Monday, April 19, 2010

Whoa, Wait, What? Where's the News?

On April 13, 2010, the Iowa City Press-Citizen online posted an article entitled, "Robbery, home invasion reported." Obviously, the story was about recent robberies and home invasions in Iowa City. The problem with this article was that the story was not really news, or rather news in the form the Press-Citizen provided.

First of all, when I read the headline, I was confused. Isn't a robbery and a "home invasion" ultimately the same thing? Just to double check, I checked Basically, to sum it up, a "home invasion" occurs when a burglary takes place "while the residents are at home;" and a "robbery" usually involves violence of some form during the burglary. I understand the slight difference; however, the headline doesn't really give me a story. A home invasion and a robbery aren't particularly uncommon things in Iowa City. There really isn't an angle. Maybe a headline that took a more investigative approach would have been better. If this following statement is true, something along the lines of, "Police: Robberies highest in decade," or something that really gives readers more information than just "Robbery, home invasion reported." This is more of a statement than a news headline or story in itself. This would have been better suited to a little blurb on a police blogger.

When it comes to the actual story and information, the article was a bit dry. The information is interesting, but the reporter didn't seem to do any work to get it. The article reads like a police report because it just says what allegedly happened. The reporter did no crafting to this article--it read like word vomit. It was strictly informational and therefore heavy and boring. Even with a story about robberies, a reporter can still frame the story in an interesting way to keep readers reading. Reporters need to do their jobs so that readers can do theirs, i.e. reporters need to do some reporting, rather than vomit up information given to them.

Along with this, the article has no interviews or quotes, not even from officers. The story obviously came from a police report or something. If this information was given to me as a reporter, I'd have found it interesting--so interesting that I wouldn't just vomit up the information, I'd attempt to actually report on these incidents. Interview people, see if there's a real pattern, go deeper than the obvious. There is no real news value because no reporting was done by the "reporter."

Editorially speaking, I want to know why the races of the robbers were included. I could see it being important if officers are still looking for the suspects. But in all of the robbery examples, the reporter notes the suspects' races, but he does not elaborate on the alleged victims' races. There were also photos attached to this story. The last robbery example gave the alleged suspect's name, though the reporter declined to give his race. This is important because the previously mentioned suspects were described in detail.

All-in-all, this story was really disappointing. I wish the reporter had actually done some reporting before this article was published online.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Please Permanently Prohibit Perpetually Preposterous Headlines

The focus of this short blog entry concerns publications that rely on alliteration as their form of creativity in their headlines. On April 6, 2010, an online publication called published an article about panhandling in Madison, Wis. I was not overly impressed with the story, perhaps due-in-part to the story's headline: "Peace Park Poses Panhandling Problem." I think the real problem wasn't the panhandling, it was how the p's were handled in the headline.

Along these lines, the Cedar Rapids Gazette posted an article online on April 5 that ironically also used the alliteration of p's. Entitled, "Man charged for prostitution, porn and pot," the short story focused on one man who showed nude photos to a 15-year-old male, attempted to trade money for sexual acts with the boy and also provided marijuana to him on several occasions. The problem with this story was the fact that the real focus of the story was scrambled by the headline. According to the article, the man was arrested for these things because the child was 15. The wording of the headline makes it seem that the man was charged for prostitution, porn and pot. Although this is true, the focus should have been on the fact that the man did these things to and for a child. This becomes lost by the writer's alliteration headline.

Both articles attempted to be quirky in their headlines by highlighting the harsh p sound. The problem therein lies. "Peace Park Poses Panhandling Problem" is too much alliteration for the headline because of the harsh p sound. A person probably couldn't say this headline aloud without laughing or pausing for breath somewhere. At least the man charged with "prostitution, porn and pot" headline flows nicely, or at least better than the other.

I have no problem with alliteration; I use it quite frequently. The problem I have with it, however, occurs when writers force alliteration. If a person uses it, it should flow and add to the story's overall effect. It shouldn't hinder the reader's comprehension of the story or the story's effectiveness.

So, in conclusion:

Dear "writers,"

Please permanently prohibit further use of preposterous problematic alliteration from your headlines. You make my ears bleed. On behalf of the people of my country... refrain!

Thank you,
Mallory Cole

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Resurrecting Road-Kill, Take One

On March, 26, 2010, posted a very short, comical story about a man who unsuccessfully attempted to revive a dead opossum in Pennsylvania. Apparently, the man was heavily intoxicated at the time. Donald J. Wolfe, 55, is to be charged with one count of public drunkenness.

The tone of CNN's article is meant to be humorous. Unfortunately, the humor was a bit dry. The tale is hilarious; the delivery...not so much.

The headline reads, "Police report attempt to revive flattened opossum." A person has to read this line several times before they understand the meaning, or at least that's what I had to do. I know the headline is meant to read that police reported this incident; however, with the words "police" and "report," I think of an official "police report." I was confused and thought the headline was mistyped. The headline writer should have been more clear. Also, considering the context of the story, the headline could have been more clever to ensure readers understood the hilarity of the situation immediately--something that lets readers know a drunk man made a fool of himself by trying to "save" some road-kill. That's what makes the story funny. Since CNN did not fully write to the hilarity of the situation, something such as "Man charged with public drunkenness after unsuccessfully attempting to revive a road-killed opossum," would have gotten the story across right away. Or to simplify: "Man charged after attempting roadkill resurrection."

The first graphs says, "A Pennsylvania man attempted to resuscitate 'a road-killed opossum,' state police say." A reader might imagine this to refer to a kind man who hit an animal and tried to save it! How nice!

But the next graph reads, "But this was one possum who wasn't playing possum -- the ugly creature remained dead." Obviously the creature was dead; where's the surprise? The first graph already called it ROAD-KILL. The writer's attempt to be humorous was short-lived. I understand the writer wanted to play off the old saying of "playing opossum," in which a being pretends to be dead in order to stay alive. Perhaps if this idea had been incorporated into the headline or the first graphs, the outcome would have been better.

Readers don't find out WHY the man attempted to revive the dead animal until the third graph. "Troopers responding to the scene in Oliver Township on Thursday determined that Donald J. Wolfe, 55, of Brookville, was drunk, according to the police report." Funny, right? Not exactly--the "drunk" part is buried in the sentence. The general rule-of-thumb is to write the 5 W's (who, what, where, when and why) in the first graph. And since the story is about a drunk man who tried to revive road-kill, the "why" is important. The "why" is the story.

The story, as customary with most CNN articles, includes a "STORY HIGHLIGHTS" section to the left of the story. The problem with this is that it gives the whole story. It contains the three sentences that sum up the story, which has only eight sentences itself.

One of the most intriguing questions concerning this tale is HOW the man tried to save this creature. The only thing that would complete the hilarious tone is that he tried to give the dead opossum mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. That would complete the story. Unfortunately for readers, the article does not say how the man attempted the revival of the animal. "It was not immediately clear how he endeavored to restore the possum's life," CNN says. Did CNN not ask anyone? Right before this sentence, CNN says that according to police, "Several witnesses observed Wolfe's failed resurrection of the flattened marsupial." People saw the man doing it, which is why police were alerted in the first place. Where's the reporting?

CNN also says that they were unable to reach the arresting officer or the man for comment. Reporters are taught to GO to people if they don't answer the phone. Come on, CNN, really?

CNN ended the story by saying the man will be charged with public drunkenness. This is important, I think. Maybe headline or first graph worthy. Even if CNN still chose to use this information to be in the last graph, they could have added something about the unfortunate opossum too. This would bring the story fully back to the funny part about the whole thing. "Wolfe will be charged with one charge of public drunkenness, police said. The opossum will be removed from the road." Something along those lines would have been a better ending to the story.