Tuesday, March 31, 2015

South St. Rampage: Clearing the Record

The media didn't "bury" the story of John's injury. We reported it as soon as we knew it.

South St. Rampage: Clearing the Record

My column on Thursday about "John," a victim of the South St. rampage on May 30th, has generated a lot of on-line comments, some of them about how the media "buried" John's beating.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Because the truth is, until this past Tuesday, no one in the "media" even knew about it.

I got a call that day from a woman I'd interviewed for a previous column, who told me that a co-worker in her office personally knew a man who was in a coma in the ICU at Hahnemann, after having been attacked during the rampage.

She said that the co-worker and the man's family were upset that, in all the coverage of the rampage, this man's incident was never mentioned. They, too, thought that the media didn't care about what had happened to John, or - worse - were somehow complicitous with police and/or the mayor in hiding it.

I told her that it was news to me - and, I was certain, news to anyone covering the rampage - that John even existed. I found news of the attack alarming and asked if I could speak with the co-worker and learn more about John and what had happened.

The co-worker told me what she knew and offered to contact John's close friend, Marcia Houston-Leslie, who is quoted in my column, who would speak with John's parents about the possibility of my interviewing them.

It took 24 hours to hear back from the co-worker, who told me that John's elderly parents had declined the request, that they were too overwhelmed by John's condition and would prefer not to speak.

I asked her to once again implore them to talk, as this was a story that simply had to be reported, given the nature of the rampage, the fact that John was fighting for his life and that the fact the we, the public, needed to know that the rampage wasn't a case of mischievous kids getting a little bit out of control.

I also told her that, since John's case had generated a police report, a public record, I would report his story whether they wanted me to or not. But, I added,  I really would prefer to do it with their input, as it would help me paint a more complete picture of John and what had happened to him.

I then went to Hahnemann myself, looking for John's family. They were not in the ICU. I was then able to track down John's friend Marcia. I asked her to please allow me to interview her, that this story was critically important, that it would give us chance to ask the public's help in providing pictures or other eyewitness accounts of what happened and that it could possibly lead to the capture of the thugs who nearly killed John.

She graciously answered my many questions and gave me direct contact informtion for John's mother, who spoke with me by phone.

John's friends and faimly are lovely people. They are worried about him and want both to protect his privacy and to tell his story. So we agreed to use a pseudonym for him. Marcia initially was willing to provide a photo of John that we could use in the column. But hours later, when we were upon deadline, declined, citing privacy concerns.

The next day, John's story appeared in the Daily News and on the Philly.com website. The media - in this case, the Daily News - didn't "sit" on this story, or "hide" it, or "bury" it, as copious on-line comments have alleged.

John's story was told as soon as it could be confirmed. 

It might have made the Daily News' front page had a photo been available; because it wasn't, the story received a "tout" - a mini headline on the front page. By then, other horrible news had occurred - the tragic deaths of those three little girls in Feltonville (and the eventual death of the adult also injured in the crash).  

That story became our front page, as it rightly should have.

Ronnie Polaneczky Daily News Columnist
About this blog

When my phone rings here at the Daily News, nine times out of ten the caller begins the conversation with, “Yeah, so what happened was…”.

Because this is Philly, the caller doesn’t say, “My name is Bob” – or Mary – “and I wonder if I could have a moment of your time?” Philadelphians are too direct for that. They just say, “Yeah, so what happened was…”, and then tumble into a tale they think oughta be shared with a wider audience. I love getting these calls (even the ones where it becomes clear, after 30 seconds, where the caller sowed the seeds of his own misery), because they give me chance to connect with fellow citizens in a way that no other job allows. Well, okay, no other job for which I’m remotely qualified.

That’s why my blog is titled “So What Happened Was…”. To me, it’s the quintessentially Philly way of saying, “Once upon a time.” When I hear it, I know a good story is coming. And I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

Ronnie Polaneczky has been an award-winning columnist for The Philadelphia Daily News since 1999, offering a front-steps perspective on every aspect of city life, from the sublime to the stupid. In her past life, she was the editor-in-chief of Atlantic City Magazine, associate editor at Philadelphia Magazine and a fulltime freelancer published in Ladies Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Reader's Digest, Men's Health, MarieClaire and others. She lives with her husband, daughter and various pets in the city's Fairmount section, where she dreams of one day singing The National Anthem at an Eagles game. In addition to her column and blog, you can enjoy Ronnie's musings in podcast form here.

Read more from Ronnie Polaneczky at Earth to Philly, the Daily News blog on anything and everything "Green Reach Ronnie at polaner@phillynews.com.

Ronnie Polaneczky Daily News Columnist
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