Last week, fliers circulated around campus calling for the celebration of “Straight Pride Week.” Youngstown State University students quickly took action, identified the fliers as offensive and removed them from campus bulletin boards.
As a hyper local news source, we proceeded to do our job, and we adequately reported on what we considered an interesting local story — running both a news article below the fold of our paper’s front page and an editorial on our opinion page. And we thought that would be about the extent of this story’s coverage.
We were wrong.
Since last week, the story of the straight pride posters has blown up. National news organizations — from The Washington Post to ABC News to The Huffington Post — decided to cover the story. And pictures of the rainbow colored posters plastered our Facebook feeds.
So, here’s our question: what is the impact of national news organizations covering a story about an instance of bigotry occurring at YSU — a story that we didn’t even deem worthy of The Jambar’s front page, above-the-fold real estate.
With the Supreme Court expected to rule on the right to same-sex marriage this summer and the vast majority of the youth population now in favor of same-sex marriage, there’s a lot of buzz surrounding the issue. It’s chic. It’s in. So when news sources got a chance to cover a story about bigotry on a college a campus — a place generally associated with progressive and accepting perspectives — they understandably and promptly pounced.
And, on an individual basis, national news outlets seemingly covered this story responsibly. They gave the facts, provided a picture of the straight week flier and included information obtained from multiple sources.
But, when multiple sources cover this story at the national level, there’s an unfortunate cumulative impact: mass attention given to a few insipid posters hung on a bulletin board — posters so few in number that no one on the editorial board even saw one — gives the issue a false sense of importance and inaccurately portrays YSU as a place of intolerance.
In reality, the posters were probably created by either one student or a small group of students who had access to a printer and had a few prints left over from the 500 prints allotted at the semester’s start. The posters and their creator(s) are neither worth the attention of national news outlets nor are representative of the YSU community.
Though no one on this editorial board identifies as a member of the LGBT+ community, we don’t think YSU is particularly inhospitable. As far as we can see, most students at YSU are not jerks — most don’t have a problem with the LGBT+ community. And even those who oppose the legalization of gay marriage don’t outwardly show their disapproval by disrespecting members of this community. And this claim is consistent with the opinion expressed by Tim Bortner, president of YSU’s LGBT+ student organization YSUnity, who said that — aside from a few snickers here and there — he has not witnessed bullying on campus during the past two years.
National news organizations, then, should consider their own significance when reporting on this kind of a story, grappling with questions like does the mere process of shining national light on this story give false credence to an ignoramus with access to a printer? And does national attention accurately depict the culture and character of the story’s local setting?
And if these news sources aren’t willing to grapple with these questions, then maybe it’s best to leave this kind of reporting to us —The Jambar’s got this.