Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Globe, Glob, Glib

Homing in on Turkey Day, we offer a small prayer for the local media. Please, newspeople, do your damned jobs!

The immediate catalyst for this rant was the coverage and related treatment of the O.J. Simpson book/TV deal. Forget for a moment the topic itself and the pseudo-outrage of the self-parodying, profit-oriented MSM. Mull for a moment whether the recent article in the Boston Globe or the one in the Boston Herald served you, the reader.

As an old J-school guy who worked newspapers as reporter and editor, I am likely more in the Perry White or Lou Grant mold than a newsman LITE. It never hurt me to learn to put the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How in every story -- and as close to the top as our short-attention-span reader could find them. Grab 'em and give them a reason to read!

As the Simpson tale illustrated, our local rags shortchange us. They are increasingly like TV rather than the other way around.

Consider, this story has been around for a couple of days. There has been wire-service coverage as well as broadcast. The local papers have had editors and in some case reporters stuffing these into their grinders to roll out the news sausages.

So, what might the typical reader want to know? Some is there -- how much Simpson stood to gain and who was pissed at the prospect, for example.

As in far too many Globe or Herald pieces though, key information is not there, not demanded by passive editors or even the alleged reporters. In this case, does Simpson get to keep his advance or the whole payment for the book, and maybe for the contracted program and interviews?

How could they not ask? Well, it's not that difficult to figure:
  • Laziness. As broadcast has taught, it's a lot easier to run a press release or wire story than use them as a springboard to real reporting.
  • Fewer Feet. The local papers have smaller staffs than they used to.
  • Bad Training. Modern editors don't have adequate school or mentor background. They can't do or teach what they don't know -- unless they are extraordinarily observant.
O.J. Revealed: By the bye, if you want to see the missing Simpson details, head to the New York Times article. He fulfilled his part of the book contract.

Unfortunately, this high-profile example has other things wrong with it and is typical of the day-to-day and local reporting and editing. We all get ripped everyday by the local tab and broadsheet.

My family gets to hear regular rants about Globe editing. If the key components of an article appear at all, they are likely to be near the end of the story. That's both bad writing and unforgivably bad editing.

By cracky, kiddies, in the old days, we learned that the typical reader read the first paragraph if the head was interesting enough -- that should be 35 words or less. Few readers will go beyond 100 words unless the story hooks them. The Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How need to be at the reader's convenience, not that of the arrogant reporter or lazy editor.

This seems to be TV news tainting the attitude of newspapers instead of papers inspiring broadcast. Roger Mudd may have been the last broadcast reporter who was not a talking head first. He checked or did the reporting on everything he covered on air.

So, look at the local papers with an eye to how they are serving you. I have sent email or letters to the Globe editors, reporters and lately ombudsman about some. The latter letter specifically cited:
  • The recent minimal coverage of a Boston cop who drove into a disabled car on 128 in the early morning, killing the woman inside. The Globe ran the State Police press release, which did not include whether the car was in the breakdown lane or had its blinkers on or whether the cop was tested for alcohol or other drugs. There seems to have been no follow-up. This is not only a matter of public safety, but has all the appearance of one set of cops covering up for another. This demands real reporting.
  • Very similarly, the man who died this year on the Orange Line tracks near Green Street was a T-police press-release special. The Globe eventually ran a second item, very short, giving an unlikely name for the man with a maybe town of residence. We don't know what he was doing on the tracks or whether the electricity or train killed him. Come on now, this is local interest of high degree and likewise demanded original reporting.
  • In an older death, neonatalogist Dr. Douglas K. Richardson died on his bike when a BFI trash truck passed him and turned right immediately in front of him. He left a wife and three kids. The violation was so egregious that the Norfolk DA prosecuted for vehicular homicide among other things. The sole Globe coverage was the initial report. There was no follow-up on the charges, no naming the driver, no coverage of the large number of BFI and other garbage truck-caused deaths of motorists, cyclists or pedestrians, and no articles about any legal outcome for the driver and company -- criminal or civil.
Those may be extreme and emotional examples. They do involve deaths. However, they are in the pattern of the daily poor reporting and editing.

The monopolies and near monopolies city dailies enjoy and abuse reinforce this. They don't care. They don't have to.

Perhaps they do. The next time you put down the Herald or Globe annoyed because they didn't ask the obvious question, send them an email or letter. Their ad rates depend on their readership -- that's us.

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1 comment:

Peter Porcupine said...

Well, the only GOOD thing is that Fox has cancelled the OJ Tv interview.

Good analysis.

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