It’s not that I turn to Metro New York for hard-hitting news coverage, but I was surprised today as I came off the subway to see the cover for today’s paper. On this, the first weekday since the tragic shootings last Saturday in Tucson, the front page of this free paper printed only on weekdays highlighted a day of pants-less subway riders and the burning question of, “Do white pot dealers get busted less often?”
As a free newspaper distributed outside most subway stops throughout the city, Metro New York is one of the first papers many New Yorkers see on a typical morning. Because it costs nothing and contains only a few pages (today’s issue had 19), it’s an easy way to catch up on news both local and national, sports and entertainment on the morning commute. As such, it seems a little ridiculous that reporting of the assassination attempt of Representative Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, which left six people dead and 14 wounded, would be scooped from the front page in favor of the 10th annual No Pants Subway Ride. The Reuters article on the incident doesn’t appear until page six, after coverage of Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network launch. In contrast, AM New York, the other free, ubiquitous daily in New York City, devoted its cover to the story (in fairness, it should be mentioned that the AMNY story also does not appear until page six).
Again, I realize Metro New York is not The New York Times. I don’t open it expecting coverage from Pulitzer-winning journalists, but I think that it has a certain responsibility to report major news precisely because it is a free paper made readily available to most people who commute in and out of the city during the week. Racial profiling by the NYPD is certainly a newsworthy story, but following a series of events as tragic as those which took place in Tucson last Saturday, I would venture that it is perhaps not as urgent.
There is additional significance to this story in that the attack itself is being attributed by some to increasingly aggressive political rhetoric, which I would further argue is somewhat exacerbated by the media. Every news outlet includes people who act as gatekeepers, deciding what makes the news and what does not. In the realm of political news, stories of conflict are the ones which receive the most coverage. But what about the stories of people coming together over politics, and the occasions when we can all agree that regardless of one’s personal views, it is unacceptable when the dialogue grows so heated that it leads to violence? I suspect that as we learn more about the alleged shooter while piecing together details and information, we will come to better understand the events of last Saturday. I allow for the possibility that the reasons may not all be political in nature, and that finger-pointing at aggressive language from liberals and conservatives could all just be part of a narrative created by the media in a story where facts have been slippery. Still, I do expect that news media outlets, large or small, recognize this as a major event, and inform their audience to the best of their ability. Running a front-page photo of people on the subway in their boxers instead of grieving Americans may have been the easy choice for Metro New York, but it does no favors for its readership.
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