COLUMBIA - When former University of Missouri football player Michael Sam released a statement announcing that he was gay, the news made national headlines.
KOMU 8 News chose to cover the announcement extensively, and the story led several newscasts. Coverage continued online and on-air as KOMU 8 News invested time and effort to search for community reaction.
Sam had spoken with The New York Times, and interviewed with ESPN. The story broke nationwide, but as a former Missouri Tiger football player, KOMU 8 News investigated the local impact, and the response from the university's athletic department.
Some viewers felt that a man's sexual orientation did not warrant coverage at all.
"Anything for a story...Really KOMU?" said viewer Tonya Turner on Facebook.
Viewer Barbara Johnson said, "I don't feel that someone's sexual preference should be considered news. What he did was probably hard for him and took a lot of courage but it's his business not ours! There are more important things going on in this world than whether a person is gay!"
KOMU 8 News Director Stacey Woelfel said because Sam is a public figure in the community, his announcement was of public interest.
"It's one of those rare stories where the source controls the newsworthiness a lot," Woelfel said. "Usually we think that we'll decide what's newsworthy and in this case because the source decided to make this a public announcement, he's already a public figure, a celebrity if you want to call them that, that gave it newsworthiness when he decided to make it a public announcement."
Other viewers understood why KOMU 8 News included this story in its news coverage, but argued that the subject matter shouldn't be of public interest to begin with. Viewer Beau Hammel said to those who argued a lack of news value.
"You are right it shouldn't matter. But it does due to the inequalities and hate that LGBT people face in our country," Hammel said.
In response, KOMU 8 spoke with Dr. Cyndi Frisby, an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism. Frisby teaches a course focusing on minority coverage in journalism. She said the way this story breaks stereotypes is what makes it newsworthy.
"It shouldn't have been news, but at the same time it has to be to kind of challenge our culture in perhaps what we consider to be, and I keep saying this, masculine," Frisby said. "It challenges us to think of the stereotypes."
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