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New York Times author John Eligton received excessive backlash for his wording choices and the overall context of his profile of Michal Brown following Brown’s shooting death.
Eligton’s “no angel” comment sparked the greatest angst among readers, as they thought Eligton’s words were harsh in the midst of a young man’s passing. The comment invoked mass protests in Ferguson, Missouri, where Brown was killed.
In Margaret Sullivan’s own article about Eligton’s piece, she said the choice of words was obviously a mistake, and added she felt in offered the notion that Brown was “a bad kid”. Eligton remarked regret concerning his word choice to Sullivan, but he and New York Times National Editor Alison Mitchell both also somewhat defended the statement, saying it was a play and a relationship to the piece’s opening anecdote describing Brown’s perception of seeing an angel (Gold, NY Times defends calling Michael Brown “no angel”).
Another subject of controversy from Eligton’s profile was the connection he made to Brown’s interest in rap music. In Sullivan’s article, Eligton said he “pressed editors to make changes on parts of the article that dealt with rap.” As the author of the article, it is thought Eligton would have the liberty to make such chances if he deemed it necessary. Also when he initially wrote and submitted the story, Eligton grouped Brown’s rapping in the same listing of activities that include assault, violence, theft and drug use. In retrospect, it seems even Eligton is aware the parameters regarding the mentioning of Brown’s rap hobby places it into a poor light.
There are multiple journalistic errors as well, in terms of factual reporting. Eligton said Brown had a public record revealing problems, however, later in the profile, Eligton said Brown did not have a criminal record and didn’t get into trouble with the law as a juvenile either. It is unclear as to how Brown’s public records revealed problems or issues. Also when describing Brown’s upbringing, Eligton initially said Brown lived with his paternal grandparents, but later said Brown lived with his maternal grandmother.
Among these controversial and reporting errors in the piece, the transition and conclusion of the profile lacked polish. Throughout the profile, Eligton doesn’t make smooth transitions from one subject to the other. For example, he talks about Brown being a handful as a boy, then cuts to his education and living situations growing up. Then he basically reroutes back to Brown’s behavior by saying he possessed a rebellious streak later in the piece. The concluding paragraph of the profile seems a bit off base, and does not link to the anecdotal lead. Eligton concludes with a statement from Brown’s father about his grades being “edgy” and how he had to keep his son on track. Throughout the article, Eligton made no reference to Brown’s grades suggesting he was exploring a new avenue to the story as opposed to concluding it.