The Third Monday in January –
By Edward Shanahan
How, then, are we to respond to the Gazette’s coverage in its morning edition of Jan 15, which, as most of us suspected – after all banks and post offices were scheduled to be closed – was a holiday.
In fact, it was Martin Luther King Day, a federal holiday that has been observed on the third Monday in January since it was established in 1986. So this is not a new concept.
As a young reporter who traveled to the nation’s capital in 1963 to cover the March on Washington and stood less than 10 feet away from Dr. King when he delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, I have been an admirer of his ever since.
Let us now turn to the coverage of this holiday in the local newspaper.
The page-one color photo, which measured 8 1/2 by 6 inches, was taken at a commemorative breakfast honoring King two days earlier in Amherst. It was used to illustrate a 10-column-inch Associated Press story dealing with the first public display of some of King’s papers in Atlanta.
Turning to page 3 or A3 as it is designated, we find a 12 by 9 inch “package,” consisting of two photographs and a story headlined: “A skit brings home message at school event.” This describes a program that took place four days earlier at the R.K. Finn Ryan Road School.
Imagining there might be some further coverage, we turn to the editorial page, A6. And there we read an editorial titled “King’s vision of education,” which essentially reprints an article the youthful King wrote in 1947. Next to this at the top of the page is a wire service photo from an event five days earlier in Phoenix accompanied by a column from the Los Angeles Times titled “A moment of truth on civil rights.”
The last page of the first section, A8, carries a 5 1/2 by 4 inch color photo from the aforementioned Ryan Road School event four days earlier, which supports a wire service story headlined “Atlanta gala honors Coretta Scott King a year after death.” This story, which deals with a two-day-old event, runs 14 column inches and is wrapped around the four-inch continuation of the story which ran on page A1.
Time to move on to the Towns/Region section or B1 for the local community news.
A little more news about Martin Luther King Day.
“Events recall, celebrate civil rights leader” headlines the story about the visit by Hilltown Cooperative Charter School students to a counterpart school in Springfield three days earlier, accompanied by a 4 3/4 by 6 1/2 inch color photo. There is a second story drawn from the Saturday breakfast event in Amherst that we already saw pictured on page A1. This story is titled “King’s visions for community described.” It runs with a 5 1/2 by 4 1/4 inch photo from the breakfast, in case we missed the A1 shot.
The third story in the “package,” which takes up 15 column inches, is titled “A humble, emotional tribute at Crocker Farm School,” and describes a day-long event that took place the previous Friday.
On this page, as well, is the mandatory Open/Closed rundown of businesses, etc., noting that “The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, … is a federal holiday.”
On the obituary page, or B2, is the continuation of the story from B1 about the trip by the Hilltown students to Springfield.
The last page of the second section, B6, carries news of arts and entertainment and a piece in the Arts almanac column alerts us to a day-long program – on this very day that the paper is delivered – dealing with King and his contributions and how young people react to his legacy.
The sports and business sections totally ignore the holiday and we finally complete our journey through the morning paper.
Martin Luther King is a seminal figure in contemporary American history and merits our continuing interest, attention and reflection. But there is a danger, I think, of trivializing his contributions and place in history by formulaic and overblown coverage that winds up seemingly aimed at filling space. That does no honor to King nor to his contributions to this country.
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