Case Study 1

25 Jan

Rachel Rowan

The eagle versus dog story is the kind of story that puts the news critic in me on high alert. When I first read it, I didn’t understand why it was published. The story has some entertainment value as far as unusual stories go, but overall, it seemed like an odd choice for a news story.

First, it’s a one-source story. How do we know the gas station attendant’s account of the event is accurate? I would’ve asked the reporter if he or she had been able to talk to anyone else in the area, or, failing that, if the reporter could find an account of a similar event detailed in the newspaper’s archives or another credible source. The addition of that information would, at the very least, confirm the likelihood of an eagle carrying off a dog.

I also think the story could’ve benefited from further reporting in the form of contacting expert sources. Instead of reporting only the incident, the writer could’ve spoken to a wildlife expert about how an eagle managed to nab a dog and how often something like that occurs.

To me, the biggest issue with this story is its deceptive simplicity. It is tempting to go after stories that may draw a lot of readers to the paper, but reporters and editors should think about the quality of information available. If a story’s quirkiness is the reason a reporter wants to cover it, that’s all well and good, but the quirkiness shouldn’t constitute the only reason for publishing the story. Multiple sources and good fact-checking should be taken into account as well.

I had never used Quora before this assignment, but I think it’s a great tool for journalists. It’s the best means of crowd-sourcing I’ve seen from social media. Instead of posting a question on Twitter that would most likely get buried in Twitter feeds and trending topics, Quora allows users to direct their questions to people interested in topics relevant to their questions. The question-plus-brief-explanation format is also more useful than Twitter’s 140-character limitation in that the questions work like headlines to draw in readers, and if readers are intrigued by what they see, they can opt to read more.

The question I asked was, “Is it always OK to take witnesses at their word?” I was thinking in terms of what we discussed in class about the validity of the source of the case-study story. All the reporter had to go on was the word of the gas-station attendant who said he saw the entire event unfold. There is something to be said for trusting people, but as journalists, we have a responsibility to report the truth. Without anyone to back up this person’s claim, who’s to say he didn’t make up  the entire story? There’s simply no way to verify his claim because he is the only one who can back it up.

I got one answer to the question I asked on Quora. It was from a user named Todd Gardiner, who said:

Journalists are very careful to report what a person says and attribute it to them, rather than reporting their statements as a fact. Facts that are reported in an article need to be fact-checked and verified and a sole witnesses statement has to be attributed as such.

So, now it should make sense why a report will say:

Some of Clair’s patients reported infections after he performed root canals on them, said Grant Woodman, a spokesman for state Attorney General Martha Coakley, whose office prosecuted Clair.

Rather than:
Clair’s patients suffered infections after he performed root canals on them.

I find it interesting that his answer is basically that it’s OK to publish a first-hand, one-source account as long as it’s attributed. I agree with Gardiner, but I don’t think it’s OK to publish a one-source, first-hand account entirely on its own. To be considered a solid piece of journalism, a story should have multiple points of view, and it should have more value than simply relaying an event that happened. It should educate as well as inform.


One Response to “Case Study 1”

  1. Ronald R. Rodgers January 25, 2012 at 3:16 pm #

    Well done. Like your Quora question, but did you think to ask if it was possible for an eagle to pick up a dog?

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