Editorial: We're on the same side

19:25, Jun 16 2013

Yesterday we did something different on the front page of The Timaru Herald newspaper.

We ran a letter to the editor. These normally appear on the opinion page.

I made the decision because it was a thoughtful letter on violence and how it is portrayed in the media. Mostly though I ran it on the front page because it was from young males, specifically a class of 15-year-olds from Timaru Boys' High School.

And let's be honest, males are responsible for most physical violence. Particularly young men.

So it was enlightening that in the considered forum of a classroom, soon-to-be young men were discussing the issue.

In doing so they levelled criticism at the media generally and the Timaru Herald in particular about reinforcing stereotypes and actually promoting violence.

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I considered responding to that at the end of the letter, but it felt right to let them have their say and for readers to make their own judgements.

Now it feels right to respond to their specific points.

The boys talk about State of Origin I and how the online video on stuff.co.nz showed only the fight, "no good plays, tries or good sportsmanship was evident". I can't check now as the video no longer seems to be on the site, but if that was the case, I agree, it's not good.

What is still there is a photo gallery in which two of the 14 game pictures focus on the fight. That is fair enough. It was a telling point of that game.

The students then talk about our coverage of the Temuka/Geraldine rugby brawl, and the quote of the player/coach relating to "a good old fashioned slugfest".

But we didn't say that, the player/coach did. What we did was print it, not to glorify it, but to reflect an attitude. An attitude we considered might provoke a reaction. Which it has. We might not be having this discussion now if we hadn't.

The students challenge The Herald to make a stand against the glorification of violence, but surely publishing incidents of thuggery amounts to non-glorification. Those involved would hardly have welcomed the coverage. The more such actions are publicised the more the authorities are prompted to address them.

And not publishing does not mean they don't happen.

I'm pleased the class has picked up on the issue and bothered to express their views, and applaud TBHS for running the Rite Journey programme.

And I actually think we're on the same side.

So to be absolutely clear, the message we are sending to the youth of today when we publicise incidents of violence is that it is not OK. The way we do that is by publishing incidents of violence.

The Timaru Herald