Jacqueline Smith: Readers like ‘good’ news stories along with the necessary ‘bad’
Readers want to hear of uplifting stories, and it seems to not matter if the stories are right next door or all the way down the Eastern seaboard, or anywhere.
Stories of humanity resonate no matter where they are from.
I am basing this observation on the reaction to my column last week about the fourth-grade boy in Florida who was bullied at lunch by a bunch of girls. Ultimately, it turned into a heartwarming story of thousands and thousands of strangers showing their support of him.
But first I want to say how much I appreciate that nearly two dozen readers emailed to express their views. We “talked” back and forth and I would like to bring you into the conversation with some of them who agreed to go public.
And we had a good debate about a journalism precept.
My column from last Friday was about an unnamed fourth-grader from Altamonte Elementary School in Altamonte Springs, Fla., who was enthralled with the University of Tennessee team. On College Colors Day at the school, the boy didn’t have his favorite team’s shirt so he created a logo with an orange marker and a sheet of paper and pinned it to a basic orange T-shirt (the team’s color).
He walked into school feeling pretty good about his display of team spirit, but the girls at the next lunch table laughed at him.
How many times has this happened to kids — this year? Let us not forget that a sneer, a snub, a ridicule can reverberate across a lifetime.
What happened next was astounding — thanks to a good teacher. (And we have lots of them right here in Connecticut.)
A Facebook posting by his teacher, Laura Snyder, drew a box of swag from the university. And it didn’t stop there. In a brilliant stroke, someone at the university decided to put the kid’s hand-sketched design on an orange T-shirt. When the university shop put the T-shirt up for sale on its site, it crashed from the volume. It didn’t take long for the initial 50,000 order to sell out. A percentage of profits were going to an anti-bullying foundation.
Such an outpouring touched many people in Connecticut. Let’s hear what they have to say before we embark into a debate. By the way, and I haven’t quite parsed out why this surprised me, but more men than women responded to say they like to see some “good” news.
“Yes, yes, yes. A feel good story that brought me to tears,” wrote Thomas E. Brown, a now retired firefighter of Stamford who surely has seen, as he put it, “enough bad-news stories for a lifetime.”
“So, perhaps the human spirit is still alive, when in my opinion it has been lost,” he wrote.
I posed the question in the last column as to whether a story like this was news.
“In these troubled times, this IS news,” responded Gulamhuseim Abba of Danbury.
“I love stories like this! It’s heartwarming and put a smile on my face. I understand that news is news and it needs to be reported. I believe that sweet stories such as this, which is also news, need to be reported as well,” wrote Tammy Trantales of Milford, who works two jobs.
As Eric Seplowitz of Ballston Spa, N.Y., who grew up in Stamford and still follows the news from home (a photographer, he has an amazing exhibit at UConn’s Stamford campus until Oct. 5), put it: “because the world is so connected and we get access to news from around the world, location is less critical and the story is relatable to everyone regardless of where it happened.”
Nancy Mahoney of North Haven had an interesting perspective. “I have never responded to an article I read before now. Thank you for writing some good news for a change,” she emailed. “I get tired of hearing about murders, shootings, etc. I feel the more it is in the news, it gives others an idea to think about doing the same thing.”
She is right. I worry that reporting details of all the mass shootings (I will never ever forget Dec. 14, 2012, in the newsroom of the daily newspaper for Newtown) could perpetuate ideas. But how could we not report about that incredible tragedy — and the too many that have followed? Truth and knowledge, not denial, lead to change.
But should a newspaper name the child, who let’s face it, became a mini-celebrity?
In my column last week, I said yes. It is part of the “who” of the story and he should get the recognition.
Lots of readers disagreed with me.
“Why expose him to the mean side of social media and exploitative journalism?” wrote John O’Leary of Stratford. “They would have twisted it into a bullying narrative for sure. He’s better off. He knows who he is.”
Here’s what Betty Bontempi of Danbury thought: “That young man has received all the recognition that he needs, in his local area. More would not be good for him. And the rest of us can just enjoy this heart-warming illustration of a child’s inventiveness and the kind concern of his teacher that replaced his momentary shame with glory.”
“Sometimes you have to ignore the rules of textbook journalism — this is one of them,” Betty wrote.
Her comment raises an interesting question: Does it matter to us in Connecticut what the name is of a fourth-grade boy in Florida who is the heart of the story? I still say it does. The “who” is an integral part of the story, one of the 5 Ws, along with the “what, when, why and where.”
That said, under some circumstances we do not name a child, such as in a juvenile arrest in which the information is not public. But every day we acknowledge, by name, the good that kids are doing academically or in sports or activities such as scouting.
Social media has changed the way people view the situation, I believe. But it also can be a tool for good, as in this case. Because the teacher posted on Facebook, thousands supported the boy.
“Yes, it’s the real world, but I do get tired of hearing about all of the negativity and I, too, wished they had named the young boy in the story,” emailed John Gallagher of Orange. “It is a GREAT way to start the day!”
We have a coda to this story. The University of Tennessee asked him to be part of the Class of 2032, for free. Imagine on his first day he tells a classmate that his hand-drawn logo became a U of T shirt. Oh yeah? Prove it. And then how could he, since he was never named in the news.
Sandy Grannis of Ridgefield, who found the story “uplifting and hopeful,” said “It’s like leaving church with a nugget to help carry you through the week.”
Jacqueline Smith’s column appears Fridays in Hearst Connecticut Media’s daily newspapers. It is solely her opinion. She also is the editorial page editor of The News-Times in Danbury and The Norwalk Hour. She enjoys hearing from readers; email her at email@example.com.