Not All “Bus Plunges” Are Filler

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The first “bus plunge” article I read (23 killed as bus plunges into gorge in northern India) follows the more typical pattern of such stories.  We get the requisite number of deaths, number of injured, how far the “plunge” was, and how far it is from the capital city (just as Shafer said they usually include).  Now, if this was a typical “short” from the 50s and 60s when the “bus plunge” stories were truly necessary, the article probably would have stopped after these first two paragraphs.  However, it continues to give the reader some quotes from a policeman and some facts.  We learn the additional information that the bus “plunged” because the driver could not “negotiate a bend” and that India has more fatal car accidents than even China (which is more populous).  Of course, this information could be cut off if necessary, true to inverted pyramid style.  However, I would say that this “plunge” story has advanced a bit from the shorts that Shafer referred too.  This article was probably meant not to simply fill a small space left open because of typesetting, but to fill a larger space in the event of a slow news day.  Or, since the source is South Asia News, this could just be a real article which is relevant to its intended audience, since the people would be in closer proximity to the accident.

My second “bus plunge” article ("Brisbane man James Nielson dies as bus plunges over cliff”) is a bit of an exception to the typical “bus plunge” story.  First off, it is relatively long for such a story, about 370 words long.  Second, it lists the name of a specific person who died and focuses on him, instead of leaving all of the deceased in anonymity.  Thirdly, it uses quotes from the deceased’s mother to invoke emotion within the readers.  It also talks of his long-time girlfriend’s memorial to him (by traveling the same road he died on).  I think it’s safe to say this is an atypical “bus plunge” story (undoubtedly because the man who died was from Australia.  Shafer addresses this by quoting Mort Rosenblum, “‘A hundred Pakistanis going off a mountain in a bus make less of a story than three Englishmen drowning in the Thames.’ By and large, if an American plunged on a bus, the news was always more likely to run as a free-standing story in a U.S. newspaper than as filler.”)  In other words, this story about Nielson is not even really filler at all.  My point is that just because something is a “bus plunge” story, does not make it filler.

Read more “bus plunge” article comparisons. 


Josie Rush said:

I hadn't even thought of the tendency of the "bus plunge" stories to leave the dead in anonymity. You're right, though, the second article you discussed was quite the break from the traditional practice.

I can't help but think of the families of the other victims involved in the crash that killed the Brisbane man and how they might be offended on the fact that the reporter made the story really only about one of the victims. That's the difficulty of writing these stories; to say 20 people were killed doesn't automatically make you feel for the grieving families, but you can't do a detailed profile on each person that was killed. So it's a catch-22; you can either talk about all of them and leave them in anonymity or only talk about one or two and leave the rest in anonymity. I think I prefer covering at least a few in-depth because then at least you get the reader to get a sense that not just the one person but all the victims had lives and affected other people and will be missed.

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