Newspaper Publishes Offensive Facebook Post

Journalism is a tough business.  Reporters, editors, photographers, producers, and so many others work hard day in and day out to put out a quality product.  Words and images are chosen carefully, and facts are delicately presented to show a fair and objective account of the day’s news.  In smaller markets especially, there is a constant effort to earn and maintain the trust of the audience through tasteful reporting.

That’s why a Facebook post from the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle Wednesday came as such a shock.  It was a link to a national story about a Muslim teen from Texas who was arrested after bringing a homemade digital clock to school.  He hopes to be an engineer and wanted to show his teacher what he made.  Instead he was arrested after the school claimed he brought the object to school as a bomb threat.  Police have since announced the teen, Ahmed Mohamed, will not be charged.  He has since been invited to Facebook, NASA, the White House by President Obama.

So how did the D&C tease the story on Facebook?  “Allllllah-hu-clockbar.”clock comment

The story is essentially about the dangers of racial profiling and stereotypes, and this reputable newspaper invented a stereotypical sounding name – with a play on words – to get more clicks.  It’s a recent trend.  Last week, for a story about the dismal first day attendance rate for Rochester city schools, a Facebook post by the same paper read “Fail.”  I agree.  It was a “Fail” – especially for the D&C.

The Democrat & Chronicle has always prided itself on serving the community.  And rightly so.  Its editorial board and reporters work tirelessly to serve as a watchdog for our community.  They hold leaders accountable, and help lead the conversation on how to make Rochester a better place to call home.  This is an excerpt straight from their website:

“Backed by decades of experience and relentless dedication, our team of professionals work diligently to uphold the highest standards, providing Rochester’s most trusted sources for news and information.”

It’s pretty clear the paper fell short of those standards this week – not in its reporting, but on social media.  Sadly, not everyone will see the difference.  The clock comment attracted several negative comments from readers on the D&C’s Facebook page.  Editors did eventually acknowledge the misstep, responding with a stock message: “We removed the post linking to the Ahmed Mohamed story. We regret the wording and tone of the comment accompanying the post.”

Hopefully this was a lesson that sinks in.  These are still difficult times for newspapers, and many have adopted a more edgy presentation online to attract younger readers.  That’s fine, but there’s always a time and a place.  Sometimes it’s best to just stick to the facts.