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The wheels on the bus go round and round

"Of course, it's callous to make light of anybody's tragic death. But by the gallows-humor standards of journalism, competing to publish bus-plunge shorts was fairly benign."
--Jack Shafer, quoted in "The rise and fall of the "bus plunge" story"

I must admit, when I first heard about this trend I thought it was kind of callous. But when you have to deal on a daily basis with reporting stories about horrible things happening to people, I would think you do develop a rather dark sense of humor. But that doesn't mean that all bus plunge stories are just insensitive listings of facts with no consideration for the victims or their families, as I learned when I was reading a few samples. There are bus plunge stories that just give the facts and are there just as filler, sure, but then there are other stories that really take into account the humanity of the people involved, like this one. Now the story I linked to may also be considered filler because it was just a slow news day, but it's really good filler. Like Dr. Jerz says, it can be a "minimalist art form," and the challenge is to write it in a way that would actually interest people enough to want to read it, be it using a picture of a baby or focusing on the personal details of one specific victim.
At any rate, buses plunging, whether or not one's covering them just to fill up extra space, can be very newsworthy because they involve more people than just your average car accident, and I think they secretly tap into a fear we all have about dying in public transportation. Doesn't anybody else feel just a little bit nervous at that moment when a bus first lurches into movement? I do. But I'm probably more neurotic than the average person. And now I'll really be nervous about it now that I know how often it happens. And that a group of journalists somewhere will laugh about it.

Comments (2)

Greta Carroll:

Haha, Matt, I agree, I think it does tap into some inner fear. I for one know that when I was in Paris this summer and had to get a bus from one airport to another, I was terrified. It was my first time travelling alone (or flying for that matter), this bus driver is driving like a maniac and swearing at all the other cars around her, and weaving in out among the other cars. But this makes “bus plunge” stories all the smarter of a pick for reporters, since it is sure to get an emotional reaction from readers.

I liked how you pointed out though that not all these “filler” stories have to be short. The “bus plunge” story you mention was one I used in my compare two bus plunge stories blog. I thought it was well written and touching. Just because it is “bus plunge story,” does not mean it’s just thrown in the paper as a journalists winking way to fill up space.

Kaitlin Monier:

I agree with Greta. Not all bus plunge stories are fillers. Sometimes they news-making accidents when they include more traumatic outcomes. However, when a bus plunges and everyone is alright, then it is a filler. But either way, the fact that a "bus plunge" story has become common does tap into fear. It does make me nervous to ride a bus now...

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on September 14, 2009 12:58 PM.

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