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A Tale of Two Approaches to Buffalo State Story


As you may know, I teach three communication courses at Buffalo State College.

So I know the Elmwood Avenue college campus pretty well.

Or at least I thought I did until I watched a story by Channel 4 reporter Anthony Congi earlier this week about a rape that allegedly occurred at a recent campus party.

Congi’s report noted that there have been a number of crimes on or near the campus over the last three years and concluded “many students don’t feel safe.” He described the campus as a “shaken community, especially females.”

Anthony Congi: Reported Scare Story

Congi interviewed a few students to back up his conclusions. They said the situation was “scary” and “startling.” The students all had one thing in common – they were minorities.

The overall impression of the lead story on a newscast was that Buffalo State was a dangerous place to be and that the only students there were minorities.

I was so shaken by the story that I showed it to each of my three classes to give about 50 students a lesson about the media. I also wanted to gauge student sentiment about the story’s accuracy and what their parents might have thought if they had seen it.

In addition, the exercise was an example of my mission in this blog to keep the local media honest and offer criticism when it is deserved.

Of course, the students didn’t want to downplay the seriousness of the alleged crime. Some of the students acknowledged they are aware of things to worry about. But the overriding sentiment from the three classes was the story sensationalized the problem. They weren’t scared but their parents might be for them.

They all noticed that only minorities were presented in the interview, which gave a distorted view of the admirable diversity on campus.

What Channel 4’s story lacked was any perspective of life on an urban campus or life on any college campus. Sure, there is crime. Sure there are parties where things can go terribly wrong. Students have to be aware of the dangers and the safety efforts of the college. They don’t need to be scared to death or have their parents scared to death, which is what Channel 4’s shameful story did.

Channel 7’s handling of the story couldn’t have been more different. Reporter Rachel Elzufon started the story by saying the campus is “normally safe and quiet.” She interviewed the same Buffalo State College police official that Channel 4 interviewed. He noted that the alleged rapist wasn’t a stranger to the college, which alleviated the idea there was “stranger danger” to the open campus.

Rachel Elzufon

Surprise, surprise, Elzufon actually found a white student to interview. I’m told the student works in the college relations office, which undoubtedly wanted a more positive picture of life on campus than appeared on the Channel 4 story. The student did put things in better perspective than the Channel 4 story.

My students unanimously said that the Channel 7 covered the story without sensationalizing it and added that the balance more accurately reflected the Buffalo State College that they know.

It also was more reflective of the Buffalo State that I know.

The scariest thing about Channel 4’s story was that viewers might think it painted an accurate picture of life on the campus.

Now on to Thursday night’s entertaining debate between Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s running mate.

How entertaining was it? Some of the sports nuts I follow on Twitter said it was so much fun that they didn’t consider switching to the New York Yankee playoff game.

The consensus winner even on rival networks was ABC’s Martha Raddatz, the debate moderator who kept things moving and in control. She was everything that Jim Lehrer was expected to be when he moderated the first presidential debate.

Getting a consensus on who won the debate wasn’t as easy.

This is what I learned by dial-switching. ABC’s debate analysts had Biden winning and a CBS instant poll of uncommitted voters had him winning decisively (50-31 percent). CNN and NBC pretty much had it a draw. CNN’s poll of registered voters gave Ryan a narrow win, 48-44.

It was clear from just about everyone that Biden controlled the debate more than he controlled his smile and other frustrations listening to Ryan. Ryan also did his share of smiling, at times making the debate a Smile Off. Ryan also appeared to pull a President Obama at times by constantly referring to campaign talking points rather than reacting to Biden’s remarks with specifics.

Biden also got one key supporter out of the debate – comedian Bill Maher, an Obama supporter whose negative tweets about the President during the first debate made it clear that Romney had won.

Maher’s tweets Thursday were much more supportive of Biden. His best tweet: “Hello 911. There’s an old man beating a child on my TV.”

The only thing that could have made the debate more entertaining was if the Big Bird controversy had been brought up.

I expect Big Bird will be covered next Tuesday when the second Obama-Romney debate will have to live up to Thursday’s fun night.


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4 responses to "A Tale of Two Approaches to Buffalo State Story"

  1. Rob says:

    Some notes while wondering what happened to Dan Quayle:

    What Channel 4 did shows how a lot of media outfits do the “selling fear” angle with stories. Specific to Channel 4, it also shows the inexperience of their reporters who have no community ties yet to this area since they are all newbies. Kudos to Channel 7 for showing a more global picture of the crimes at Buff State.

    The debate yesterday was entertaining; especially if you like Biden interrupting people when they try to speak. If he completes his second term, or loses in a month, Biden would be a perfect fit for ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption.

    The debate itself I doubt swayed anyone. Obama supporters loved Biden’s feistiness and probably wondered where that was during Obamas debate. Either way, those voting for Obama thought Biden won and Romney supporters thought Ryan won since he was more calm and collected. Did Biden or Ryan’s performance sway Independents or undecided? Probably not.

    I doubt Big Bird will be brought up again since Obama’s ads looked silly bringing that up and even Sesame Street asked for them to be removed.

    Top Tweets: @NRSC Was Chris Matthews Biden’s debate coach?, GuyEndoreKaiser — Tonight’s debate is scheduled for ninety minutes, but Paul Ryan is already claiming he can finish in fifty something. #VPDebate Fact: Under the table Paul Ryan is using an exercise bike…Biden’s teeth are so white they’re voting for Romney. ‪#VPDebate

  2. Tina says:

    I am guessing that Channel 4 now believes the more sensational the story the easier it will be to ignore the amateur reporting. I think Anthony Conji should stay and the desk where he is pretty good and leave the reporting to someone else. At this point though they may be down to so few they might even send the janitor or the receptionist out to do it if they felt they could save a dime.

    If anyone is surprised by Joe Biden’s spirited debate last night then they must be living under a rock somewhere. I expected nothing less from him and I like his spunk and passion. I don’t care how animated he gets while trying to get his point across…i like it. To be fair Paul Ryan did really well too and held his own throughout the debate.

  3. P says:

    I thought Biden edged the debate. Ryan seemed overly rehearsed and a little fake, but he did hold his own each time I thought he started getting a little flustered. Although Biden was a little too smug, he was best when he called out Ryan on all sorts of inaccurate “stuff.”

    As for Channel 4. I didn’t see the story, either on TV or online, but that’s exactly what I’ve been saying for years now about 4. They are eternally the collective boy who cried wolf. I hope their ratings continue to tank. I don’t see it ever happening, but I’d love to see Granite invest some cash in Channel 7 and see if they can return to the lofty position they held in their glory days, or at least return to ratings respectability.

    To that point, what did people love about 7 when it was #1 (that’s before my time in Buffalo)? Did it do good journalism, or was it just the station with the best graphics and decent personalities?

  4. Kristine says:

    I will defend my Alma Mater til the of time. Buffalo State is my school whose communication department is working hard to help both current and former students find in an job increasingly difficult job market through social media as one example.
    There is no denying the fact that valid points can be made with regards to campus safety when provided with certain statistics. But as a student one of the first things professors hammer in is the fact that news stories are conflict-driven. A sound bite about an increase in crime in a city college re-enforces the idea that the city is not safe.

    You know I would also really love to discover a nice feel-good story about how a communication professor named Annmarie Franczyk who has been teaching a course that involves students going out onto the West Side and finding different stories that show how the neighborhood has improved in recent years.

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