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The New York Time’s Front Page Editorial Misses a Huge Oppurtunity

by on December 10, 2015

Following last week’s horrific mass shooting of a San Bernardino office park that left 14 people dead and an additional 21 wounded the divisive conversation of gun control in America has raged loudly, both dependent and independent of conversations involving ISIS and terrorism. There is clearly a deep national divide across the United States to what extent, if any at all, we should continue to practice the second amendment right to bear arms. On Sunday, December 4th, the New York Times ran their weekly Sunday paper with an editorial piece on the front page for the first time since 1920. The piece, “End the Gun Epidemic in America” attempted to tackle the complex issue of gun control.  This piece soon spread quickly across the internet, but from a journalism ethics standpoint my first thought was, does an editorial devoid of almost any reporting belong on the front page of a major newspaper with so much influence over the American public?

At one point the piece decrees “It is a moral outrage and a national disgrace that civilians can legally purchase weapons designed specifically to kill people with brutal speed and efficiency. These are weapons of war, barely modified and deliberately marketed as tools of macho vigilantism and even insurrection.” The stance of the piece, authored collectively by “The Editorial Board” is clear, something needs to be done to help prevent future mass shootings in this country.  I believe there is enough bipartisanship and basic human compassion in this country that both sides of the aisle can agree on the travesty of any loss of life taken in these vicious attacks, and if the solution was as clear cut as the NYT editors make it out to be it would already be in the process of being completed.

This plea for change can be used to once again bring Jay Rosen’s argument against the “view from nowhere” to the forefront but unfortunately this attempt to come from “somewhere” is as lost and misguided as someone aimlessly wandering through a forest or desert. The attempt to insert opinion into journalism only becomes effective when said opinion is rooted deeply in fact and statistic. The beauty of editorials or works of journalism where the journalist is able to state their opinion lies in the ability to help readers make sense of complex issues, but these opinions are only validated when rooted in fact.  The beauty of the reporting process lies in the transparency it offers, the ability of a journalist to say “I came about this conclusion because I found these things along the way”, and the Editorial Board of the New York Time’s misses this point entirely.  The communal ethos invoked by this tragedy is not enough to sustain a message to the American public, which instead would be much more sturdy had it been supported by statistics regarding the prevalence of gun ownership in America and a look at political motivations that each party may have for action or (non action) in the wake of mass shootings that are becoming so common it is almost desensitizing.

Historically front page editorials have been reserved for major issues of social and societal importance, the fact that this is the first of such by America’s most important newspaper in 95 years is telling in itself.  I believe the complex issue of gun control in America is absolutely worthy of such a piece and it is a shame that the Times’ window of opportunity so badly missed the mark.  The front page editorial in itself is enough to generate conversation, but not sustain it to a point of social change and past the Monday watercooler.  For the 99+% of Americans without a journalism degree the holes in this editorial may not be so apparent, but as a member of the profession helping publicly advocate for support to prevent these future acts of senseless violence the battle just became even more uphill. The status-quo is not enough to prevent future attacks and in order to generate enough public support to make an effective change journalists need to provide an argument with concrete examples and substance, something this country’s leading platform failed to do.

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