Journalism

Did College’s UNC Shooting Front Page Go (A Little) Too Far?

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‘The Daily Tar Heel’ created a UNC shooting front page that definitely attracted attention. But do you think it crossed any lines?

By now, you’ve probably seen or heard about a college newspaper’s controversial front page that used text messages sent during the recent shooting on the campus of the University of North Carolina. In covering the UNC shooting, the newspaper included uncensored language from actual texts sent during the incident.

Students exchanged the messages while the campus in Chapel Hill was locked down on Aug. 28. The shooting left a professor dead and authorities charged a graduate student in the killing.

The Daily Tar Heel largely received praise for what has been called an “emotional” front page. The emotion came from the text messages. Some of it probably came from the graphic language that the newspaper chose not to edit.

You can see the front page as it appeared here:

Along with messages like, “Hey – Come on sweetheart – I need to hear from you,” there are messages like “I’m in class. Everyone is losing it. People are literally shaking” and “please pray for us.” But some messages contain language that you wouldn’t expect to see in a newspaper — and certainly not on TV.

The very second line contains this one: “Guys I’m so f****** scared.” Another reads, “What the f*** is happening?”

This blog generally follows broadcast standards when it comes to language. So I don’t use F-bombs here. Television reports about the paper naturally blurred those F-words. But the paper chose to run them without blurring or editing.

When is ‘real life’ more like ‘shock value’?

The Poynter Institute for Media Studies, a non-profit journalism school and research organization, praised the front page. Its article on how the students at the paper decided on how to cover the UNC shooting praises the creativity of the final product.

The result was an impactful front page that has drawn nationwide attention.

Wednesday’s edition of The Daily Tar Heel features some of those text messages sent and received by UNC students. It’s in all caps, the font Myriad Pro Semibold Condensed, and mostly black bold type — with some red.

Amaris Castillo for Poynter

Nowhere in Poynter’s article does it even mention the profanity.

Forgive me for posting an unpopular opinion, but I think it was unnecessary. I think students of a school with a reputation like the University of North Carolina don’t need to actually see the F-word in print to be “impacted” by the gravity of a school shooting. When you have messages from parents frantic to know that their children are OK, the emotion is clearly there.

Profanity doesn’t heighten it. If anything, profanity cheapens it. It feels gratuitous to me. I can imagine the enthusiasm flowing through the room at a college paper at the thought of not censoring the profanity.

But I have to agree with the likes of the late Groucho Marx. The comedian once complained to talk show host Dick Cavett about the growing amount of nudity and graphic content in movies and even on the Broadway stage. He likewise complained about other comedians who relied on profanity.

“Anybody can say something dirty and get a laugh,” he said. “But say something clean and get a laugh: that requires a comedian.”

I realize I’m not a college newspaper’s target audience. In fact, I have been a college graduate for much longer than I care to admit. Still, I can’t help feeling that the profanity wasn’t necessary. I actually think it took a bit away from the emotion of the display.

We all know some people can’t compose a sentence without profanity these days. It might have been a nice break to focus on the message that included fear without F-bombs.

But that’s just my two cents.

Does the profanity bother you? Do you find it necessary or unnecessary?

the authorPatrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.