Can we all calm down now?
On Tuesday, students at UNC’s Daily Tar Heel newspaper published an article that contained charged language and suggestive imagery – and a pretty blatant headline (“Durham crime crosses over into Chapel Hill”) – about the bad element from Durham creeping into idyllic Chapel Hill.
The article explained that a fifth of the crimes committed in Chapel Hill during the past 10 years – including the particularly high-profile murder of student Eve Carson in 2008 – could be attributed to Durham residents.
It raised images of checkpoints and fences, leaving readers to infer that Durham is some seething crime den full of predators waiting to pounce on unwary students.
Twitter erupted. Facebook too. Politicians and community boosters dropped what they were doing on both sides of 15-501 to express outrage and dismay that this college newspaper would have the audacity to insinuate that Durham’s a significant source of crime for the Hill.
Some readers of the Tar Heel article even called for the firing of the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Andy Thomason.
However, as we sit on the brink of Sunshine Week – a celebration of journalism and First Amendment issues – we wouldn’t dream of joining that outcry.
On Thursday, The Herald-Sun’s Keith Upchurch and Laura Oleniacz reported about the intercommunity kerfuffle. They quoted Chris Roush, senior associate dean at the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication, who defended the Tar Heel.
“What a lot of people seem to be forgetting is that The Daily Tar Heel is a student-run newspaper,” Roush said. “Students are learning the craft of journalism and sometimes they make mistakes. The newspaper is a learning lab, and I don’t think society should be attacking the student journalist, but examining the issue.”
And that’s the thing: No one’s really questioned the facts behind the article, but instead jumped all over the presentation.
Even Thomason acknowledged a lesson learned about that in a column on Thursday.
“Perhaps the article’s greatest disservice was its use of crime statistics without the proper context,” he wrote. “The numbers mean nothing without the proper perspective. This perspective and many other questions would have to be addressed in order to provide a balanced and complete account of the issue. But I don’t entirely discount the value of the story just because it included some confusing language and lacked important perspective.”
We think they’ll learn from this experience.
However, we hope those who were so quick to take offense endeavor to grow thicker skin. Durham has a reputation that it is working hard to escape, but how much will it help to trade that for the perception that the Bull City is always overly defensive about what people say about us?
Our Grit Award recipient this week is Bessie Elmore, founder of a new support group for families that have relatives in prison.
Her son was convicted in 1993 for the killing of a Raleigh man. He’s due for release from Orange Correctional Center in Hillsborough in 2015.
Elmore wanted to start the group, called Straight Talk, to provide an emotional support network.
“We have found that many family members have issues and no one to talk to,” she said. “They feel alienated even from their own family and sometimes at church. There’s a lot of frustration, anger and resentment.”
For information, contact Elmore at 919-401-3563 or 919-593-7914, or visit healthtouchnc.com.