Friday, February 22, 2019

Wire Sports Story Shows How to Improve Crash Reporting

A piece buried in the sports section today shows more accurate rhetoric in reporting a crash that killed a person on foot:
Syracuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim struck and killed a pedestrian while driving late Wednesday night.
The headline, with active verbs, even says "pedestrian walking along highway." It could have been "person walking along highway," but it's still an improvement.

In the body of the piece, it says "Boehem, the driver of that vehicle, struck Jimenez as he stood near the side of the road."

Here we have most of the pieces:
  • Active voice. Verbs are active, and a person is the subject of those active verbs.
  • No robot car. The people, not some mysterious force in the car, have agency and are responsible for the safe operation of the vehicle.
We could probably do more to get rid of the word "pedestrian," but that's less important.

Contrast this story with a recent one here. (Why is a national sports desk doing a better job with crash reporting?!)

Last Friday, on the front page with passive voice

A day later, still the passive voice
In the stories about Stephen Murphy, the crash is mystified by the passive voice; further, the stories consider the crime the primary problem, that the driver ran, not that the driver hurt someone previous to running off.

But it is a very great problem, a life-altering problem, that Stephen Murphy was harmed! Even if the driver had stopped, offered assistance, and cooperated with police, Murphy still has to endure the injury, recovery, and financial consequences.

Though it is the main crime, the main problem isn't that the driver ran off; the main problem, though it is not a crime, is that a man struck and hurt Stephen Murphy and Amelia.

If you think intent is important, Boeheim did not intent to kill a man, but the scoundrel in Salem intended to flee. So the crime here is even more accurately described with a human subject and active verbs: Donald Crume struck and hurt Stephen Murphy and his guide dog, Amelia, while Murphy attempted to cross Hrubitz Road.

"Editorial Patterns"
Columbia Journalism Review
For more see notes on erasing the driver.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'd like to believe that most of this ambiguous type of reporting is just lazy copy paste from previous tragedy.