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Columbia Missourian

I get it: Daniel-Vandiver story didn't fit moment

By Tom Warhover
November 14, 2008 | 12:00 p.m. CST

Dear Reader,

I get it.

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I think.

A week ago, ColumbiaMissourian.com and the Missourian published on their front pages a story about the girlfriend of Chase Daniel.

Uproar ensued.

The story ran 1,000 words; opinion from readers ran more than 9,000 words in the comments section online. I received e-mails and was stopped in the street. Debates – some of them quite emotional – broke out in newsrooms and classrooms at the MU School of Journalism.

As I drove home Wednesday evening, I even heard discussion on KCOU, a radio station more given to cutting edge music than journalistic critique.

My initial reaction: Huh?

The story described the courtship between Daniel and Blaire Vandiver, who have been dating for more than a year. There were no allegations made, no wrongdoing exposed — just a nice piece on a young woman and the most popular football player in greater Mizzouland.

Some of the complaints centered on the story’s prominence. I get that. It could have been relegated to the sports section.

Others said the story wasn’t newsworthy. No question there. One of the young deejays on KCOU used the phrase “interest worthy.” That’s a better description.

Another complaint: The story was too one-dimensional by defining Vandiver only by her relationship with Daniel. OK (though editor Greg Bowers and reporter Brittany Darwell never conceived it as a full profile of the young woman).

In making the decision about placement, several editors said they worried about “voter fatigue” – so many heavy stories in such a short span. They underestimated the continuing hunger for hard news, which frankly newspapers haven’t seen from readers for a while now.

I could see the opinions. I couldn’t understand the emotional response.

Art Schneider helped. “We are, perhaps, in a benchmark period in American history,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Perhaps the Vandiver-Daniel story served as an affront to the seriousness of the moment.

The world, and our country’s democracy, may be on the cusp of major change, and there’s no guarantee the direction will be positive.

The economy is a full-on collision on the interstate. We the People are now We the Panicked. More people are going hungry. Businesses are failing.

Meanwhile, the election pumped a sense of optimism – tentative, yes, with asterisks scattered about like flakes in a snow globe – among many people here and around the globe.

The Missourian has done plenty of light features. A newspaper is filled with things such as comics, advice columns and games. Fun stories and profiles often grace the front page or home page. Editors sometimes say they are “for the mix,” to give variety to an otherwise serious or depressing page.

But many of you have said not at this moment, when you want your newspaper to reflect the mood and voice of this time.

I get it.

Tom