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.

No comments:

Post a Comment