When our truth is too hard to swallow . . .

Journalism can never be silent: that is its greatest virtue and its greatest fault. It must speak, and speak immediately, while the echoes of wonder, the claims of triumph
and the signs of horror are still in the air.

Henry Anatole Grunwald, former editor of Time magazine
Henry Anatole Grunwald, former editor of Time magazine

–– Henry Anatole Grunwald, former editor of Time magazine.

As purveyors of public truth, it becomes very hard for us to please everyone
all the time. Indeed, that is seldom, if ever, the case, considering the daily barrage
of complaints, be they from the businessman whose “noble” intention was lost on the consumer; the politician who has fallen under the misguided notion that there is a deliberate attempt to capture him or her in a bad light; and,
more frequently, the family and friends of the criminal offender.

The newspaper business is therefore not for the faint of heart, especially when one considers the many persons whose feathers are easily ruffled, including angry school principals, magistrates and the like, who choose to heed not the caution issued by the American writer, reporter, and political commentator Walter Lippmann, that “there can be no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth and to shame the devil”.

Ironically, it is in our quest for this higher law of truth that we are known to suffer our greatest backlash.

Take last November’s case of two homosexual men who chose to use Harrison College’s compound as their place for a sexual rendezvous without the prior knowledge of the authorities. Our reporting of the court proceedings that ensued drew an immediate and angry reaction from the school’s principal Juanita Wade, who wrote to chastise us for our choice of headline: School Sex, with the subheading
Two Men Caught In The Act At Harrison College.

In the principal’s estimation, our mere mention of the school’s name had projected “a salacious, eye-catching headline”, which caused her school “unwarranted stress and attention, as the public concluded prematurely that the article was about our students engaging in such activities”, she said, never mind our article made absolutely no mention of students.

“I would be grateful if in the future your editor would be mindful of the damage to a school’s reputation which would be caused by the mere wording of a headline,” she stressed, with absolutely no regard for our publication of “the truth”, adding: “We look forward to the continued cordial relationship between our organizations
which could be beneficial to both.”

And then there was the story of the young man who had committed a criminal act, and whose mother called to appeal to us directly not to carry the story because the youth had a job interview scheduled for the following day. Never mind that he had committed a criminal act, the table would now be turned on the newspaper for standing in the way of his advancement –– again for publishing “the truth”.

In the end, the mother of the accused appeared to be just as displeased with the paper and its editor as radio personality Carol AM Roberts was when she posted her criticisms on Facebook this past weekend of our headline and story about a young man who was arrested and charged with stealing his grandmother’s underwear and later sent off to the Psychiatric Hospital after his grandmother, the complainant, appealed to the court for help for the grandson, who allegedly has a drug problem.

It was our headline that seemed to be most offensive to Ms Roberts, who posted: “I saw the headline Panty Thief Caught indeed and thought, ‘Wuhloss now, a wufless body wis a fetish fuh trousers!’ But the actual story is a sad tale of yet another young man battling addiction and seemingly losing.

“While I understand that headlines are supposed to grab your attention, to my mind, it was misleading and insensitive in this instance. Surely, we can do better, Kaymar Jordan!!”

Chris Birch, whose Facebook profile ironically states Your Elevation May Require Your Isolation, chimed in: “Get real. Never let truth, nuance and
context get in the way of a sub-editor’s cheesy and misleading headline.”

To which Roberts replied: “Thanks for that centring thought, Chris Birch!”

And Mar Rouse added: “Hmmm, well I glad you call them out, cause many a times [sic] I have to SMH.”

It goes without saying, journalism is a thankless profession.

Yet it bothers us profoundly that we still live in a society where even the seemingly educated among us cannot or will not face facts, but would more readily and consistently shoot the messenger than deal with the harsh realities, which though difficult to swallow, are staring us directly in the face.

It is one of the hypocritical truths of our Barbados at age 50 that those who seek to call a spade a spade, and flash society’s mirror back at itself, are best described
as insensitive.

Perhaps it be would be more useful in the future if our favourite morning radio personality and the outspoken magistrate could be seen to be doing more than
simply jumping on to the bandwagon of dislike. They may want to actually contribute positively to the discussion on the “truth” about our society.

Surely, we can all do better!

3 Responses to When our truth is too hard to swallow . . .

  1. Duane Burke
    Duane Burke January 25, 2016 at 9:20 pm

    I would also be hard pressed to believe that you did not know exactly what you were doing. I My belief is that you knew what emotion you wanted to evoke with your sensationalistic style headline. Headline matching the actual events and semantics of a messenger aside.

  2. Tony Webster January 26, 2016 at 7:47 am

    Ms. Wade ought to know better. Would she have been happier if it was cited in court as having taken place “at a leading secondary educational institution, within rock-throwing distance of the Central Bank”…. or some other contrived, convenient, convolution?
    Pass my red-ink ballpoint, please, I need to score this brilliant – but not infallible- lady’s homework!

    Dear Ed. : I got your back…err…front…sides etc. De truth, , de whole truth..and nuttin but bare-faced effrontery!

  3. Kathie Daniel January 26, 2016 at 7:48 pm

    Please do not be disingenuous. There are many ways to factually phrase a headline, or any other sentence, for that matter. The words we choose to communicate facts can greatly influence the way these facts are received and interpreted.
    I totally support Ms. Wade’s response to the headline in question; it would have been equally correct and factual to say that the act occurred in Bridgetown. The phrasing chosen made it easy to jump to the erroneous conclusion that students and/or teachers were involved. For the record, I hold the same view regarding any other primary or secondary school.
    The hard truth is that eye-catching headlines (and photos) sell newspapers or in this case, get more viewers to the online paper!
    And you should be careful about calling out Chris Birch and Carol Roberts, without doing a solid fact check. Both of these individuals do a great deal to uplift and improve our society and neither of them needs to be SEEN to be doing it, preferring the Christlike method of shunning the spotlight and never clamouring for recognition. If you think being a journalist is a tough job, try presiding over matters in court!
    It is to the detriment of our society that the line between journalism and entertainment has been almost erased. Reporting the facts, it seems, is no longer enough.
    Now we must have drama and sensationalism and “spin” masquerading as reporting.
    These are very dangerous and murky waters you seek to traverse: witness Fox News, MSNBC and CNN and their reporting of politics, the rise of the news “personality” at the expense of simple reporting.


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