Shining light on the Heights
Recent article creates faulty picture of South Campus neighborhood
Published: Wednesday, September 4, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, September 4, 2013 00:09
Last week, while walking into his house on Northrup Place in the University Heights neighborhood, a UB senior (who prefers to remain anonymous) was robbed at gunpoint. He didn’t take any chances; once the perpetrator presented the firearm, he threw his stuff and ran immediately.
Other students have reported to The Spectrum that since Lisa Khoury’s article “The Heights of Fear” came out last February, nothing has changed. Many students still live in terror, knowing they run the risk of being a victim of violent crime at any moment.
Yet on Monday, an article in The Buffalo News painted a very different picture. The piece, “Student renters, University Heights residents band together at UB block party,” depicts the Heights as a delightful, up-and-coming neighborhood.
The article is centered on an event that took place Sunday, where the UB football team handed out t-shirts and the marching band, “Thunder of the East,” led a parade. Two residents were quoted but not one student.
The issue of crime was not even addressed.
One of the two residents interviewed expressed his biggest concern for the neighborhood was littering.
There was no mention throughout the article of the widely circulated 2013 Spectrumarticle (which received national media attention) that found 82 percent of 760 students polled felt the university should do more to improve the Heights; there was no mention that housing inspectors have issued over 750 violations to landlords in the neighborhood in the last two years; there was no mention that 54 percent of 787 students polled feel unsafe when they are in the Heights.
It is important to discuss the positive aspects of the Heights’ development, but it is also important to keep them in context. Perspective is vital and news coverage should provide all pertinent information.
Over 2,000 students live in the Heights – many because of its affordability.
“I know and hear of people who are being held at gunpoint all the time,” said another Heights resident and UB student, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “There are more cops on South Campus, for sure, but they’re not even willing to help. My roommate asked a cop to watch her walk home and he said something like, ‘I’m not your personal guard,’ or something of that sort. I even have anxiety walking to my car and my key takes a while to put in because I am literally shaking all the time.”
Monday’s article accentuated the university facilitating community engagement as a way the University Heights neighborhood has seen improvement. The residents were quoted saying they enjoyed a healthy exchange and positive relationship with the UB community relations people.
What about the students and faculty and parents and community members who were angered by Dennis Black, vice president for University Life and Services, saying “we are not in the protection business” – indicative of UB’s hands-off approach to the South Campus neighborhood?
One resident is quoted saying, “I’ve seen a positive change in the last year or so… I’ve been seeing a serious reduction in crime.” Really?
Not only did this article provide a very incomplete portrait of the neighborhood, it provided no statistics. None. There is no corroborating evidence to any of the claims purported in the piece.
How could a prominent, regional newspaper such as The Buffalo News publish such an article? Not only does it fail to meet the criteria expected for reporting – seeking out all possible, relevant voices to provide analysis, depth and detail – but it misleads the reader about the condition of the neighborhood. Some student who reads the piece could think it is now safer, and when he or she goes there could be accosted. The Heights can be an attractive place during the day, but at night, it becomes dangerous. Ask any student who lives there – something the article neglected to do.
One of the things we don’t want is for students receive faulty information that could put them in harm’s way. The Heights is perilous. Period. Students should be aware of what precautions to take. The article’s misrepresentation could potentially put young lives in jeopardy.
“They shouldn’t be reporting that it’s safe if it’s clearly not,” said the second student speaking under anonymity.
Many of us are from the Buffalo area and have grown up with The Buffalo News. We greatly admire them and consider them our big brother publication. But sometimes, a big brother must be called out. This specific article’s coverage was a violation of journalism ethics and protocol.
There are sins of omission and sins of commission. This was a sin of omission. Excluding an entire dimension of an issue and propagating one side of the story is not reporting – it’s doing public injustice.