Thursday, December 6, 2012

By Any Other Name

 Amherst Bulletin: above the fold, front page headline

Journalism and justice share a common goal:  both seek "to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth."  And oftentimes it's not pretty.  Or as jaded cops would say, "It is what it is."

Today's weekly Amherst Bulletin is an embarrassment to anyone who holds high that sacred tenet of journalism still taught in J-schools (I know because I was just in a classroom two days ago) to seek the truth and report it.

On Friday November 29, the Daily Hampshire Gazette belatedly reported the November 19th death of 19-year-old UMass student Sydne Jacoby from injuries sustained in a fall on Fearing Street the late night of November 16, after becoming sick from, according to a best friend's Facebook post, "a high level of intoxication." The next day that Gazette story is sent out over the Associated Press national wire.

Well they sort of reported it, leaving out her name -- the very first W in the oldest journalism formula in the sacred reporter's notebook:  Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. 

And now that I'm thinking about it, they also obscured the "How". 

On Thursday November 28 -- a day before the Gazette story -- the LI Herald published a prominent article about the sad untimely death of Ms Jacoby, publishing her full name, but leaving out the detail about alcohol. 

On December 2 my story is published, and the following day the Massachusetts Daily Collegian follows up with a banner front page headline containing her name, and briefly mentioning the alcohol connection -- but only using the attribution of AFD Chief Tim Nelson from the Gazette article (where he had been specifically assured the young woman's name would not appear).

But today's Amherst Bulletin story, buried on page 5, is unchanged from last week's original Gazette article.  And the reason for leaving out her name is still the same excuse that UMass spokesperson Ed Blaguszewski refused to release her name.  Even though her name had appeared in a variety of published sources.

The front page, impossible-to-miss lead Bulletin story is, however, a direct byproduct of the this exceedingly sad episode:  "More College Women Treated For Drunkenness."  Amazingly they fail to connect the dots to this most blatant deadly example from just two weeks ago.

Yes, the family did not want her name released -- but then, no family ever wants anything remotely negative to be associated with a deceased loved one.  If we start allowing a family to edit a story then we are no longer reporters, we are PR flacks. 

Ten years ago a horrific fire at the Station Nightclub in Rhode Island claimed 100 lives, the 4th worst fire catastrophe in our nation's history.  What if every relative told the media not to release the name of their loved one, or the fact they died in a bar?

What if we had 100 different media outlets simply reporting one local person died recently, but left out their name and the fact they died alongside 99 other people in a bar with substandard safety protocols?

As a direct result of that devastating fire (and the resulting avalanche of news publicity), Massachusetts passed safety legislation requiring sprinklers and "crowd managers" in bars with a capacity of 100 or more.

By shining a bright light on unsafe conditions -- especially ones that have led to a tragic outcome -- public officials are far more likely to actually do something about it. 

We need to get a handle on the abuse of alcohol in our quaint little college town.  Now!




29 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've enjoyed your blog for many years but I think it's now time to move on. Yes, college kids in Amherst drink. College kids have been drinking more than they should for decades. And yet, you write about nothing now but college kids drinking. I am just plain tired of this one note band. There has got to be other things happening in Amherst that would be interesting to write about and interesting to read about.
I'll check back periodically to see if your obsession has eased any but I am sorry to say I'm just bored with your blog now.
And don't twist my words and say I don't care about college kids who drink - I do and I wish there was some other perceived rite of passage for college kids across our nation. But talking about it ad nauseum on your blog is not going to change a thing.
Take care, Larry.

Larry Kelley said...

Then I guess, considering their lead story, you will not be reading this week's Amherst Bulletin.

Anonymous said...

Yea I will read it. The difference, Larry, is that the Bulletin will report on a wide range of stories this week, just as they do every week. So I'll read that story along with many other stories.

You, on the other hand, seem to have a one track mind. You ONLY publish stories that have one theme and one theme alone.

Larry Kelley said...

Wow, you came back. That was fast.

Actually if you look over on the right for my top ten read stories of all time, half of them have nothing to do with the party culture.

And if you look at the widget on the very top of the page, it shows my monthly page views have more than doubled just since September.

Walter Graff said...

PART ONE OF TWO

I have to agree Larry. First off, I didn't know so many people in Amherst were named anonymous. Strange...

Anyway you use the idiom "Get a handle on it". That idiom translates to find a way to understand a situation in order to control it.

We do understand it Larry. They have been making movies about college kids and drinking for the last 40 years.

According to collegedrinkingprevntion.gov

"Among college students and other 18- to 24-year-olds, binge drinking and, in particular, driving while intoxicated (DWI), have increased since 1998. The number of students who reported DWI increased from 2.3 million students to 2.8 million" . "The number of alcohol-related deaths also have increased. In 2001, there were an estimated 1,700 alcohol-related unintentional injury deaths among students 18–24, an increase of 6 percent among college students (that is, per college pop­ulation) since 1998. In addition, it is estimated that each year, more than 696,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking, and more than 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape"

As the website states, "Clearly, alcohol-related problems on campus still exist". So if you focus on something as a reporter, everything starts to look bigger than it is. Larry, you certainly have focused on drinking and Amherst. As another poster pointed out, the per capita reports of college drinking are not really that high.

Walter Graff said...

PART TWO OF TWO

So we know kids drink and will continue. But the second part of the meaning of your idiom is the important part... "A way to control it".

Can we control it? Many communities have had great success in college towns doing just that. And indeed research shows when a community creates initiatives towards solving the issue of college age drinking it works.

And the statistics show that these initiatives have lead to reductions in underage drinking, alcohol-related assaults, emergency department visits, and alcohol-related crashes. (Hingson, R.; Heeren, T.; Winter, M.; and Wechsler, H. Magnitude of alcohol-related mortality and morbidity among U.S. college students ages 18–24: Changes from 1998 to 2001. Annual Review of Public Health 26:259–279, 2005. PMID: 15760289)

Basically Larry, everything you complain about can be altered for the better.

What's the answer? Does Amherst need to hire more police to deal with riots etc? No it needs to start changing it's approach the same way NYC changed it's approach to crime from the ground up and change overall crime. Do we wait for someone to shoot another person or stop with them from spitting in the street. Seems that is the most effective way of dealing with the abuse in this town. Stop the little things and it trickles up.

Bottom line (pay attention town reps) is first, have more vigorous enforcement of zero tolerance laws. PERIOD!!!

Second we need more rigorous enforcement of drinking and driving laws so that we scare kids into not driving.

I can tell you first hand when I went to college, the city was really tough on drivers. It got to the point that not only did overall incidences of accidents and infractions related to driving went down but so did insistence involving alcohol. I remember we used to be terrified to even have alcohol in the car. Is that some kind of police state? No, just good preventative policing.

Third, we need more strategies to reduce the availability of alcohol. What might that mean? Instead of putting up barricades and manning the streets around Antonio's waiting for all the drunk underage kids, how about one police officer in front of the liquor store looking at kids that come in at 8pm. Not necessarily carding them, just standing there. Think that is silly? Park an unmanned police car on a street for a week and incidences of speeding will be reduced by 88%.

How about making police very visible in parts of town where issues start before the night turns into a melee. Yeah, that might mean sitting with lights flashing on the grass for a while. That alone will scare some. In NCC when areas of the city have spikes in crime all they do is put police officers standing next to there cars with lights on at various times of the day and guess what? Somehow that is enough to reduce the crime.

Some will say these ideas will not work, but they ARE working in many communities around the country. Amherst likes to claim it's so progressive. Bad news, it's not. In fact it seems to be a good town for putting down rugs to sweep lots of stuff under them.

Bottom line we need to pro act to it not react and that starts with the simplest breaking of laws.

And finally we need
a wider imple­mentation of alcohol screening, counseling, and treatment programs that address the issues directly rather than sweep it all under the rug. This town sure has lots of rugs with lots of big bumps in them.

If this town and this college wants to get real, then we have to do what is working in other communities and not walk around like a parent who doesn't want to think that their kid might be having sex.

Someone needs to look at the research. It works and it can work here. First off, take the chains off the police. I know that scares the 'hippies' that live here but you want something done, then start doing it. This town is ignoring it.

Here's two things parents' don't want to hear... Yes your kids are having sex and yes, they are getting drunk too.

Herbert Hoovah said...

I think it's equally important to point out that my parents are having sex and getting drunk.

Larry Kelley said...

Lucky thing for you that they did (20 or so years ago).

Anonymous said...

"If we start allowing a family to edit a story then we are no longer reporters, we are PR flacks"

I hate to inform you but you are no reporter Mr. Kelley - just another blogger or in your own words a PR flack.

Larry Kelley said...

Beats being a Cowardly Anon Nitwit who makes comments on a blog.

Whatever I am, my sitemeter tells me a lot more people will read today's "commentary" (what a professor of journalism would call it) compared to either of the online articles in the Amherst Bulletin covering the same subject.

Stormin Norman said...

Isn't it apparent?

It isn't the enforcement of the laws by APD, students break up parties as soon as the authorities arrive...

... it is the laws themselves. Your financial disincentives will not work no matter what they cost students. When a student sees the six pack they threw over a fence last night in the front yard of their neighbor as they clean up the streets during their mandated community service they will be spurred to think about their destructive actions.

Not to mention they might get to meet their neighbors and become part of the neighborhood, rather than just part time residents in it. Unfortunately the only problem in town bigger than the destructive drinking is the pervasiveness of the negative stereotype regarding college students... who knows if their full-time-resident neighbors will even look at them or just scoff per usual...

Dr. Ed said...

There is a very chilling line in the Bulletin's story -- that the days of letting an intoxicated person be supervised by friends is over.

Wow.

So if I am an undergraduate (which I once was) and I want a second opinion on the status of an intoxicated friend from someone who has a bit more medical knowledge than I do, they won't release the person back to me?!?!?!?!

Wow.

This is Orwellian. Also counterproductive. It is hard enough for a young person to call the authorities "on" a friend, but to have the friend hauled off even if not medically necessary? And to where -- if not to the hospital, exactly what legal right to they have to confine the person?

One other thing -- there are a lot of quite close married couples who became that way when one sat up one night in college when the other was drunk, as one person put it "holding her hair out of the way when she puked in the bucket."

This is Orwellian -- and it won't be long before the AFD gets told no more than the APD does...

Anonymous said...

Mr. Kelley.
Why don't you put your great investigative work and your caring to good work. Why don't you help the University start programs on the effects of alcohol and drugs on the person and community. Do something besides sitting on the sidelines and complaining. You appear to your readers as a do nothing. Show them you can do something productive.

Anonymous said...

"We need to get a handle on the abuse of alcohol in our quaint little college town."

What are your suggestions?

Larry Kelley said...

Double down on enforcement for one thing.

As I said very publicly at the meeting held by UMass at the UMPD police station a while back: "Any student arrested for assault on an officer should be expelled. Period".

I would also make it a policy for APD to post mug shots of EVERYBODY arrested for DUI. Amherst would quickly get a reputation for being tough on drunk driving (which we already have, so I guess I should say "tougher").

I also like Peter Vickery's idea of the Select Board calling a 2 or 3 day moratorium on alcohol sales this coming St Patty's Day simply as a reminder/punishment for last year's most embarrassing public display of drunken debauchery: "The Blarney Blowout."

And yeah, there's all sorts of touchy feely educational things that can be done, but I'll leave that up to UMass.

Anonymous said...

"Any student arrested for assault on an officer should be expelled. Period".

I believe that convicted would be a more appropriate time to look at University action. If they are expelled for being arrested and are not found guilty, then an innocent person would have been punished illegitimately.

Anonymous said...

This blog is like one long, pathetic train wreck. I love it.

Anonymous said...

And that would stop somebody form hitting their head on the sidewalk how?

As usual you are all bluster but when you are put to the test you actually don't have any suggestions to offer.

Larry Kelley said...

Actually I did make suggestions. Far more than you.

Anonymous said...

Although this may be an unpopular opinion, I tend to think that there's some truth to it: Perhaps if kids were raised with wine and beer at their dinner tables like they do in France and the rest of Europe, they wouldn't go crazy with alcohol when they leave the nest. It just wouldn't be the same thrill it seems to be for our kids who are kept away from alcohol as they're growing up and then all of a sudden let loose at college. You know, "forbidden fruit" and all that. It would be interesting to do some research regarding the incidence of kids' abuse of alcohol in European universities.

Dr. Ed said...

Larry, there is a very real consequence to a student being expelled for assaulting an officer and then being found innocent.

The officer then gets sued by the student for the damages -- lost of potential earning from the college education, and since there is a due process issue, the officer officer may be personally liable.

Furthermore, if the student is expelled before the trial, all the student has to do is allege libel and sue in state court, or allege civil rights and sue in federal court.

APD officers have been sued in Federal court recently, btw. I believe that the union has to come up with the attorney. That can get expensive quickly.

Dr. Ed said...

It also is only a matter of time until a court orders a student to be reinstated -- if it hasn't already -- and then the floodgates will open.

Anonymous said...

Amherst would not exist without the drunk college aged youth running around your town. You should look into business statistics from when school is in session and when it's not and see how Amherst students keep business in Amherst alive because of all the business during the school year. Whats your address I want to piss on your lawn this weekend

Anonymous said...

To: December 7, 2012 7:01 PM

Come on over. Then I can shoot some bee bees in your stupid ass as you leave post-piss. Stupid idiot.

Anonymous said...

"Amherst would not exist without the drunk college aged youth running around your town."

Of course it would exist without them, and it would be a much more pleasant place. Education would proceed more smoothly and the town gown relationship would greatly improve. If your goal in life is to run around drunk and crow about it instead of concentrating on the college education your parents have paid so much for, Massachusetts has 350 other cities and towns, so your choices are really wide open.

Anonymous said...

"sigh"...it's intersting all the conjecture about incidents in town...all media outlets extrapolating theories from facebook posts and snippets from a fire chief who wasn't there; yet nothing from the police and very little from the DA. Hmmmm. Why not wait until ALL the facts are in; then do a public records request to gather them and report what is "true". Nope. Break the story FIRST. Get the credit. No need to get it RIGHT. That goes for the entire thread. "sigh"

Larry Kelley said...

Under your rules of engagement the average reader would be getting a story MANY months after it occurred.

If at all.

Anonymous said...

Hello,

I'd like to respond to one of the comments in this thread.

Dr. Ed said...

Wow.

So if I am an undergraduate (which I once was) and I want a second opinion on the status of an intoxicated friend from someone who has a bit more medical knowledge than I do, they won't release the person back to me?!?!?!?!

Wow.

This is Orwellian."

The facts are that under State law no EMT or Paramedic can accept a refusal of care from an intoxicated person. This is nothing new; it has been the case for my entire 25 year EMS career. This due to the fact the use of alcohol to the point of intoxication impairs a person's judgment and, in the opinion of the Commonwealth, may prevent them from making reasonable decisions...including those that relate to their health. Once an ambulance arrives on scene and ma patient contact is made, in the eyes of the law the EMT or paramedic owns that person and is responsible for their wellbeing. Not their friends, not the police, and not their family, the EMT or paramedic. Are there situations where I have made a decision that it is safe for someone who has consumed alcohol to be released to their friends or family? Yes. This is always a judgment call and leaves me open to liability, so I make these decisions very carefully and tend to err on the side of caution. Chances are that if you’re drunk and a) are completely disoriented, b) can't or won't walk, c) are vomiting, d) have any kind of a medical complaint or injury regardless of how minor, e) are under the age of 18 without the presence of a parent or guardian (under the law minors are not able to refuse care even if they are sober), or f) you are in an unsafe or potentially situation, and my ambulance is called, you WILL find yourself in the back of it and be taken to the hospital. It may be "Orwellian", but it’s the law and it’s nothing new.

Jeff Parr FF/EMT-P
Amherst Firefighters
IAFF Local 1764

Larry Kelley said...

Old Irish Mother's saying: "Better safe than sorry".