Last week, the UN released a major report that, for the first time, acknowledges and condemns the growing movement to legalize drugs, while simultaneously endorsing decriminalization for many drug crimes. No matter what your views on drug policy may be, it's remarkable that the UN is jumping headfirst into the legalization debate. It's equally notable that they're calling on countries around the world to reconsider policies of arresting users for small amounts of drugs.
Tragically, however, reporters at the Associated Press and USA Today somehow managed to take this groundbreaking report and turn it into something far less interesting. Both stories focus almost entirely on fluctuations in illicit drug production, which should be perfectly predictable by now to anyone who's followed international drug policy over a period of years. It's worth mentioning, but there's nothing new or exciting about it, particularly in the context of a report that was otherwise overflowing with controversial, politically-charged content.
Both stories buried the report's discussion of decriminalization, with USA Today's Donna Leinwand even managing to withhold mention of it until the very last line. What could have been a thought-provoking story about the international drug war leadership calling for fewer drug arrests was instead just another annual accounting of the drug war's progress (or lack thereof).
The point here isn't that an avowed partisan such as myself wants more media coverage that's favorable to my views. Of course I do. But my own prejudices notwithstanding, it's just a fact that the political focus of this report was unprecedented and powerfully newsworthy. The document literally begins on its first page with a heated discussion of how controversial the drug war has become, yet AP and USA Today failed to even mention this central theme of the report.
It's not a matter of taking sides, but rather simply acknowledging controversy when that's a major dimension of the story. It's in your interest to do this. The vigorous political debate that now surrounds the war on drugs is the easily the most effective angle for attracting readership to your drug policy coverage. Ironically, Leinwand's USA Today piece has links at the top of the page encouraging readers to submit the story to news aggregator sites including Digg and Reddit, which can exponentially increase your traffic. And guess what kinds of stories Digg and Reddit users are looking for. It's hilarious to find USA Today deliberately courting traffic from online communities that are obsessed with drug policy reform, while simultaneously ignoring the hooks that appeal to those audiences. Framing the story around the topics of legalization and decriminalization wouldnât just have been appropriate under the circumstances, it would have made for a better headline, more links, discussion and traffic.
If you donât believe me, write the story I'm suggesting and watch it outperform your initial coverage. I dare you.