Scott Stanford: The sharks come out when it doesn’t snow
December 14, 2006
During my first year as an assistant metro editor at the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, we had three incidents in a month involving swimmers and surfers coming in contact with sharks in the nearby Gulf of Mexico.
It was my job to plan our Sunday newspaper. “Ah ha,” I thought, “time for the big in-depth Sunday story on shark attacks.”
Maybe we could tie it to the gradual warming of the waters in the Gulf. Maybe the sharks were so hungry because global warming and offshore drilling were killing all the fish so the sharks had to start feeding on innocent swimmers. And maybe because of the geographical bend of the Texas coast, the biggest schools of sharks were centered due east of Corpus Christi, waiting to eat every tourist who dared go in the water.
During our Sunday planning meeting, I barely got “shark” out of my mouth when Editor Larry Rose said, “No.”
“But,” I protested, “this is important stuff – this is the stuff people are talking about. A surfer dang near lost his arm.”
Rose was a coastal veteran – he had spent years at the Miami Herald before coming to Corpus Christi. I was a landlubber, recently transplanted from the dry West Texas plains.
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He gave me the “hey stupid” look and explained things so I could follow. Sharks are in the ocean; people swim in the ocean. Sometimes the two meet. Sometimes they meet more frequently than other times. If you swim in the ocean, you can get stung by a jellyfish, step on a conch, get caught in a shrimp trawler’s net or, yes, get bitten by a shark. The chances are infinitesimal, of course. Florida researchers say statistical evidence shows you have a much greater chance of being hurt traveling to the beach than you do of being bitten by a shark. And most shark attacks are of the bite-and-go variety because – get this – sharks like fish, not people.
Rose wasn’t about to spend his Sunday taking phone calls from every restaurant and motel owner in Port Aransas because his idiot assistant metro editor put Jaws on the front page. He did let me assign a story. But it was about the statistical insignificance of the recent attacks, and we put it inside the “C” section of the newspaper.
What’s the point of this tale? At some newspapers, certain things are taboo. In Corpus Christi, if you write about sharks you could end up, at least figuratively, swimming with them. And in Steamboat, newspapers have to be careful what they say about snow (especially the lack thereof).
Last Thursday, Tom Ross wrote a story about El NiÃ±o and the impact it could have on snowfall in Colorado in general and Steamboat in particular. “Things could be a little boring for the next four to six weeks,” said Klaus Wolter, a renowned National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration climatologist. By boring, he meant “dry.” Wolter is calling for – everybody whisper – below average snowfall for several weeks before conditions pick up again in February. The good news? He thinks Steamboat will fare better than the rest of the state.
There are those who think the newspaper has a duty not to report such less-than-rosy forecasts, especially not on the front page. One person feels so strongly about this that he won’t be advertising with us for a while.
Hey, I love to point out our mistakes. Just ask my staff. But I confess that I’m having trouble seeing the wrongdoing in this case. If snow is important to our resort, then it’s important when we’re getting it AND when we’re not. Funny how no one has ever called to increase their advertising when we put big snow on the front page.
Still, I want to do my part. With that in mind, I’d like to offer the following message to all the potential vacationers out there: If you’re looking for someplace to spend a week or so, come to Steamboat. We may not have as much snow as we had last year, but it sure beats the beach. Because even if you somehow survive that trip, you’re probably going to get eaten by a shark.
Scott Stanford’s From the Editor column appears Thursdays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4221 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org