Tuesday, July 08, 2008

There's Two Sides to Every Story

During my tenure at GJRCC I had the privilege of coordinating the Communication Center's response to Country Jam for several years. I am therefore quite familiar with some of the issues that are inherent with turning a couple of dusty fields in Mack into the equivalent of the county's second largest city for 4 days every June.

It was with an interested eye that I came across Le Roy Standish's story in this morning's Sentinel about the quadrupling of pregnancy referrals processed by the Nurse-Family Partnership of the Mesa County Health Department in the weeks following Country Jam.

I came away from the story shaking my head in disbelief at the massive holes that seemed to be present in the story. I'm no professional journalist, but despite that I did not think it possible that a story could be written about the alleged result of sexual activity at a major music festival, and the words alcohol or drinking not appear anywhere in the story.

The story also quoted several sources in the article who expressed surprise at this revelation, and also quoted these same sources as expressing concern about "underage" sexual activity and pregnancy. Mr. Standish provided no information in the story as to anyone asserting that the clients were "underage", or even what the agencies involved considered "underage".

I was fully expecting Country Jam owner Steve Berg or Commissioner Janet Rowland to channel Captain Renault in Casablanca, and state that they were "shocked, shocked" to find that people were conceiving children out there.

As with most accounts like this that seem to try to circumvent the core issues at hand, several obvious (at least to me) questions went unanswered:
  • What was the average age of those seeking referrals during the time in question?
  • How many of those seeking a referral could pinpoint the date and place of the 'blessed event'?
  • Of those, did any referral clients state that they had been drinking prior to engaging in sex?
With this in mind, I'm scratching my head about why the story was written in the first place. All that was presented to the Sentinel's readership was some anecdotal information, and a collective shrugging of shoulders by the parties involved in the operation of the event in question, the governance of the area where the event is held, and those who work with those dealing with the consequences of such revelry.

If it is the intent of journalists to enlighten and inform, Mr. Standish did not do a good job of it.

In quite the contrast, Marija Vader at the Free Press took a very different approach in her coverage of this information. I feel it necessary to say here that I did not read Ms. Vader's story until after I had completed Mr. Standish's account, and was halfway done with this post.

When faced with a direct quote from the head of the partnership that "we don’t know it’s Country Jam that that’s where they’re getting pregnant", Ms. Vader sought to clarify the role that the partnership plays in helping low-income women facing a first-time pregnancy obtain information and skill training, which in turn shows statistically significant reductions in child abuse and domestic violence, among other things.

Ms. Vader also touched on the role of alcohol in sexual activity and unwanted pregnancy, and provided information that the average age of the Partnership's clients was 19 (legally an adult), and that the clients have ranged in age from 12 to the 40's.

Ms. Vader framed her coverage to call attention to a community resource responding to a long-standing public health issue, and the likely trends that resource is seeing in their client base. Well done.

There are some bottom line statements that I think I can safely make after reading these two stories, and combining them with my personal experience:
  1. Country Jam is a bacchanal disguised as a music festival.
  2. Law enforcement does the best job it can with the resources it has, but given the continuing, documented disregard for liquor laws and the general riotous atmosphere, especially in the campground, the event resembles a bull and rider just about to leave the chute. The gate's going to open; it's just a question of when.
  3. The County Commissioners approve both the liquor license for Country Jam and the Sheriff's budget and contract with the event. They need to pay closer attention to what is going on out there. This goes double for Ms. Rowland, who purports to espouse a concern for children while allowing this activity to continue with very few apparent or substantive restrictions.
  4. For all practical purposes this is an urban area for 4 days (6 if you count Rock Jam in September), and Mack isn't about to be annexed into the City of Grand Junction, at least not this week. In this context, yes, Commissioners, you are providing urban services. Get used to it.
  5. Score one for the Free Press.


Gene Kinsey said...

Great post. You are right on target with both your analysis of the stories/problem and the role of the county commission.

Marjorie said...

Go, Free Press!

When I was doing interviews for articles in the FP's Country Jam supplement, I interviewed one business owner who said that she's seen lots of incidences of sexual assault in the general parking lot during Country Jams of years past. She said that she and her husband even had to literally pry one guy off a girl who had passed out on a vehicle. Talk about consent.

I'm disappointed but not surprised that the article was so shallow in its reporting, not to mention the implicit bias between the lines. I've yet to see any in-depth reporting of sexual assault cases coming out of CJ. That may be partly b/c of the reluctance of the women involved to report it to the police (I don't really know how aggressive the local police are in pursuing sexual assault cases), but also because of attitudes like that revealed in this story.


Rebecca Davis Winters said...

Typically, stories I hear from Country Jam attendees usually end with someone getting urinated on. Rock Jam stories usually end with a DUI. Why anyone would attend these lewd events is beyond me, but then, I am known to be rather Dull.