WIVB fails in reporting on the Heights

Recent report riddled with flaws, presents incomplete picture

On November 14, 2013

Students being robbed at gunpoint - some being burglarized inside their homes; innumerable housing violations; the University Police not having jurisdiction to patrol the neighborhood; scores of students and community members distraught over the university not doing enough to combat horrid living conditions.

These are just some of the stories media outlets in Buffalo should be paying attention to regarding the University Heights neighborhood. But on Monday, WIVB Channel 4 focused on something else - public urination.

In an absurd display of reporting, WIVB chose to run a story that seemed more like something that would come out of The Onion than it would a serious news channel.

The story is about how the university has decided to install portable toilets near the bus stops on South Campus.

WIVB chose to interview students around South Campus talking about the trend of students - in some cases themselves - urinating on campus buildings. The interviewer used that as a way to address the ongoing debate of whether UB should monitor its buses transporting drunk students to and from South Campus.

He asked students if they ever use the bus system to get from North Campus to South Campus to go to the library.

"I have never used the buses to come down here to go to the library," said UB student Will Robinson. Before, he and another student said they use the bus to get to South Campus in order to party.

The problem with this type of reporting is that it is an example of what literary theorists might call a synecdoche - taking the part for the whole. It portrays UB students as imbeciles - only interested in partying and not interested in the pursuit of knowledge.

But what the reporter didn't do was actually go to the library and ask the students in there how many of them use the buses. Instead, he engaged in a one-sided report that falsely depicts our student community as philistines.

In fact, WIVB cameramen staked out the bus stops at night when there is a likelihood there will be many college students engaging in nightlife activities. This is not to say that the drinking component of the college experience is not prevalent within our community, it is, but it is only a facet of it.

And the way this report engages its subject and specifically excludes other facets of our community is a misleading form of journalism. What it did include portrayed UB in a very negative light.

But what should be portrayed in a negative light is the university's hands-off approach to the problems within the Heights. With all the egregious things going on in the Heights that receive very little attention, WIVB chose to cover this - drunk students peeing on buildings.

The university administration's remedy: Porta Potties. This is tantamount to using a Band-Aid for a gunshot wound.

And this report does show one resident commenting on how silly these Porta Potties look on a college campus. "It absolutely solves no problem whatsoever," Bernard Kunz told WIVB. "It's not good enough. It's ridiculous. It's disrespectful to the community and it just looks ridiculous."

He gave an intelligent answer and made a valid point about the appearance of this measure. Think about it: Can you imagine Porta Potties in Harvard Yard?

But all of the students they interviewed were unable to provide intelligent, reasonable answers.

They apparently couldn't find one UB student to comment on the matter who could resemble the majority of the student body - cultivated and discerning.

The ridiculousness of Channel 4's coverage could have dissuaded the reasonable students from participating. But that is likely not the case. The likelihood is that WIVB reporters didn't look hard enough or thoroughly enough to find the real answers - because they already knew what story they wanted.

With all the dire questions surrounding the Heights in need of probing, WIVB demonstrated misplaced priorities in its recent reporting.

If our community wants to see the changes the Heights needs, we need honest reporting from our news sources. And if WIVB is the only source paying attention to the Heights, we shouldn't expect those changes anytime soon.


email: editorial@ubspectrum.com

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