Sunday, March 13, 2011
When Media platforms collide
What a fascinating week in All Things Journalism. No, I'm not referring to the "China Syndrome' taking place in Japan, also a red hot story at the moment, but to our own local/national/international nuclear meltdown story: The ongoing Phoebe Prince suicide tragedy in South Hadley now, amazingly, 14 months old. A blockbuster story with bionic legs it seems.
And this most recent chapter started innocently enough on Thursday morning with a positive story, otherwise known as a puff piece, in the Springfield Republican's cyber entity Masslive concerning a local South Hadley High School teacher attending an anti-bullying conference at the White House, an article written by intern Rosie Walunas, a journalism student on assignment for a UMass academic project under the direction of veteran print-journalist-turned-professor-of-digital-journalism, Steve Fox.
Well it turns out that particular local South Hadley High School teacher has been acting as a PR flack for the school that pays her salary pretty much from day one, and some have argued that she "blamed the victim" as a means to absolve the school, students, administrators, teachers or town.
And she had a "fashion" blog (now deleted) where she gushed about the upcoming Washington D.C. trip...a blog that I--not know for my fashion sense of course--found to be something out of a Saturday Night Live skit, including a questionably risque photo of her posing in a slinky outfit against an industrial locker, the kind you might find in a High School locker room. Yikes!
The online response--comments posted to the Masslive article, the South Hadley Forum and on a local blog that has relentlessly followed the tragedy with a microscope--came fast and furious, but even the mainstream media (if you consider MSNBC main) scooped everyone via an interview with Jeremy Prince where he sadly pointed out his family's dismay with A) not being informed of the B-I-G White House PR event and B) the "disgusting" choice of having THAT particular teacher attend and present at the conference.
Ms. Walunas demonstrated her digital upbringing by quickly responding with a follow up story in the Republican (Friday) laying out the now escalating controversy--and even mentioned the caustic Internet responses from comments posted to her original story and on the pernicious blogosphere.
By then savvy Republican editors must have figured out this was a major story and veteran reporter Fred Contrada assumed the helm with his further exploration of this epic PR backfire, splashed on the front page (Saturday) with the entire angle of the story highlighting the "shock and disgust" felt by the Prince family.
Meanwhile on Friday the South Hadley Town Reminder (a free weekly) and Daily Hampshire Gazette published overly positive front page stories concerning the anti bullying conference at the White House without any mention of the controversy. On Saturday, the Gazette catches up with the debacle by regurgitating the heartbreaking MSNBC interview with Phoebe's dad.
And this morning an Irish newspaper--The Sunday Independent-- picked up the side story (prominently decried in cyberspace) that South Hadley High School students are coming to Ireland for a visit (led by the now controversial teacher) in a few weeks with the headline giving you a distinct clue what they think about it: "Shock as tragic Phoebe's school plans Irish trip."
Their reception will probably be similar to that any fool would get strolling into an Irish pub on St. Patty's Day dressed entirely in orange and requesting a spot of tea.