Case Study1

25 Jan

Eagle Snatches Dog While Owner Watches — Or Did It?

The difference between a good story and a not so good story lies in the details.

When it comes to news writing, details don’t just make the story better, they make it credible. Lack of detail is precisely the problem with the story, “Eagle Snatches Dog While Owner Watches.”

The story leaves the reader wondering so many questions that it’s hard to visualize the situation without drawing from a movie scene or commercial. What kind of dog? How old were the owners? What were their names? What kind of motor home? What kind of gas station? What was the weather like? What was their dialogue?

The answers to those questions would add depth and credibility to the story. A rich picture would be painted, and ambiguity would be erased.

The lack of detail actually raises the question, Is it okay to even publish a story that doesn’t include the names of those involved? If the people don’t need anonymity for the sakes of their reputations, then doesn’t an unidentified witness or subject just leave too much guessing on the writer’s part?

To explore another issue with this story, the role of tone should be introduced. The tone of this story was insensitive, which conflicted with the heartbreak the woman in the story was going through.

Tone should reflect the events of the story, unless it is purposely mocking them. There is a time and place for news to mock its subject matter, but that place is usually a news show like Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report.

Even when satire is used in the news, facts must be checked. In fact, satirical news should probably be written even better than a typical news story.

I tried to search some questions regarding writing and tone in Quora, and an interesting search that was already there asked about the necessity of a new writing format that allowed for tone in online discourse. One of the best responses was, “So the assumption is, misunderstanding of written communication was not a problem until the internet was invented?”

Conveying tone through writing, without the use of special colors or emoticons, is one of the most important skills a writer can learn. The story about the eagle snatching a dog doesn’t convey the right tone. It’s harsh and seems to make fun rather than tell a story, which, combined with the lack of detail, could really turn away readers.

Perhaps if the writer had gathered details and talked with those involved, their emotions could have been better-conveyed, and the right tone would have been achieved.

The job of a writer is to ask questions. The more those questions get answered, the better the story becomes. 

But it’s also the editors job to ask questions. Editors must edit skeptically, and while they aren’t questioning as many experts, witnesses and reports as possible, they should be questioning their reporters and their own knowledge.

The goal is to write credible stories, and it boils down to details and getting the answers to questions.

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One Response to “Case Study1”

  1. Ronald R. Rodgers January 25, 2012 at 10:42 am #

    Good, but some editing issues
    Needs a better headline
    Is it okay to SHOULD BE OK NOT OKAY
    The Colbert Report. AP STYLE COMPOSITION TITLES – CHECK IT OUT
    I WOULD RARELY LINK TO WIKIPEDIA – USE IT FOR A STARTING POINT

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