Public Editor

Why show bad behavior?

along@kcstar.com

A photo at the top of Page A-4 on June 5 depicted two teenagers practicing skateboarding tricks in the parking lot of an area school.

Harmless fun? Not to a reader who called me.

“I can’t believe you would print such a reckless, irresponsible picture for other kids to see,” she said. “One of these young men has to be three feet in the air, and neither one of them is wearing a helmet or pads or anything.

“I know kids do this all the time, but I expect more from my paper. You shouldn’t print photos that don’t model good behavior. The Star should set an example, and I don’t consider ‘Well, that’s what they were doing’ as a justification.”

I can’t argue with her concern for the youths’ safety. It’s undoubtedly true that skateboarding can be hazardous. Just a few weeks ago, The Star ran a story about a 26-year-old Independence man who died when he fell from a skateboard and hit his head.

This reader’s concern is far from novel, too. I’ve heard many similar objections to coverage that show people engaging in activities that are unwise or even illegal: a cook cutting a piece of food while drawing the knife toward his opposite hand, a driver not wearing his seat belt, or children frolicking in an unchlorinated public fountain.

Some have taken the concept even further. I’ve spoken to readers who don’t think The Star should ever run a photo of a person smoking a cigarette. I remember one who objected to restaurant reviews and recipes that highlighted especially caloric foods.

I used to regularly hear from one caller was sure to share her displeasure every time she saw a photo of a person whose mouth was open, especially if the person appeared to be yelling. Bad behavior, she said. It’s rude. Don’t show it.

The lead story on the cover of the June 8 FYI section drew related criticism from multiple readers. It was a profile of recent Blue Valley High School graduates Sam Golbach and Colby Brock, who have amassed hundreds of thousands of fans online as “Sam and Colby.”

Their claim to fame? Short videos such as “Following Fat People,” where they mocked an overweight man by following him around a store while playing a plodding tune on a saxophone. Other video pranks have caused the pair trouble, such as one that saw them banned from Oak Park Mall.

The story noted they have changed their focus and are now promoting an inspirational slogan of “onward and upward.” But that didn’t impress all readers.

“Is this responsible journalism?” asked one emailer. “It sends a very mixed message to other youths that it’s okay to behave badly and poke fun of other people’s disadvantages to get notoriety if after the fact you claim to ‘change your ways’ after you have a name for yourself.”

I understand and even share some of these concerns. I recall a 2010 story in FYI about two men who traveled the country, demeaning business owners by arrogantly pointing out usually minor typos in their signage. It was eye-rollingly rude, and unworthy of coverage according to some readers.

Yet people do smoke. Kids do ride bikes without helmets. And people do achieve fame by mocking unwitting others. They just aren’t all newsworthy.

To reach Derek Donovan, call 816-234-4487 weekday mornings or send email to publiceditor@kcstar.com.

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