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Short but Sweet and Contradictory Statements

"State police at Greensburg said a would-be robbery victim fought back late Saturday night when he was attacked outside a bank in Westmoreland County."

"The Tribune-Review does not name alleged victims of sexual assault.

In 2007, Cynthia and Mark Pollard Sr., along with their children, Jonathan, Tabitha and Mark Jr., were charged with kidnapping and enslaving 19-year-old Emily Nicely in Greensburg."
--Sample Crime Reports

Although it was shorter and the wording was relatively cut and dried, I like the "Would-be robbery" article a little better than the "Plea deal reached" article. The lead was well-written in that it made me want to read the rest of the story, and since it was so short, people in a hurry wouldn't feel intimidated about reading it. Anytime you have a story about a potential victim fighting back, I think that speaks to readers because it's what I think most people would hope they could successfully do in a situation like that. There wasn't a whole lot the writer did to make the story sound more exciting (they really couldn't have on short notice and with relatively little information), but since the facts that are known are pretty interesting, there isn't that much need for embellishment. I suppose it could have been more boringly worded to emphasize the attempted robbery and not the victim fighting back, and the interesting emphasis is the biggest contribution to the story that makes it more interesting.
The other article was notable to me for doing things that I thought newspapers generally weren't supposed to do. For example, they mention the exact addresses of the people accused. Maybe the writer thought they'd mention the address to warn readers to be careful of the people living there, but they haven't even pled guilty. It seems like that's sort of against protocol, because now those people, guilty or not, have absolutely no anonymity. And speaking of anonymity, the quote I mentioned above really threw me off. They say they don't name victims of sexual assault, but in the next sentence they mention by name the victim of a similar crime. Perhaps the 2007 charges didn't involve sexual assault, but even if it wasn't formally charged, it really seems in poor taste to mention the name of someone in an extremely similar situation. Especially because those two sentences juxtaposed really make it look like they're violating their own standards. Overall, the second article just confused me over what you should and shouldn't do when reporting these types of cases. Another, perhaps more minor point, is the direct quote from Chuck Washburn is kind of unnecessary. It could very easily be paraphrased. I'm afraid this article seemed like it was kind of a mess to me.

Comments (3)

Jennifer Prex:

I thought it was odd a name was mentioned after that claim as well. I guess the reason was because that case had been a while ago, maybe, but still . . . It would have been better, I think, if either one statement or the other had been left out of the article.

I was thinking along the same lines whenever I read the "Plea deal reached" article. One thing I didn't mention in my blog, but also wondered, that you pointed out, was the full addresses. How does that info enrich the story? Are readers really interested in the exact location of alleged criminals? And as you, yourself, asked how fair is it to reveal this info about the person not yet convicted? Very, good points Matt.

Matt Henderson:

I don't really know how much extremely specific info like an exact address adds to a story, other than to scare the people who live on that street. Certainly, if you read a lot of stories about crime that happens in a certain area, it can warn you about what kind of an area it is. Watching out for one's own safety is part of what the draw is for news stories, I think. So I think readers might be interested in the general area of where a crime happens, but I think you need to strike a tasteful balance when considering how much information to publish about the crime's exact whereabouts. If the people you're writing about haven't actually been convicted of the crime, it seems really unfair to put in the address so that those people may end up getting ostracized or somehow abused by the community. You still want to fill the reader in with as much detail as possible about the story, but not so much that you cross boundaries of privacy.

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