The Buffalo News’ irresponsible coverage of the University Heights must end

Paper has chosen to focus on partying rather than crime, sensationalize drinking

Sensationalizing. Not getting both sides or reporting the full story.

These are things we as student journalists are taught not to do from Day One. These are also things The Buffalo News has done in its continued coverage of student partying in the University Heights.

The newspaper’s most recent article on the Heights, published Sunday and entitled “Halloween relatively tame in University Heights,” was the final straw for our editorial board. We feel we must say something about this irresponsible and unprofessional journalism. It’s our responsibility to do so.

Sunday’s article was a particularly bad example of an attempt to make a nonstory a story.

The article quotes residents and police who say this Halloween weekend in the Heights was tame compared to past years, with fewer students crowding the streets looking for parties and fewer arrests for things such as underage drinking and public intoxication.

But that’s not how the reporter framed the story.

The story leads with three students carrying a woman’s limp body down the street while trying to avoid police. It goes on to report students stumbling on the sidewalk, rolling in the grass, standing on top of the UB entrance sign and being arrested for urinating while in line for the Stampede.

Of course the reporter should document and report what she saw. But to frame the article in this way – interjecting anecdotes of rowdy drunken behavior between the quotes from residents, community leaders and police saying the weekend wasn’t that bad – is wrong. It’s misleading. It’s sensationalism. It’s biased.

One of our editorial board’s biggest grievances against The Buffalo News’ coverage of the Heights has been the reporter’s choice not to interview students about the issue, as was again the case with Sunday’s article. The reporter chose to simply quote students’ drunken yells that she overheard, quoting students saying things like “I want to take shots. But if I take shots I’m about to start puking!” and “I have to pee so bad!”

When The Spectrum reported in the Heights the first weekend of the semester, we approached and spoke with both residents and students – and not just because these students are our peers. We did so because getting both sides is what a journalist does.

It wasn’t necessarily pleasant to approach partying students or students throwing the parties. Most did not want to speak with us. Some were angry we reporting about the issue at all. We were putting ourselves at a risk for confrontation, but a responsible journalist at least tries to get both sides.

And if The Buffalo News had taken the time to speak with students, their reporter might have realized that not all students are looking to make life miserable for their neighbors, and that the issues in the neighborhood go far beyond partying. Some students told us from their front porches that they try to be accommodating to their neighbors.

They’ve set ground rules with them about how late and loud their parties are. Some even said they have good relationships with their neighbors. Some residents said the same.

You won’t see that element in any of The Buffalo News’ reporting.

If The Buffalo News had taken to time to speak with students, it may have also heard the stories of crime and absentee landlordism these students face everyday – an element that has been completely missing from the newspapers’ coverage of the neighborhood.

The Spectrum has been reporting on these issues and attempting to bring attention to them for years – but you won’t see any mention of that in The Buffalo News’ reporting. Its articles are too busy gloatingly taking credit for increased police crackdowns on student partying.

The newspaper has chosen to focus on one of the more minuscule problems in the neighborhood. The biggest problem in the Heights in not college students partying, it’s the crime and absentee landlordism and UB’s continued hands-off approach.

“And the alcohol-fueled crowd created some harrowing scenes,” Sunday’s article says.

You know what’s harrowing? Students getting robbed at knife- and gunpoint. Students living in houses with faulty wiring and without smoke detectors. The students’ university refusing to take active measures to improve the neighborhood.

We as an editorial board demand The Buffalo News change its approach on covering this topic. Cover the underage drinking and parties but also cover the real issues. Report on students’ behavior, but do so ethically and without sensationalism. And yes, interview a student or two next time.

It’s what a responsible journalist would do.