Boring Drug War Reporting From the Mainstream Press

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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 wouldn’t just have been appropriate under the circumstances, it would have made for a better headline, more links, discussion and traffic.

If you don’t believe me, write the story I'm suggesting and watch it outperform your initial coverage. I dare you.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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AP and USA Today in State of Denial

Associated Press and USA Today have been a dumping ground for the printed garbage spewed by the prohib ministry of propaganda for so long that the editors are probably dumbfounded to find that times have changed.

The editors need to wise up.  It was the disinformation appearing in USA Today on drug topics that turned me off reading their newspaper long ago.  And it’s absolutely true that people are hungry for information favoring drug law reform.  AlterNet noticed it was getting more hits on topics that criticize the drug laws than any other topic but sex, so the internet news provider added more anti-prohibition pieces to their online content with results that were good.

People who feel threatened or oppressed by a despotic government’s stupidity tend to seek reassurance in literature that supports them and their cause.  That’s only natural.  When news sources ignore or dismiss the 100-million cannabis users in the United States, as well as many others who would like to see pot legalized and illicit drugs in general regulated, the MSM forfeits a huge chunk of its market share of potential viewers, readers and listeners.


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