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Trading up the chain: San Pasqual High School’s unfortunate journey to virality

Wednesday was a drama-filled morning for Escondido. San Pasqual High School had made headlines for a relatively uncommon reason—a series of staff yearbook photos featuring the world language faculty wearing ponchos and sombreros with one teacher wearing Parisian garb.

The article, titled “Yearbook Reveals San Pasqual Language Teachers’ ‘Insensitive’ Photos,” has quickly become a talking point for everyone in the community, pressuring the Escondido Union High School District (EUHSD) to put out a public statement condemning the situation.

One thing is certain: everyone has an opinion on the story. What’s lesser known is how far this story has spread and the tactics that were employed to bring national attention to it. For the sake of our community’s reputation, it’s crucial we understand these issues.

Escondido Goes Viral

Our community is undoubtedly aware of the NBC 7 story and its subsequent mentions on social media. A lot of us, however, are unaware of how far it has actually traveled.

Since the article was published on Tuesday evening, it has received over 6,000 shares across major social media platforms, linked to by over 15 major publications, and has been featured in news outlets across the nation.

Some of these outlets include the Huffington Post, Yahoo!, and Business Insider. Regional outlets such as the Sacramento Bee, the Tri City Herald and even the Idaho Statesman have picked it up as well.

This type of media virality might seem like it happens by accident, as if someone tried to keep a story contained but it leaked out and it spread like a virus across the media landscape. As someone who works in public relations, I can tell you that this is not the case. If media were that easy to acquire, my industry wouldn’t need to exist. Someone always has to push to make these stories move up the chain.

Tricks of the Trade

This type of media manipulation is referred to as ‘trading up the chain.’ News starts in seemingly innocuous places like a local news outlet or a small blog, small enough to not pose any real threat.

Upon closer analysis, it becomes clear that larger outlets, whether regional or national, use smaller publications the way a Major League Baseball team uses a farm team. They let things grow in these contained environments until the time comes that they need a big hitter. 

It’s at this point that small, niche content makes it onto the national stage. This is an easy way for journalists at major publications to get granular stories from smaller communities. Trading up the chain isn’t always a bad thing, until journalists begin looking exclusively for click-worthy content.

Many journalists are paid by the click so there is a systemic motivation to create content that will draw as many eyes as possible, regardless of the cost to a community’s reputation.

This yearbook story is the latest example of trading up the chain, but it’s certainly not the only one. In the last two months, the Huffington Post has grabbed a handful of stories from NBC 7, including a San Diego woman with a gun threatening to blow up a Clairemont church, immigration officials detaining a 9-year old heading to school, and the infamous Poway synagogue shooting.

The Huffington Post article also chose to omit numerous comments from parents of San Pasqual students defending the teachers, instead leaving in only a single out-of-context quote that paints the community as outraged.

Who Is Escondido

Now Escondido is on the radar due to ‘insensitive yearbook photos’ at the close of the school year. This begs the question: is Escondido being accurately represented by the greater media or is this just an attempt to generate buzz?

While local news does not bring in the traffic that the Huffington Post or other syndicated news groups do, they help get a more organic feel of what Escondido is like. While we have our share of unfortunate headlines, there are plenty of good things taking place in our city that don’t make their way up the chain.

Earlier this month, students and employees of the high school district were recognized for their outstanding achievements inside and outside the classroom. Even in the face of stalled budget negotiations, classified EUHSD employees like Daniel Varela of OGHS continue to go above and beyond for our students. Stories like Daniel’s rarely make the headlines, but as a community, we know they represent us all.

So what do we do? How do we as a community avoid becoming the victim of this type of media exploitation? It’s up to us to remember what unites us instead of allowing others to aggrandize what divides us.

Escondido is a microcosm of our nation, a diverse community of various backgrounds that has found a way to come together and create a community that represents all of us, regardless of race, religion, or politics. We owe it to each other to assume the best before accusing the worst.

 We can and should work together to ensure that the next major news story out of our town is about the wonderful things we’re doing for our students, citizens, and those in need, just like we as a community have always done.

*Note: Opinions expressed by columnists and letter writers are those of the writers and not necessarily those of the newspaper.

3 responses to “Trading up the chain: San Pasqual High School’s unfortunate journey to virality”

  1. Lucas says:

    Amazing break down of the way media works. It’s nice to know there are people out there who still believe in the good of people.

  2. Linda Arbuckle Moody says:

    Excellent take on the news media of today. Refreshing to read the truth of what actually happened. Born and raised in Escondido, I no longer live in Escondido but look forward to reading this site to catch up on my home town happenings.
    My grandmother was born on Palomar Mountain in 1888, so Escondido has a place in my heart.

  3. Jen Irwin says:

    Great article, Robert!

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