The News Buries the Lede in the Komen Story

Just want to make sure you know what you're getting into if you count on The Dallas Morning News to tell you what's up. It's not that they won't. But you do have to deal with the social local filter.

The New York Times this morning carries a story by Times staffer Natasha Singer under a headline, "Calls Grow for Leader of Komen to Step Down." Oh my gosh. That's our Nancy Brinker. She is a very focal social local.

You know the back story. The Komen Foundation, Brinker's breast cancer advocacy group, outraged women nationally recently by going on the muscle against Planned Parenthood over abortion rights.

Brinker, widow of Dallas franchise king Norm Brinker, tried to make the mess go away by calling off her group's vendetta against Planned Parenthood, but apparently a simple ceasefire failed to do the trick. People are still mad. Nobody wants to run in the Komen pink-ribbon races, and today's Times story says two more top executives have bailed.

But the part of the story we call "the lede" in newspapering (an old printer's term) was the call for Brinker herself to go. That was the news. Not the bailing employees.

It was the headline in Singer's story, and it was the first sentence: "Calls for the resignation of Nancy G. Brinker, the founder and chief executive of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the breast cancer charity, grew Wednesday amid news that a second high-profile executive was leaving the group."

Two Komen executives quit? Ehh. Not really a story. People want Brinker out? Yup, that's a story.

But this same story, credited to The New York Times and to Natasha Singer, ran inside this morning's print version of The Dallas Morning News, without the story. Sort of. The News ran it, but they put it under a quite different headline with a totally different lede. Their headline was "Komen Losing 2 Executives in Wake of Decisions."

If you read all the way down through six long paragraphs, you will find one brief paragraph that says, "More than 1,000 people have signed an online petition" calling for Brinker to go.

Now, if you're like me and you have been a loyal reader of The Dallas Morning News all these many years -- because you sort of have to be -- then you know how to deal with the social local filter. It's sort of a process.

You see the name, "Komen," over a story. Right away, that's a focal social local story, so you know in advance that it will be upside down and written in funny ink. It's what I call a Morning News not-a-story-story. It's only in there because they know it's going to be published elsewhere. But it's damage control.

For your part, your job is to hold your nose shut and dive in through the bilge, at least halfway down, probably two-thirds toward the bottom. There you will find what it is they don't want you to find. You are looking for the least little drive-by breezy dry-facts mention of a tidbit tossed in toward the bottom like a half-eaten doughnut in a trashcan.

That is a Dallas Morning News lede.

Now place, please, your index finger on The Morning News not-a-lede-lede. You don't want to lose it and have to go through all that bilge diving again. Proceed to the Internet. Google, "more than 1,000 sign petition calling for Brinker to resign."

Aha! There it is: New York Times, Seattle Times, Facebook, Huff Post, they've all got it. See. If you want to know what's happening in Dallas, ask somebody in Seattle.

To be fair, The Morning News did come back this morning at 7:40 with their own online piece under the byline of a Morning News staffer, Christina Rosales, in which the call for Brinker to resign has been bumped up to the second paragraph. But the headline is still a no-news-here-really announcement that, "Several Komen Officials Step Down After Planned Parenthood Controversy."

That would fall under the journalistic rubric: So what else is new? That's been going on for weeks. We know they've been resigning like flies. So what?

When I read a headline like that, I always imagine the cop outside the scene of a shootout telling people, "Nothin' here to see folks, let's keep it movin', y'all need to return to your homes."

Sort of the opposite of the old, "THIS JUST IN!!!" You know, when you actually want people to read the story?

The online version goes to a younger audience, of course -- people who can take it, I guess. The whole arrangement -- not-a-story-story in print, semi-not-a-story online -- safely spares those people in the demographic known in the business as "the golden oldies" from what the News obviously thinks is more truth than they can handle. Or more truth than Nancy Brinker can handle.

So, anyway, the good news is that we have now successfully spelunked our way through a Dallas Morning News story filter. Next time we should know how to do it. 1) Red-flag for social local. 2) Hold nose and dive. 3) Find irrelevant tidbit. 4) Google.

The question will remain, why bother? To that, I have no answer.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze

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