National Coverage Dropped the Ball on Penn State, Losing Focus of the Real Story
To say the last week of Penn State University has been the most difficult for students, professors, administrators, and alumni is a strong understatement. There's been controversy, questions, major changes, and responses that have garnered the attention of a national audience.
The rebuilding process of both the university and the image it has will be a process that will take time. How long is undetermined.
Changes in administration have occurred, and a new face of football has been put in place. Without question, the entire Penn State community has endured a week of pain, and anguish, while also having many unanswered questions.
Media has been a circus in the State College area since Tuesday night, and Wednesday was when the volcano erupted.
Graham Spanier ousted as President, and then Joe Paterno, in many minds the icon of the university, outsted as head coach of a program he's led for 45 years. On that night, the media had images of students protesting in front of Old Main, and then moving to Beaver Avenue and University Drive. In that moment, and in the day that followed, this Nittany Lion became ashamed...but NOT because of what many first think.
In that instant, national media seemed to be focused solely on Paterno. Yes, he is to many individuals the face of Penn State. But, national media, specifically CNN and ESPN, seemed to only focus on Paterno following the announcement Wednesday night.
I'll be the first to admit, doing that kind of annoucement at 10 p.m. in a college town, where many bars are along the main street in the town, was a mistake on the university's part.
But, this is not about when the announcement came down, it is about how the national media spun the scandal around a former coach into a story about the current coach's firing.
Let me explain, I have nothing personal against CNN nor ESPN. Both networks are excellent companies, and expect nothing but the best from their employees, plus to give the best coverage in their field. CNN has a broad range of what they cover, while obviously ESPN is focused on sports. However, each network failed to realize that the main story, the real story, at Penn State in this situation is not Paterno nor Spanier. It's about Jerry Sandusky, Gary Shultz and Tim Curley.
Lost in all the coverage of the students protesting, and eventually rioting, is that the first story every network should have been covering is the allegations against Sandusky, and the charges against Shultz and Curley.
But no, both networks decided to just look at Paterno, and how his legacy is tarnished.
There is no question that his legacy does have a black cloud now, but the real story is not Paterno being fired from his post, let alone over the phone.
The real story that should have been followed more nationally was what was going to happen with Sandusky, Shultz and Curley. The local news stations and papers understood that more than the national press, as they continued to follow the developments in that case versus what was going to happen with Paterno.
It made me sad to see that networks decided to focus on Paterno, talking of how his legacy is ruined and the school's reputation is tarnished forever.
There's more to Penn State than just a football team, and that's what the national media lost in the violence and chaos. The real unfortunate people in this story are the kids that were victimized by an assistant coach, and the superiors that committed perjury.
Paterno to many was fired because he was human, and made mistakes. If being human is a crime, everyone would be unemployed. Unfortunately for Paterno, he became the scapegoat for a national audience on such a big stage.
Very few people talk about the peaceful demonstrations that happened on Paterno's front law, or the ones at Beaver Stadium outside the student entrance or at the Paterno statue.
No, the focus between Wednesday afternoon and Thursday evening was Paterno, Paterno, and more Paterno. Lost in all this were the unfortunate kids that suffered an unspeakable crime, and many years of anguish. Without question, that is the real story in all the scandal amid Penn State.
As a journalism major, that was my first instinct, thinking about the victims and knowing that Sandusky's allegations and the charges among the superior administrators were the real story. But, instead, seeing the focus on the head coach has made me, and I'm sure many others, upset and aggravated.
For the current students, the focus is now to get back to business, which has already begun. Classes commensed, students began studying at the usual spots, and people continued to visit the Paterno Library for research and information.
For the journalism majors, this gives them an unfortunate example of how their field can become blinded with headlines, but also a major learning experience on how to find the real story amid the big headlines.
It will take a long time for Penn State to recover, if they can at all, from this. But seeing the national media take focus on one man's mistake, and ultimately his termination, versus focusing on what the real story was is troubling.
Networks such as CNN and ESPN dropped the ball when the news broke on Paterno's firing. Now is the time to move forward, focusing on the real victims, and the real story, at Penn State.