accusations that shattered the Happy Valley image of Penn State football and led to the firing of Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno.
Sandusky, a 68-year-old retired defensive coach who was once Paterno’s heir apparent, was found guilty of 45 of 48 counts.
Yep, that’s what happened yesterday. The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Altoona Mirror, the Allentown Morning Call, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Tribune-Review reported it similarly. (Lancaster’s newspaper, which I suppose I’m supposed to call the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal Lancaster New Era, reprinted the Inquirer‘s coverage.)
But look how other Pennsylvania papers just got sloppy in what they chose to place on their front pages.
The Patriot-News front page includes two stories. The first begins this way:
Had Jerry Sandusky died in 2008, we all would have thought differently. Thousands would have come from around the state and across the country to mourn him. Former player after former player would have proudly said that “Sandusky made me a man.”
Nittany Lions fans in sweatshirts from bowl games played long ago would have said Sandusky did it the right way, and mumbled that their team was never really the same after he left.
At his memorial service, a man would have leaned over the lectern and cried as he told the masses how Sandusky and The Second Mile plucked him from a broken home and saved him.
That’s your lead? You’re going to put us on Mr. Roger’s train to the neighborhood of Make-Believe? You’re going to report the news by printing a detailed description of an event that never happened and never will?
The second story on the front page is color commentary, beginning:
BELLEFONTE — After the jury found Jerry Sandusky to be a serial pedophile, the mother of the young man known as Victim 6 embraced her son.
Despite the cheers outside the Centre County Courthouse that accompanied the announcement that Sandusky was headed to prison, quite probably for the rest of his life, she couldn’t celebrate.
Wait, what? A jury found Sandusky to be a serial pedophile? You’re just going to mention that off-hand, when it’s not reported elsewhere on the front page, except broadly in the headline?
Why they didn’t put Matthew Kemeny’s actual news story, brief though it is, on the front page is beyond me.
This is the coverage the Patriot-News offers its readers this morning. This from the team that created an awesome op-ed front page in November. This from the team that won a Pulitzer for its coverage of the ongoing story. The central character, the villain, is found guilty, and there’s not a full sentence about the verdict on the front page?
The Centre Daily Times did better, but the opening sentence is still a ridiculous choice:
Jerry Sandusky looked down, his left hand resting in his pants pocket.
So the most important thing you have to tell us is that Sandusky was seen shoe-gazing with a hand in his pocket?
Or take the Scranton Times-Tribune‘s opening sentences:
Jerry Sandusky arrived at the courthouse Friday night in the back of a black sport utility vehicle.
He left in handcuffs.
You’re going to take the first sentence of your coverage to tell me the color of the SUV Sandusky was driven around in? And who cares about the handcuffs? Since when do the words “he was wearing handcuffs” tell readers “a jury found him guilty”?
Why Do I Care?
Newspapers are fretting about going out of business. They keep pointing out that their contributions to their communities are super important, and that the kind of quality, in-depth, ongoing reportage they provide can never be offered by amateur bloggers like me.
Guess what: I haven’t followed the Sandusky trial, and I could have easily written the sentences the Patriot-News and Centre Daily Times dialed in to lead off their coverage of the verdict.
A word to newspapers: If you need to be needed, lead with the news. Stop trying to be cute. Stop calling attention to your cleverness as writers and storytellers. Stop putting the color commentary before the play-by-play. Leave that to the amateur bloggers. Offer your readers what they can’t get anywhere else: The facts of the news, right away, with clear explanations of why those facts are significant and how they fit into a broader narrative.
Imagine a Dallas newspaper, on the day Lee Harvey Oswald was shot, putting a story on its front page about what would have happened if Oswald had died four years earlier. Then imagine that they didn’t even put the real news story on the front page. Ridiculous, right? That’s sort of what the Patriot-News did this morning.
A bad man was brought to justice yesterday (and properly, unlike with Oswald). That’s the news. It’s good news. Tell us about it, and tell us about it right away.