Let’s say some local yahoos decide to rent a truck, bolt a giant model of a penis to the front (complete with squirting water!) and festoon the sides of the truck with messages so crude and offensive that I’m not going to quote them.
Let’s say they decide to enter the truck as a float in a parade that is attended by hundreds of families and children.
Let’s say, further, that the people on the float decide it would be a fun idea to throw condoms at the crowd.
Of course, you already know this is not a hypothetical.
There are many ways of looking at the fallout from the “Horribles” parade in Beverly Farms, which featured three floats — including the one I just described — that made fun of the Gloucester High School pregnancy story.
Here’s another angle: the responsibility of community journalists, who are no longer armed just with a notebook and a pen but with video cameras as well.
The Beverly Citizen, a GateHouse Media paper, is in the spotlight because of a video that it posted showing all the highlights and lowlights, including some close-ups of the aforementioned penis and the signs.
Does the video go too far? I’ll take a cue from the Citizen itself. The news story, by Bobby Gates, is almost prissy in its description of the controversy. Not a single offensive sign is quoted from. As for the float, the story rather clinically refers to a “large, realistically shaped phallic symbol spraying water from the front of a truck.”
Even more out of sync with the video is a post on the Citizen’s blog that asserts the floats “went over the line” by mocking teenage girls. The signs? “And I won’t even go into the signs on the floats, which were lewd at best.” Well, OK. But the blog post was written by “dmacalpine.” And the video was shot by Dan Mac Alpine, whose camera hovered so seductively over the very signs that he (or maybe it was his doppelgänger?) didn’t think he could quote in his newspaper’s blog.
I’m not sure what the lesson is here. I do know that quick-and-cheap video is posing a challenge to community journalists, who are finding themselves embroiled in controversy for shooting footage of subjects that wouldn’t raise an eyebrow if they merely described them in writing. That was the case at another GateHouse paper, the Somerville Journal, a few months ago, when its video of the Naked Quad Run at Tufts University sparked discussion and even outrage.
The current, situation, though, is different, as the Citizen is traveling much further in its video than it dares go in its written description. I’m not sure what to make of that.
Let me go back to my original question: Does the video go too far? I think it does. I haven’t checked, but I am confident that neither the squirting penis nor the worst of the signs made it on to any of the local television newscasts. I know that both were left on the cutting-room floor in a news video I watched at the Fox 25 Web site, and it’s probably safe to say that no one is going to go beyond our friends at Fox.
Except, it seems, the Beverly Citizen.
Look, it happened. Hundreds of people saw it. Hundreds more heard about it. There’s no sense in pretending otherwise. But if they didn’t think they should quote from the signs, then they shouldn’t have showed them in the video. As for the penis — well, let just say I think the written description was sufficient.
The folks at GateHouse are not bad people. They’re hard-working journalists trying to find their way in a news landscape that’s changing by the day. I’d rather see them taking too many chances than too few. I’m neither horrified nor offended by what they did. But I do think they made the wrong call in this case.
Update: The Salem News runs a front-page photo of the penis-bearing truck in its print edition. But unless you’ve seen the video, it’s impossible to figure out what you’re looking at. Here’s the News’ story.