By Matt Johnson
Needless to say, when the article popped up on my Facebook feed, I was dumbfounded by what was on my screen. I asked myself the following question in several ways, just to make sure I hadn’t completely lost my mind. Here’s one example of the question,
Did the Star Tribune just publish an article about the reporter’s clothes who was reporting the Jacob Wetterling story? What the f…?
For those of you not familiar with this case, the Jacob Wetterling story and discovery of his body is probably one of the biggest stories in Minnesota in quite some time. And although the Wetterling family had been dealing with this tragedy for almost 30 years, in many ways they weren’t alone in their grief.
If you were in Minnesota at the time of Jacob’s abduction in late October of 1989, you were effected in a profound way, no matter if you were a young kid or an adult. This event resonated and it was personal, even though most of us didn’t know Jacob personally.
Jacob and I were the same age. And today, he probably would be a father and a husband. He would be paying taxes and bitching and complaining about how terrible the Twins are. But on that day, he wasn’t doing anything different from any other boy living in Minnesota at the time. So yeah, this is personal, which is why this article by C.J. is that much more disturbing and I felt it merited a posting on the TSS Facebook page.
Like I said, I was dumbfounded and still not sure of what I was looking at. This was the result:
I posted this article on TSS’s Facebook page yesterday evening. And even as a new, wet behind the ears Editor-in-chief, I knew it was inappropriate. But frankly, I’m not surprised that the Star Tribune editor published the piece.
As a mathematical scientist by training and someone who is greatly influenced by Thomas Kuhn’s philosophy of science, I know and understand that industries, like different disciplines of science, are deeply embedded in their respective paradigms. And the current paradigm of modern journalism is no exception. The industry is blinded by its own pipeline of textbook journalists. In short, this pipeline has helped to create an industry that isn’t critical of itself, nor is it proactive in its thinking process of perspective taking and making distinctions. Rather, it only responds to criticism and is thus reactive, and playing with a tool set that is not compatible with the modern, dynamical world.
As an example, here is the response by the Star Tribune after a plethora of backlash on Facebook (they took down that posting), on Twitter (that’s not going anywhere), and probably on the Star Tribune’s website itself (unfortunately, those telling comments are gone):
As a couple of Star Tribune followers on Twitter retorted
For those of our readers outside of Minnesota, a dolt is similar to an idiot. I would prefer to use the term intellectually vacant to describe what happened in the editorial room of the Star Tribune. And it appears that that intellectual vacancy was accompanied by a lack of emotional intelligence with respect to both Jana Shortal and the Wetterling family. That is
…the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.
It is beyond me how the editor of the paper did not realize the gravity of this story and how Minnesotans would respond to C.J.’s article. The editor should have anticipated the cultural response. But more than that, how is it that the premise of the article was perceived as being a good idea in the first place?
Fortunately, the backlash by the readers was “swift, emotional, collective, and punitive,” and the article has been taken down. Unfortunately, this probably won’t be the last time the Star Tribune or any other traditional news media outlet in Minnesota or the United States publishes an article like this in a situation like this.
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