Reaction to sports headline was shocking and vile

July 8, 2014

Editor’s note: Tom Clifford wrote the story below after reading numerous complaints from readers concerning a headline that ran in one of the paper’s January issues.


By Tom Clifford

Executive Editor | Montgomery (AL) Advertiser

“You are disgusting.”

“It is insulting and demeaning.”

“Indescribably vile.”

“Whoever wrote that should GO TO HELL.”

No editor wants to be faced with this kind of barrage from angry readers. But these messages (phone and e-mail), and others much too profane to print in polite company, are exactly what I faced earlier this year.

The reason for the bile? Our Jan. 7 Page One headline over the photo and story reporting Auburn’s heartbreaking loss to Florida State University in the BCS National Championship Game.

The headline said: “AU SHUCKS”—as in: “Oh shucks (we came so close to winning that one).”

The homophone-style headline, playing off the school’s initials, was similar to play-on-word headlines we used to mark Auburn’s remarkable run at the championship—first after the Tigers’ beat Alabama in the Iron Bowl (“SHOCK AND AU!”) and then when they won the SEC title game (“AU YEAH!”)

“AU” as in “awe” and “oh.”

What that headline most decidedly did not say, hint at or imply in any fashion was “Auburn sucks.” But that’s what several readers erroneously believed was our intent.

I can accept that a few disappointed, diehard Auburn fans were hurting after the tough loss, and in their haste they read an insult in the headline’s colloquial play-on-words, where none existed. But the headline fit the accompanying photo of a dejected player, as well as the mood for fans near and far.

What I can’t accept is that some believe we would use our front page to callously shame and denigrate the Auburn team; that this is somehow evidence of our continuing bias against Auburn.

This should go without saying, but, for the record, I assure you that everyone who works at the Montgomery Advertiser is a professional doing his or her best to provide readers with objective, authoritative coverage of the world around us.

Readers can—and do, regularly—point out shortcomings in our reporting, disagree with the opinions of our columnists, and challenge us to be better at addressing important issues. And I welcome that.

But if you want to question or attack the integrity of the Advertiser’s reporting, please get your facts straight and keep your misconceptions at bay.

Again, I will accept the quick responses as “heat of the moment.”

As for our “bias,” if we have one, it is to consistently deliver top-notch coverage.

We had two to three people covering most every Auburn game this season (Alabama, too); our Auburn coverage featured work by reporter/blogger James Crepea, among the best SEC beat writers around; we sent four staffers to Pasadena, CA, for a week to cover the Tigers’ BCS quest; we provided 40 pages of coverage in print during BCS week; we posted more than 500 news stories, blog posts, photos and videos during BCS week alone. We also created posters celebrating the team’s remarkable run.

(And before Alabama fans cite all this as proof of an anti-’Bama bias, we provided as much coverage during the Tide’s championship runs in recent years.)

Had Auburn pulled off the final “miracle” of their extraordinary turnaround season, we also were prepared to deliver a book celebrating everything.

Unfortunately, they lost. Aw shucks.

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