GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

June 20, 2008

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

By Ray Lamont

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.

By Thursday night — before the print edition of Time was even on newsstands — Gloucester and its teen "pregnancy pact" were featured on the CBS Evening News, and Patrick Anderson, our reporter on the story, was called upon for a guest spot on MSNBC's Dan Abrams show. By yesterday morning, I was getting calls and doing live radio interviews with WABC in New York, with BBC World News in London and with Ireland national radio in Dublin. All, of course, were looking for more information about a story that has literally thrust — or plunged — Gloucester into the global spotlight.

In the midst of all of this, our own coverage has maintained a different focus. Yesterday's Times focused on the fact that none of the pregnant girls — not one — dropped out of school this year, a fact officials credit in large part to what has become something of a controversial day-care facility at the school. And while today's story leads with local officials questioning the status of any "pact," (Please see news story, Page 1) it also includes coverage of the media's sudden, intense interest in our community on the heels of the explosive Time story. For Gloucester, we believed that had, indeed, become part of the story as well.

So, you may ask, why has your community's newspaper covered this global story like that — with only peripheral mention of any "pact"?

Because, frankly, no one had used that term in describing the girls' intentions to us — as no one apparently had with local school and other officials, either. And despite the media storm, we believed it important to advance the story from the point we had left off before. That meant turning to a new talking point — the day-care facility, which is licensed to handle just seven children and now faces a monumental case of overcrowding. And it meant delivering legitimate news our readers had not seen before — including that the number of confirmed pregnancies rose to 18 before the close of the school year last week.

Some may think the explosion of this story on the global stage — from the United Kingdom to the West Coast and even on to a couple of mentions on Thursday's "Tonight Show" with Jay Leno — is hard to fathom. It shouldn't be. On one hand, it's a story to which virtually everyone can relate on some level. And it's one that, even in a day when most things don't surprise us anymore, still seems profoundly shocking. The idea of 15- and 16-year-old girls wanting to become pregnant, wanting to make such a life-altering choice so early in their lives — and others being "disappointed," not relieved, when learning their pregnancy tests proved negative — is a notion that seems absolutely contrary to most of our psyches.

As your community's newspaper, these last few days have been a time to move the story forward — just as our community, its leaders and its students must move this discussion forward in a quest for answers and resolutions.

As always, let me know what you think.

Questions? Comments? Is there a topic you'd like to see addressed in a future column? Contact Times Editor Ray Lamont at rlamont@gloucestertimes.com