Virginian-Pilot defends non-reporting of Norfolk beating

The Virginian-Pilot is catching a great deal of heat for their non-reporting of a beating of two white reporters by a large group of attackers.

The story was actually first reported by a Pilot opinion columnist Michelle Washington, two weeks after the fact.

Two weeks have passed since reporters Dave Forster and Marjon Rostami – friends to me and many others at the newspaper – were attacked on a Saturday night as they drove home from a show at the Attucks Theatre. They had stopped at a red light, in a crowd of at least 100 young people walking on the sidewalk. Rostami locked her car door. Someone threw a rock at her window. Forster got out to confront the rock-thrower, and that’s when the beating began.

The Pilot’s defense is that they rarely report “simple assaults,” which is how the police categorized this. Editor Denis Finley wrote:

The attackers are black; Forster and Rostami are white. A Twitter post mentioned Trayvon Martin, fueling the opinion that we are practicing reverse racism, that if a group of white people had attacked a black couple, the incident would have been front-page news.

None of this is true.

That’s an odd defense for the Pilot, to be honest. Defending a lack of reporting of one instant by pointing out a broader lack of reporting isn’t exactly the greatest defense.

The problem is, even if it is true, I haven’t spoken to anyone who believes it.

If a black couple was assaulted by 100 white kids, the Pilot would choose to not report it?

That’s what Mr. Finley is saying. I think he’s telling the truth, but I may be the only one.

The question then becomes what does it take to become news in this town. Today’s news is Son of Sam at a prayer breakfast, Virginia’s roads don’t have enough funding, Norfolk could name a schools superintendent soon, and that a 24-year old white male in Virginia Beach was charged with an assault.

Oops. Somehow an assault by a white guy made it into the newspaper.

I don’t think the Virginian-Pilot covered up this story. It’s silly to think so. Their own reporters were the victims.

But I’ve long taken issue with what the Virginian-Pilot decides is news. This issue shines a really bright spotlight on the process of deciding what is important for print and what isn’t, a process I’ve never been a big fan of.

I don’t think the Pilot made a single-case coverup. I think they have some odd definitions overall of what is news and what isn’t.

What do you think?

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