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A first impression may be the only impression

People with even a little bit of notoriety get excessive media attention with whatever they do. It happens to movie stars, singers, politicians, doctors, lawyers, clergymen and most certainly athletes. We read about famous people that none of us can even figure out why they are famous.

What we really notice is when the well-known do something bad they get publicity by the tons. When they do good deeds, the publicity comes in milligram-sized doses, if at all. The media can't waste ink and time on stories that are not sensational. It seems bad news is what most publishers and producers thrive on.

Atlanta Falcons tailback Warrick Dunn makes down payments for folks to acquire Habitat for Humanity homes. Pittsburgh Steeler quarterback Ben Roethilsberger donated his entire first playoff check to the Asian tsunami relief effort. These generous acts only received brief blips of token coverage from the media.

I sense that if Dunn or Roethilsberger were ticketed for jaywalking it would be scrolled nonstop across the TV screen by the 24-hour news and sports networks. It would have screamed from the newspapers in bold-print headlines. Unlike charity, jaywalking is bad news.

The NBA brawl in November was as bad as it could get and had to be reported. Making it the poster child for media overkill likely did more harm than good.

Here at home a local 18-year-old high school basketball player was recently arrested because drugs were found in the backseat of the vehicle that he drove to school, a misdemeanor. Never mind that others used the car for four days while the kid was on an out-of-state trip with his basketball team prior to the drug check at school. The young man was not under the influence of drugs, had no drugs on his person or in his locker within the school building.

The bottom line was that technically a state law and school rule was broken. The young man was arrested and suspended from school. He was basically a victim of circumstance about to learn a difficult lesson in life.

Should the media have reported this incident? Certainly. It was also the media's right to do so. This newspaper reported it in the Police Beat.

But it could have been turned into what journalists might call a sensational story. After all, it was bad news involving a student-athlete. That grabs more attention than a headline reading "1,200 high school students caught without drugs."

Fortunately for this teenager a school disciplinary tribunal determined that a 10-day suspension was enough punishment. He has since returned to school to finish his senior year and has rejoined his basketball team. That's what I call good news that should also be reported.

If you read this and get the impression that I would prefer bad news, be it drugs or anything else, be ignored and swept under the rug, then you are wrong. The public deserves to know when habitual violators commit serious, heinous crimes.

When athletes mess up big time, as many of them do, they operate in the spotlight, so they can expect the spotlight to shine brightest when they go astray.

Personally, as one that has the privilege of offering my opinion for public consumption in a small town, I prefer the side of caution. When I offer my thoughts on the local scene, I try to remember that I'm writing about real people with real families. These are people that we live with, work with, and know.

I also think about the passersby traveling on I-20 that stop for food and gas.

If they by chance read this paper and my column, I prefer they get a good impression of Thomson.

It may be the only one they ever get.



Web posted on Thursday, January 27, 2005











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