I know a thing or two about bad reputations. They tend to stick with you. Growing up in Philadelphia, I can’t count how many times I’ve heard someone cite the “throwing snowballs at Santa Claus” story to prove just how despicable Philly sports fans are. Or after four years attending an all-male high school, I still receive those “what’s wrong with this kid” stares when I tell people where I graduated from.
Unfortunately, sometimes a reputation just can’t be overcome. It’s hard to change people’s minds once they believe something is true.
Bloomsburg students face a similar problem in regards to our annual Block Party event. Two years ago, some students embarrassed their classmates and their school by behaving like complete idiots. Nobody will defend the way this group acted. It was dangerous, immature, and ruined the day for everyone else involved.
In the months following the incident, the Bloomsburg University community deservedly received a lot of criticism. I can understand where the backlash against Block Party came from. It is easy to look back on the videos of students throwing beer bottles recklessly through the air and recognize that the event was out of control. We understand that sentiment.
So the students and town worked together to fix this problem. We implemented the wristband system in an attempt to limit the amount of out-of-town students who might visit. We added street vendors to sell food near the festivities to prevent students from taking Block Party into town once they got hungry. We organized clean-ups the next day to erase the mess we made. We worked together to turn around the negative reputation surrounding Block Party.
Our efforts worked. Since 2005, arrests have dropped, the clean-up has been quicker and more effective, and the students have still enjoyed themselves.
In an interview with WNEP, Bloomsburg Police Chief Leo Sokoloski described Block Party 2009 saying, “Lots of students, lots of vibrance, lots of activity, very few problems. I think overall a successful day.”
So you would think that everyone would be feeling pretty good about our town come Sunday morning. Not in Bloomsburg though. It is never that easy.
The Press Enterprise front page headline following the event read, “Party mostly peaceful.” Alright. We can live with that. The party was mostly peaceful. A handful of arrests. Maybe a few scuffles. A few problems are always expected. We are talking about an alcohol-fueled college bash here.
Where the problem arises is when we look at the photo the Press Enterprise decided to run on the front page with that headline. What would you expect to see accompany a headline referencing a relatively peaceful gathering? Maybe police over-looking a group of students enjoying a band’s performance? Maybe photos of the clean-up afterwards? Maybe curious young adults petting the police horses and posing for pictures. Those would make sense right? Unfortunately, they wouldn’t exactly support the Press Enterprise’s anti-BU agenda.
Instead we were treated to a photo showing a young man bleeding from the head, laying on the ground with two police officers restraining him. “Party mostly peaceful.” I wouldn’t be surprised to see this page on the tonight show next week with Jay Leno using it for a good laugh.
The problem is, this coverage isn’t funny. It is irresponsible journalism and honestly a disgrace to the profession. I understand the Press Enterprise serves the community and feels obligated to provide the town with the news they want to read, but this latest example crossed the line.
I can’t overstate how disgraceful this tactic is. This photo failed in every possible way to accurately portray the 2009 Block Party experience. It was misleading, unprofessional, and untruthful. Most of all, it was a petty attempt from the Press Enterprise staff to take yet another cheap shot at Bloomsburg University in spite of the hard work and success we have had in transforming Block Party into a responsible gathering.
Check out the Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics sometime.
Make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.
Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.
Here is one I want you to pay special attention to.
Admit mistakes and correct them promptly.
While there will always be controversy surronding the event, the only reputation that was disgraced at this year’s Block Party was that of our local newspaper.