Column: Tebowmania comes to Riverhead in an unexpected way

This is a photo we ripped off the internet, something we never would have done five years ago.

There’s an interesting debate going on in America right now over what constitutes news in a society where glowing rectangles blast reports in our face 24 hours, 7 days a week.

Everyone has a story to tell, but which ones should make the cut?

As one of my colleagues in the Times/Review newsroom said this morning “it’s an important conversation,” and it made its way to Riverhead this week on the trusty but unlikely shoulders of America’s Heisman Trophy-winning sweetheart Timothy Richard Tebow.

As I drove to my weekly spot on WRIV this morning, I tuned in to hear what Dawn Patrol host Bruce Tria was talking about on the air. Of course, he was talking about Tebow, and more specifically about how four Riverhead High students made national news Thursday when they were suspended for striking the familiar pose of the Denver Broncos quarterback, who kneels after each and every touchdown he scores.

“How is this national news?” Bruce argued, a notion supported by RiverheadLocal editor Denise Civiletti this morning.

Normally, I try to wait until we’re on the air to discuss the news with Bruce, but I couldn’t hold my excitement this time around. I picked up my phone — going hands free, of course — and I dialed The Voice of Riverhead to share my opinion.

“You and Denise are so wrong on this one Bruce; this is a big news story,” I said.

Here’s why:

People want to read it.

It used to be that a bunch of cigar-chewin’, fedora-donning men sat around in a newsroom debating what stories people wanted to read. Now, we have Website analytics to tell us that.

Five years ago, I would tell reporters to not bother covering car accidents unless they involved serious injuries or a fatality. Partly, that was due to space in the paper. But I also didn’t think anybody would want to read about an accident otherwise.

Now, with infinite space online and statistics that show us automobile accidents — no matter how big or small — are consistently among the most read stories, we cover most crashes we come across.

If your audience wants to read something, and you are in a position to report it, why wouldn’t you?

The Tebowing suspension makes for great debate.

Should those students have been suspended? More than 70 percent of readers who voted on our online poll this morning said no. Is that science? No. Does it mean they absolutely shouldn’t have been suspended? No. But it does show that people have reacted to the suspension.

When people read and react, you have done a service as media.

My personal opinion? Riverhead High School, like all schools, has bigger fish to fry. Perhaps the administration’s focus should be on the discipline and rehabilitation of the truly bad kids. And the attention this prank has received may likely lead to more copycat incidents at this school and others in the coming days.

Christians or pranksters?

Tim Tebow’s pose is intended as religious reflection. His devout Christianity has been widely publicized. I once covered Tebow in a high school all-star game in my past life as a sports reporter, and his religious beliefs were a known thing even back then.

But did the Riverhead students strike the pose for the same reason? I gotta think not, and I believe that since friends were filming the pose is proof this was more likely a YouTube publicity stunt than a tip of the cap to the man upstairs.

That debatable fact also makes this particular incident newsworthy.

The news has changed, and the web is the driving force behind that change. We write stories more quickly and update them more frequently than ever before. We have unlimited time and space on the web, and we’re always finding more ways to fill those gaps.

Here’s the question we should be asking: Why do readers care?

When the Kardashian sisters were reportedly spotted in Riverhead this summer, the local media jumped to try to find out more information.

We didn’t scramble because we cared about the reality TV star family. We did it because we knew people would want to read the story, and they’d spend the next day around the water cooler talking about it.

There was once a time where such a sighting might not have made the news. Then again, there was once a time where there was no such thing as reality television and successful scrambling quarterbacks in the NFL.

The times they are a-changin’, and so is the news.

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