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June 20, 2008

Why Did My Newspaper Do That? The anatomy of a full-fledged, local media storm

When we first reported in March that — at that time — 10 girls in Gloucester High School had become pregnant, the story noted Principal Joseph Sullivan's concern that, in a number of cases, the pregnancies were intentional and welcomed.

Then — after the story blew up locally and received regional and national attention with the resignations of the director and chief nurse at the high school's clinic — we reiterated that these were not all the traditional cases of accidental pregnancies. We reported, after speaking with school and clinic officials, that indeed some of the girls were happy to learn the results when their pregnancy tests came back positive — and, even more troubling, some were profoundly disappointed when the results were negative.

Through stories and editorials, we have occasionally noted that at least some of the 18 girls who became pregnant this past school year did so intentionally, with the idea that it might be "cool" to "become moms" and raise the babies together. Could that be considered some sort of informal "pact"? Maybe. It depends on how formally one defines that word. But one thing has become certain over the past two days — that's the fact that "pact" can certainly be a magic word. As soon as Time magazine reported the presence of a "pregnancy pact" — as its headline blared in its online edition Thursday — this story, which had already sparked local and some national talk about teen pregnancy and the distribution of contraceptives in schools, exploded worldwide.

How? Well, shortly after Time posted the story, national news network CNN — a corporate partner of Time Warner, and thus a close partner of Time — added the "pregnancy pact" story to its online and broadcast reports. It wasn't long after that the other major news networks joined in, and the frenzy was on.

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