I read an interesting column in the Sunday Washington Post this morning by the Post Ombudsman Andrew Alexander.
By Andrew Alexander
Sunday, August 15, 2010; A11
Post managers, from the top down, regularly remind the newsroom that coverage must have a “for and about Washington” focus. So when a large brawl broke out in the Metro system on a recent Friday night, it seemed a perfect chance to show local readers that The Post is their indispensable source for news.
His column discussed the complaints received from readers about the lack of coverage the Post had relating to the teen brawl that took place on the metro last Friday, August 6. He’s right, the coverage was very sparse.
On deadline, The Post gathered enough information for a news brief in Saturday’s paper, and a short story was quickly posted online.
I didn’t see anything about the melee in my Saturday paper. What I saw online Saturday was mostly in blog format, not a news article.
Throughout Saturday, it was among the most-viewed stories on the Web site, signaling intense reader interest. But as the day wore on, some readers grew frustrated that there was nothing more.
They did publish a story in last Sunday’s metro section but it wasn’t a lengthy article.
When a story for Sunday’s paper finally did appear, it offered little new. Promoted on the front page and tucked at the bottom of Sunday’s Metro section, it didn’t answer key questions: What caused the fighting? Were the people who were injured participants or bystanders? Was Metro beefing up security?
Why such thin coverage? Much of the explanation is that The Post responded with too little, too late.
So with a local news staff of about 70 reporters, why not call in reinforcements? Robert E. Pierre, the weekend editor for local news, said he saw no need. “It wasn’t about additional people,” he told me, noting that social media searches and an online appeal for witnesses had yielded little. And, he added, “the police didn’t have very much,” and what little information they disclosed was sketchy. The size of the crowd was in question, he said, and police couldn’t say how many were actually brawling.
The Post finally published a front page story on Monday, August 9 which included a family who witnessed the melee and a young man injured when riders fled the train. I was glad to see this on the front page because it is a major news story considering that thousands of folks take the metro everyday. But you know what? According to Mr. Alexander, Robert Pierre, the weekend editor for local news felt that last Monday’s front page story was given too much prominence.
When The Post finally produced a more substantive story for Monday’s paper, Pierre believes it was given too much prominence, even though it included eyewitness descriptions of multiple fights and bedlam as people tried to escape the pandemonium. The Post “overplayed it,” said Pierre. “It was a fight on the Metro. Kids get into fights.”
Say what? Dozens of teens are involved in a huge fight on the subway on a Friday night while dozens of metro riders look on and the weekend editor considered the front page story overkill? And you know why he felt that way. Cause kids get into fights. Would Mr. Pierre have said the same thing if those kids had gotten into fights with random adult metro passengers? Robert Pierre was also concerned about the racial aspect of the story. Give me a damn break.
Is Robert Pierre afraid of the reaction from black readers? Black folks take the metro too and many of us are sick and tired of the behavior of kids like those involved in the melee. We don’t all condone bad behavior. Is he afraid of some “so called black leaders” protesting in front of the Post if he puts more emphasis on this story? Who cares? Let them sit on the train with the troublemakers, without the transit police in sight, and see what it feels like to witness mayhem and deal with harassment like the woman featured in a front page article on Friday.
Nationals fans clad in red pour off the Green Line at Gallery Place, creating a massive bottleneck. The crowd headed outbound to Branch Avenue is much smaller, and when the train arrives, six women in baggy shorts and polos with oversize collars board the same car. One starts doing pull-ups on the train’s metal bar. Another marches down the aisle, shouting “Check me out!” Other passengers — Nationals fans, people heading home from work, couples returning from the movies — smile and laugh.
Then the scene gets tense. One of the young women, who won’t give her name, starts mocking a 58-year-old woman named Carol who is studying a physiology textbook in the middle of the car.
“You look like my teacher, Mrs. Wright,” the taunting woman says. “You can’t fail me anymore!” The crowd laughs, more hesitantly this time. Then the barrage of insults starts. The woman puts her nose in Carol’s hair. “You smell like cat piss,” the woman says.
Carol looks down at her book, trying to ignore the assault.
“It’s because of you that I’m gay,” the woman continues. “It’s because of you that my children are mentally retarded.” The woman gives her friends high-fives after each insult, and they laugh together. A family in Nationals uniforms moves to the other side of the car.
Five Guardian Angels arrive. They stand at one end of the car, arms crossed, silent. The woman in the baggy shorts looks at the youngest Angel, who appears to be in his teens. “What are you, 12?” she screams. “What are you gonna do, skateboard?” The Angels, in trademark red berets, do not respond.
“Ha!” the woman exclaims. “These Angels ain’t guarding [expletive].”
After a few minutes, the Angels leave the car. The woman continues to viciously mock Carol.
Carol, her tormentor and the rest of her group get off at Suitland. One of the women tells Carol, “I’m sorry, it’s just that we’ve been drinking.” She puts her arm around Carol.
Carol walks toward a cab. “You know, I wasn’t scared by what happened in there,” she says. “I was embarrassed that everyone, especially the Caucasians, had to see one black woman insulting another black woman like that. Still, what if things had escalated? The Angels were there, but they didn’t do anything. Where was the security?”
As a black woman I want to know more about the August 6 melee. I don’t like this tip toeing around because the kids are black. Hell I knew they were black. I’ve seen how some of these black kids act on the metro and it’s not a pretty sight. Do I care if the “so called black leaders” raise a ruckus? No I don’t. That will just prove to me even more so that they’ll continue with the excuses and coddle the hoodlums in the black community and as usual don’t give a damn about the victims unless it’s a white on black crime.
I would also like to say something about the Washington Post and its local news coverage. I have noticed that when it comes to the print edition for local news the Post is seriously lacking. You can read the Metro section in less than 2 minutes because it’s that thin. If you want to read any local news you have to go online and click on Local. And even then some of the local news online is in blog format and not a news article. Why bother with a print edition of the Metro section when you print mostly one paragraph articles about what’s going on locally in the Post? The Post use to be better than this. The print version of the Post seems to spend most of it time on national politics and of course Sarah Palin. I’ve seen news stories from around the world receiving better coverage than local news in the print edition. I guess that’s why they have a separate local section online. And the Washington Post wonders why they’re seeing a decline in subscribers. I’m seriously thinking about cutting back my service to Sunday only.
Maybe it’s because I’m old school that I still read the paper. It’s a habit I’ve had since I was a youngster. I also enjoy reading the news on the internet. I check out news sites from all over the country and the world. But when it comes to my local paper I would still like to enjoy reading the print edition of the Washington Post.