New way to find balance is reading the same story by different publications

28 Mar

Part of a writer’s job is to take facts and turn them into a story. The goal is to be objective and just turn what happened into a readable, more interesting sequence of events, but oftentimes the words used can seem to put a little slant to the information.

In a comparison of two stories that reported a newly released poll about life in Afghanistan, two papers, The New York Times and USA Today each had different ways of reporting the study.

The New York Times began with the negative results of the poll, and then went into the different areas that people were unsatisfied with and gave statistics to back those statements. There were no quotes aside from a statement taken from the survey.

USA Today approached the story with a positive lede and gave essential background information about the survey up at the beginning. The statistics were listed, which made it difficult to follow, but the quotes solidified the story. Also, USA Today used quotes that both agreed and disagreed with the survey results.

It seems to be argued that striving for balance in a story can lead to the publication of opinions that just aren’t true. Opinions that are proven to be untrue should be weeded out by the reporter. But if two experts disagree, the two opinions are creating balance in the story and should definitely be sought after and published.

When it comes to balance, the USA Today story did a better job. It may have slanted the story by using a positive lede, but it used quotes that represented both the positive and negative attitudes toward the progress in Afghanistan. Listing the statistics also gives the impression that the writer isn’t trying to lead you anywhere.

But the balanced quotes at the end of the USA Today story are wasted if people skim the first few bulleted statistics and then move on to another story. The New York Times story was much more readable in form, and that should be important too.

Before looking over the stories again to write this, I wanted to say that I both prefered The New York Times article and thought it did a better job telling the story because it seemed more readable and informational. But now I think I only prefer it.

I did get more information from the USA Today article, and it was more balanced information, so after reading the articles again I feel they did a better job. 

Compiled story:

Compiled from Times wire services.

– Afghans have lost a considerable amount of confidence in the direction of their country over the past two years, according to an extensive nationwide survey of over 6000 Afghans conducted over the summer and released Wednesday.

In the survey, 44 percent of Afghans interviewed said the country was headed in the right direction, compared with 64 percent in 2004 on the eve of the first democratic presidential elections in Afghanistan.

Security was the main source for optimism among those who said the country was headed in the right direction. But among those who expressed pessimism, more than half said the biggest problem was a lack of security, the Taliban threat and warlords.

While violence has increased, Afghanistan has made some progress in the nearly five years since U.S.-led forces overthrew the fundamentalist Islamic Taliban regime.

Afghans finally got a chance to vote in presidential elections in 2004 and in parliamentary elections in 2005. Roads have been paved and schools reopened after three decades of anarchy.

Frederick Starr, Chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, said he was not surprised by the survey.

“These findings … in no way contradict the larger conclusion that this is a country still desperately poor and desperately in need of help,” Starr said. “What they affirm is that help produces results, which in turn generates appreciation.”

On a local level, unemployment was cited as the biggest problem. Corruption, which has become one of the main criticisms of the government, was less of a concern for respondents than unemployment and lack of services.

The survey showed strong support for democratic elections, and strong approval of new national institutions, including the Afghan National Army, of which 87 percent approved, and the Afghan National Police, of which 86 percent approved.

However, the police, in particular, have been widely criticized for being corrupt, brutal and beholden to local warlords.

Barnett Rubin, who studies Afghanistan at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation, said in an e-mail, “I have never met one person, including the minister of the Interior, who trusted the Afghan National Police. I think this is not a very reliable survey.”

Starr counters: “For a country that didn’t have a national army and had only local militias, the fact that one exists — no matter its absolute level — is a breakthrough.”

      – USA Today contributed to this story

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One Response to “New way to find balance is reading the same story by different publications”

  1. Ronald R. Rodgers March 30, 2012 at 8:15 am #

    OK – but I might disagree about preferring USA Today given that the NYT gives more longitudinal context vs. Today’s snapshot that fails to look back.

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