Gerber: Good news, bad news, newspaper reflects our city

Gerber: Good news, bad news, newspaper reflects our city

March 10th, 2013 by Alison Gerber in Opinion Columns

A 16-year-old killed on the street.

An inmate brawl at a North Georgia prison, caught on a phone video, after guards confiscated nearly 140 cellphones.

Two police officers beating a federal inmate so hard and for so long that his legs broke.

The FBI investigates an agent who has received special treatment from local law enforcement officers and put the FBI's sex crime task force at risk.

Two members of the Bloods gang walk away from first-degree murder charges after a witness to a homicide refuses to testify against them. A judge admonishes witnesses and those celebrating the dropped charges. "Wild hyena craziness," she said. "What is our society coming to?" she asked.

That's some of the news the paper covered in recent weeks.

In the newsroom, people have commented that a lot of "hard news" has broken lately. But it all depends on your perspective. A reader asked me why we were putting so much "bad news" on the front page. "So much doom and gloom," she said.

The front page this week also included stories about Chattanoogans electing a new mayor, the ever-popular Ringgold Wedding Chapel, technology plans in local schools, the pollen count diminishing last month and a new traffic signal aimed at reducing accidents on Highway 153.

The reader agreed that she'd consider those stories "good news," but said they get overshadowed by the bad.

It seems the "bad news" sometimes sticks with people longer.

Certainly, on the newspaper's website, readers gravitate to stories of death, conflict and corruption first. Those stories gets lots of page views. I suspect that, in print, those stories are well read, too, but there's no way to know exactly how many people read them.

The newspaper tries to be an accurate reflection of this community. Good things happen here. Elections take place. Local teams win important games. New leaders are chosen for a hospital and a university. Old-time fiddlers gather. Local soldiers return from a year-long tour in the Middle East. Those are all stories we also covered in recent days.

But we cannot ignore the life-and-death events -- like when a teenager is gunned down in public -- because those are the issues we struggle with as a society. These are the things that shouldn't happen and they must be noted when they do.

So we write about violence along with efforts to reduce crime, and we find a way to put a human face on the crushing issue of mental illness, and we document job losses and what's being done to create new jobs here.

When former Chattanooga city official Kernardo Curry was accused of stealing from the city seven years ago, the story ran on the front page. When he was found not guilty last week on charges of official misconduct and theft, we put the story on page one, above the fold.

Was the latest story good news or bad news? Like so many of our stories, it depends on the reader's personal point of view.

But to us, it's just news.