Just a glance at the headlines in the two Boston dailies this morning telegraphs each paper’s emphasis in a story about the Provincetown School Committee voting two weeks ago to make condoms available to students in its elementary school and high school.
Herald, top of page 7: P’Town puts condoms in kids’ hands
Globe, below the fold on page 1: Condoms, secrecy for Provincetown pupils: Parents, officials criticize policy
The first two paragraphs of each story expand on the headlines.
Here’s the top of the Herald story.
A new policy in Provincetown to make condoms available to even first-graders is being called “absurd” and a frantic overreaction to sex education.
“What’s next? Birth control pills?” asked Kris Mineau, head of the conservative group Massachusetts Family Institute.
Here’s the top of the Globe story.
Students in Provincetown — from elementary school to high school — will be able to get free condoms at school under a recently approved policy that takes effect this fall. The rule also requires school officials to keep student requests secret, and ignore parents’ objections.
“The intent is to protect kids,’’ said School Superintendent Beth Singer, who wrote the policy that the Cape Cod town’s School Committee unanimously passed two weeks ago. “We know that sexual experimentation is not limited to an age, so how does one put an age on it?’’
For comparison’s sake, here’s the top of the June 11 story on the website of the Provincetown Banner, headlined “School leaders OK condom policy in Provincetown.”
A condom distribution policy at the elementary and high school here was approved by the school committee on Tuesday.
Some committee members were concerned that the policy requires students to speak with a school nurse or other trained counselor before receiving a condom. However, Dr. Beth Singer, school superintendent, argued that since there is no age limit on the distribution policy, she wanted to ensure that younger students requesting condoms receive information on their use.
The Banner begins its story by doing no more than stating the Provincetown School Committee took the action. It reports that some School Committee members were “concerned,” but immediately follows that up with reassurances from the superintendent of schools. The Banner story, which is only seven paragraphs long, quotes only the superintendent and three school committee members, all of whom were in favor of the policy. No controversy there.
The start of the Globe story only hints that this may be a controversial decision, emphasizing that the Provincetown policy requires school official to “ignore parents’ objections.” It doesn’t say the new policy is controversial, but “ignore” is a loaded verb (as opposed to, say, “not consider”) guaranteed to plant a thought in the reader’s mind that would go something like this: “Ignore the parents? Well, that’s going to tick off some people.”
The first paragraph of the Herald story — with its “even first-graders” and “‘absurd’” and “frantic overreaction” — makes it clear that giving condoms to school children is at least controversial and perhaps, as the British say, barmy.
Despite its beginning, the full 12-paragraph Herald story devotes six of its paragraphs to sources in favor of the policy (the superintendent and the School Committee chair) three paragraphs to reporting neutral information (including a neutral statement from a state Department of Education official). Only three of the paragraphs in the story are devoted to a vocal opponent (the head of the “conservative group” the Massachusetts Family Institute).
But those are the first three paragraphs of the story, and that makes the emphasis of the story clearly hostile to the Provincetown policy.
Counting sources and paragraphs in the Globe story reveals a textbook journalistic balance. There are three sources in favor of the policy (the superintendent, the School Committee chair, and the chair of the Board of Selectmen) and three against (a parent, the town manager, and the head of the Massachusetts Family Institute). Each side gets nine paragraphs. Eight paragraphs are devoted to reporting neutral facts.
Like the Herald story, though, what the reporters and editors chose to put at the top of the story — in the first five paragraphs — reveals an emphasis that appears to support the Provincetown policy.
A news story may be balanced in its distribution of sources and its quotes from the two sides, but it is the top of the story, the first few paragraphs, that signal what is most important in the story, which side gets the most prominent play, and what most readers will come away with.
Yet another reason to be glad we live in a city with two daily newspapers.
AND ANOTHER THING
Today's Mangled Metaphor Of The Day comes from Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker, quoted in Yvonne Abraham's column in this morning's Globe on the mounting problems with state's finances and what Baker agues is Beacon Hill's inadequate response.
“I feel like we’re just kicking the can,’’ he says. “And eventually, it’s going to blow up.’’
What the heck is in that can?
Follow Mark Leccese on Twitter at @mleccese.
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