Readers have a responsibility to news too

Rewon Shimray | Cartoonist

This past month has brought some dynamic stories to the Lariat’s attention. From the possibility of former Baylor football player Shawn Oakman’s trial being moved to five alleged rapes on the Clery Crime and Fire Log, there have been shocking and dramatic headlines splayed across the front page.

When writing sensitive headlines, such as “Three rapes reported at South Russell,” we try to be intuitive and nuanced to portray the story as clearly as possible in a small word count. The headline is intended to get people to read the story, but in our fast-click society, we tend to share based on headline alone. We operate under the assumption that the headline is supposed to be representative of the story. Well, in the case of a Lariat article written last week, titled “Fifth alleged rape reported,” and many other stories like it, the headline only tells part of the story, and it’s up to the reader to find out what the rest of the story is — especially before they share it with their hundreds of Facebook friends.

We report the news. And we try to report it as accurately as humanly possible, although sometimes we don’t represent the story as fully as we would like to because of legal and ethical constraints of the various reporting systems, such as the Clery Act reporting and Title IX confidentiality. However, it’s still important that the reader absorb and understand what is going on in the text of the story, because oftentimes there are nuances that have to be read to be understood. For instance, in the article about three reported rapes on campus, the Lariat wrote specifics of an incident that couldn’t be inferred simply from the headline — specifically that all of the three cases were interconnected and involved the same individuals. Even today, the front page of the paper has a story about multiple rapes that have been reported to the Title IX office or the police department. There is much more than meets the eye in these cases, just as in the previous ones.

In order to fully comprehend the situation at hand, and therefore to appreciate the story in its completion, you have to actually read it. It’s not enough to skim and decide how you feel so you can post about it on social media, because as we learned on our own social media platforms, people who shared stories without reading tended to comment angrily about something that was clarified in the article itself. It was clear to us at the Lariat that people had not read an extremely short story — only 300 words or so — but had instead taken the headline at face value. Had they bothered to read the story, they would have understood the context of the case, and realized that it was not an epidemic problem, but rather an interconnected incident that the university was handling.

That being said, the Lariat serves as a watchdog publication for Baylor news. We will always fight to get stories that need to be told out to the public. We wouldn’t have reported that story if it weren’t important, and just because it wasn’t as inflammatory as uninformed readers might have thought doesn’t mean it wasn’t worthy of the story. This simply means it’s up to the reader to discern what the story is actually about.

In a society where journalism can be biased and not always trustworthy, it’s incredibly important for readers to take what they’re reading at more than face value. Read into it, check for subtext and compare the story with similar stories from other news sources. Read before you post, comment or share, because there may be underlying context in the story that the headline can’t portray, or there may be issues in the story that won’t be apparent without careful examination.

The Baylor Lariat is dedicated to sharing accurate and factual news, but our accurate and factual coverage only goes so far if our readership doesn’t bother to read past the first paragraph.