The crime beat in Memphis must be a difficult gig. Clearly it’s the number one issue for the city. It is ever present, oppressive and depressing. It’s no surprise that those that have to deal with it develop a dark, gallows humor. Policeman, first responders and journalists all fall ill to it. It’s a coping mechanism and totally understandable.

The weekend crime reporter for the Commercial Appeal is Ryan Poe. This past week, he put together a story about a woman being drug from a car on Southern avenue by her hair. Luckily, she’s going to recover and the assailant (her boyfriend) is in custody. It’s a terriable but typical crime story in a city chock full of them.

What caught me was Poe’s lede. I’m afraid that the lede was yanked, so I can’t quote it directly. But in essence it said that the victim was “shaken to her roots” by the incident. I was pretty surprised that someone would try to crack a lame joke at the expense of the victim in an assault case. So I sent off a message via Twitter to both Poe and the Commercial Appeal.

“@memphisnews @ryanpoe the “shaken to her roots line” was ugly and inappropriate.”

I didn’t think much about it until the next day when Poe replied:

“@edlarnold I’m sorry to hear the line apparently shook you to your roots also. Thanks for the feedback though.”

Obviously, it was a pretty backhanded comment. So presented with opportunity to pick his brain about why he would write it, I asked:

“@ryanpoe how about “she’ll try to turn the other cheek after her boyfriend punched her in the face”? so what’s the difference?”

Sadly, Poe wasn’t mature enough to have this conversation and decided that he would once again try lame humor:

“@edlarnold Hey, that’s over the line, and I’m deeply offended that you would joke about such things. You should be ashamed of yourself.”

and I responded:

“@ryanpoe both are glib comments about the victims of violent crimes. Only you did it to an actual person. Congrats. Hope it was worth it.”

So in light of that, Poe decided to dig in:

“”Shaken to her roots” was definitely worth it. Learn to laugh a little Ed.”

I’m afraid the defense of “hey, lighten up” doesn’t really cut it. So I made my point clear as I could:

“@ryanpoe laughing at the victims of violent crime is the worst kind of “humor.” We can see how much you don’t want to be wrong on this. You made a mistake, it happens. But your obnoxious defense is really showing your true colors.”

During the exchange, the  official Commercial Appeal twitter feed informed me that:

“@edlarnold Thanks for getting in touch about the article yesterday. The line was shown to editorial and removed.”

Poe wouldn’t engage further in the subject though he did decide to tack some more snark on a few hours later, tweeting this after writing up a story about a headache powder robbery:

“I would say that they gave the company a migraine, but that might offend @edlarnold, so…”

I tried to put myself in his situation. I am completely sympathetic to the original lede. It was a toss-off line. One that he himself thought might be “too cheesy” (as his twitter feed showed). It could happen to anyone trying to find a good lede for such a story. I could completely see myself making this same mistake.

The problem comes in his reaction.

The newspaper by nature is a public service. Sometimes people find elements of the newspaper to be offensive or out of bounds. When these sort of conflicts arise, its the job of the reporters to engage with the readers and defend their point of view. The paper can get it wrong, the public can get it wrong, but it is the dialog that bonds the community to the reporters and the papers. If Poe had an intellectual underpinning to his argument, I’d have been glad to hear it and debate it. He didn’t have one that I could see. In essence, Poe wants me to lighten up, take the joke with its intended lack of malice and go away.

The victim of the crime might not ever have her name in the public eye again. She was attacked and brutalized, the last thing she and her family need to see is a flip joke leading the story about it. That’s why, in general, hacky jokes are frowned upon in the crime section. The only jokes that are appropriate are one’s that lampoon the criminal rather than the victim.

The sad part is, I think Poe’s decided that I’m some overly serious nitpicker who is just trolling for things to be mad about and that the paper’s decision to kill the lede within a day of its original posting was just pandering. So I’m fairly certain that he feels there are no lesson’s to be gleaned from this.

Mistakes happen all the time, we all make them. It’s how you deal with and react to mistakes that show your character.



Filed under Media, Memphis

4 responses to “Mistakes

  1. GG

    Good grief, man, the line had already been pulled. In other words, his employer had already given him some sort of reprimand, or at least let him know that he’d screwed up.

    If you came after me on Twitter, bugging me about some screwup I’d made at my job–one for which I’d already been reprimanded by my employer–I’d do exactly what he did: try to deflect it with jokes. On the inside, though, I’d be wondering why this nosy, intrusive person is rubbing my nose in my mistake, and hoping you’d go away.

    I know there’s a difference when it’s a public job like journalism. Nonetheless, I really think you come off worse than he does in this exchange.

  2. Your point’s valid. The lede was in poor taste and his response was even worse.

    Now, on one hand, GG up there has a point too. The lede was pulled; you had your argument; it’s over. We all live to spill a few more words onto the page another day.

    But on the other hand, the situation is a troubling indicator of a larger problem. The current climate of the CA website’s crime report and comment section is SHAMEFUL. The Commercial Appeal Crime Report Fan Club (or CACRFC, as they call themselves) have been spreading the snark thick on the report for years now. They’ve become a force to be reckoned with, using the crime report as a public chat room and chasing away anyone who dare speak against them on the boards. I think they’ve pretty much got the entire comment landscape on lockdown, and I hear they’re becoming friends in “real life” as well. The commenters write puns and barbs on pretty much every crime story, and I think they frequently cross the line. That same callous mentality has apparently crept into the articles themselves. I have a feeling Ryan Poe is well aware of the big laugh the lede would have gotten out of the CACRFC. But that? That’s a serious compromise of journalistic integrity, and it is SUPER bad form for an organization that is supposed to exist solely to protect and inform its citizenry to make light of one of its own citizens being attacked. Honestly, I think they (the commenters and reporters) must think no one involved in a crime would ever read the paper.

    I understand both sides of it; I really do. Not only am I an ex-reporter, but I’m a sucker for a bad joke. I love writing them and I love reading them. In fact, I clearly remember the day the CACRFC was born, right in front of my eyes. I used to work at the CA, and I would constantly refresh the site to keep up on news during the workday. A story was getting tons of comments, several per minute. I clicked. For the rest of the day, I watched a group of commenters post increasingly hilarious puns on a crime report story about a man’s body being found in a yard when his foot surfaced. The guy’d been beating his wife; she and someone else shot him; they buried him in the yard. Everything came to light when a year or so later the woman told a maintenance man, “don’t mow over Wayne.” I still have a printout of the story and comments in my files. (Seriously.) In its earliest moments, I loved the CACRFC. But like so many people who think they wield the tiniest bit of power do, they’ve become bloated and inconsiderate jerks.

    And to know that the reporter not only defended his joke but also was an asshole to a reader? Publicly? On Twitter? Too far, folks. Too far.

    • The only thing I’ll say in defense of the “you should’ve let it go after the lede was killed” charge is, I didn’t know the lede was gone until I was knee deep in the back and forth with Poe. I suspect I should’ve just ignored it, but as we all know, when you’re offended by something its often hard to ignore.

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