Sentinel Getting Slotty; Maucker Sidesteps Suicide Story

I know the Sun-Sentinel is desperate for ads and needs to keep the local pari-mutuel industry as one of its gold mines, but the cover of Showtime, its Friday entertainment mag,  was ridiculous. The cover included an image of a Monopoly slot machine with the headline: "Slots of fun."  The subhed: "Stereo sound, 3-D graphics, LED lighting ... today's machines will make your head spin." It led you to page 24 where staff writer Nick Sortal's article, headlined "Slot machines pump up the fun factor," begins:

Where can you shake like Tom Cruise in the cockpit, hear lines from The Sopranos or see an animated video of gold bars entering Fort Knox?

At a slot machine.

Players walk through casino doors hoping to hit the jackpot, but for many, it's also about entertainment.

Extraordinary: The Sentinel is blatantly pumping slot machines to its readers at the same time the economy is dumping in the toilet. Let's not forget that gambling, which I happen to enjoy, is a vice that wrecks lives. Understand that if you think the stock or real estate markets are bad, there are few worse places to put your money than a slot machine. The newspaper is gambling, too -- with its credibility. And if it keeps up this kind of nonsense, it's gonna lose big time.

 

-- SunSentinel Editor Earl Maucker wrote this Sunday about the newspaper's decision not to publish a story about Abraham Biggs, the kid from Pembroke Pines who overdosed on a web cam two weeks ago. He reveals that Metro Editor Dana Banker and her superviser (Phil Ward?) were against publishing the story because it violated the newspaper's policy against reporting on suicide and might encourage copycats.  

In the spirit of complete honesty, I didn't feel strongly about it one way or the other. I said I would respect their decision. ... The Miami Herald opted to publish a page one story on the incident that was well-written and thorough.

Should we have published the story as well?

It could be argued both ways: Publishing the story could make parents more aware and thus serve the pubic good, or God forbid, some young person reads the story or views the video and opts to take his or her own life.

There may not be a right or wrong answer, but we're confident we made the right call. Yes, our job is to tell interesting stories, and this one qualifies.

But we tend to be conservative when a vulnerable person could be at risk and the ultimate result of the story is to titillate rather than serve the public interest.

Way to take a stand, Mr. Maucker. It's another example of the Sentinel treating reality with kids' gloves. It's uncomfortable, will bother the family (as if that was a concern after the story made it to Drudge), and, God forbid, another kid might off himself on the Internet because we wrote about it. Why cover anything if you think this way? A man killed his girlfriend? Better not cover it, another boyfriend might get an idea. Terrorist attack in Mumbai? Nah, might give some other budding terrorists some ideas.

It doesn't work. I recently hit the issue of media coverage of suicide head-on and got mixed reviews from readers (one of whom obviously works on the Sentinel and was in denial about the newspaper's policy). So you know where I stand. That said, I don't think the Biggs case was a front-page story. More a 3B story. Still, it was definitely a story.

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