That Awkward End of Year Award

End of year awards are a long-running tradition within the news media. Writers and editors pick top stories or top people or top events and then rank them on a Ten-Point scale. That way, we can look back and realize what was really important to us. Time Magazine’s Person of the Year is perhaps the most famous of the bunch (this year it went to The Protester).

Two recent examples of this end-of-year phenomenon really have me scratching my head, though.

The first is the Associated Press (AP) naming the Penn State child sex abuse case the Sports Story of the Year. Sports. Story. In case the AP wasn’t looking, Sara Ganim is a crime reporter (she’s the one who broke the story for the Patriot-News). Crime. Reporter. Sure, the story rocked the Penn State football program. And all the sports outlets have piled on. But it’s a crime story that could have just as easily focused on the Second Mile Charity.

[As a crime story, the Penn State child sex abuse story ranked 6th on the AP list of Top News Stories — Bin Laden’s death was ranked 1st.]

Awkward Meter: At its core, the Penn State child sex abuse case is about crime and pedophilia. The AP got it half right, which is better than whiffing it entirely, but awkward nonetheless.

The second example is The Patriot-News naming of Sandusky Victim One as the Newsmaker of the Year. The Patriot-News selection starts off on all the right notes:

For years, he harbored a dark secret, allegations so shocking they would crumble the cornerstones of a community and would ultimately lead to the fall of individuals who collectively were some of the most powerful men in Pennsylvania.

After that, the story gets progressively harder to read. Not because it is poorly written. Not because it speaks to courage with nobility. Not because the sentiments are anything less than genuine or well-deserved. But one word, one very necessary word, creeps into the text and, to my mind, progressively undermines the message [emphasis added]:

It can be no simple thing to open your soul, to bear witness to alleged actions so horrible, so shocking that they have shaken the foundations of our shared beliefs.

Sandusky was the teen’s mentor, a giant of a man in the community in which Victim One was raised. The man’s actions — to tell authorities about years of alleged abuse — took conviction and, above all, courage…

In a way, Victim One represents each of Sandusky’s alleged victims, and epitomizes their individual stories.

Alleged. Yes, of course, it’s a necessary adjective. The case is only just starting to wind its way through the courts. Alleged. Yes, of course, the victim’s courage will be no less if Jerry Sandusky is somehow, miraculously, acquitted. Alleged.

Awkward Meter: It doesn’t get more awkward than this:

For his strength, his bravery and his conviction, we name him, the anonymous Victim One, The Patriot-News’ Newsmaker of the Year. Not just for who he is, but for whom he represents — a group of anonymous men, allegedly victimized by a man once thought to embody the best in us all.