Gratuitous, Misguided Bathos

Anybody else have this reaction? Last week a page one (local/state section) story in a Bay Area daily (ok, it was the St. Petersburg Times) ran a story that carried the headline “Teen Shot in Store Robbery.” Would that such a story were rare – and truly page-one news — but that’s another matter.

What truly caught my attention, as it was supposed to, was the accompanying, four-column photo above the fold of another teen crying. This 18-year-old was tearing up because his 17-year-old cousin had been shot. Above the photo was a quote: “He was my cousin, but he was like a brother to me.”

There are all kinds of reasons why newspapers run a photo. Often it’s because, well, they have one. Hopefully, it’s also because it helps to tell the story of what happened. Presumably it provides pertinent context.

Let’s be kind and call this one gratuitous, misguided bathos.

Here we have a story about a 17-year-old who walks into the neighborhood convenience store, east Tampa’s Yasmin Food Market, wearing a mask and brandishing a gun. He confronts an employee and a state lottery technician. He’s robbing whoever’s there. A struggle ensues and the 17-year-old is shot with his own weapon.

The victims had been confronted by a masked, gun-toting thug and were forced to respond to the barrel of a gun. It was, however short lived, a mini nightmare. Their lives will never be the same.

To reiterate, the photo is of a weeping youth disconsolate over his hospitalized cousin. Two men were forced to confront the possibility of their own imminent deaths and families left fatherless, and the pictorial empathy is of a weeping cousin of the would-be murderer? Did the Times think no one would notice – or care?

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