Remembering basic journalism standards

27 Feb

Stereotypes help people understand the world around them. They simplify things into easily comprehendible categories.   However, simple is usually not best. Journalists must take extra care with every story they write to not fall into the trap of over emphasizing one aspect of person.

In one of my reporting labs, we had a discussion on writing about the elderly. Anytime you are going to add on a caveat of “that is impressive for someone like them!” you are probably being insulting. Although there are examples where this is dealt with in a professional manner.

Another common mistake journalist make is letting their own biases and opinions influence a story, which I have talked about before .

While reading a story on a murder trial of a “suicidal blonde”  I could tell that the journalist was making both of those critical mistakes. The story reminded me of that reporting discussion, and I feel the writer behind this story could have benefited from a similar lesson. The story condemns Jeanette Sliwinski with every sentence. Although the original write up of the story does write alleged suicide attempt once, many other times in the story the crash is referred to as suicidal although Sliwinski denies she was attempting suicide.

The writer has clearly decided that Sliwinski is guilty and therefore it is ok to stereotype and demean her. If the writer was reporting this story as a journalist would report any other piece of news, the first references to Sliwinski would have used her name rather than referring to her a model. I believe the writer is attempting to belittle and discredit Sliwinski and her defense by referring to her this way. This is a new low of the stereotyping habit.  This is an example of irresponsible journalism. Her job and her hair color have nothing to do with the trial. These details are included simply to serve the purpose of the writer to describe her in an unflattering manner.  The line that bothered me the most was, “The 3 young men died. The woman walked away with a broken ankle.” This is clearly an attempt to make the readers despise the woman that caused the death of these three men because she did not get seriously injured herself.  However, she did have a broken ankle so I can only assume the writer uses the line “walked away” for dramatic effect.

Before writing a story a journalists needs to assess their view of the information. If a writer is overly invested in a story or not looking at the people involved as real people with their own sides to tell, then this may not be a story to bother writing. Being entirely unbiased is impossible. But when you stop making a conscious effort to even seem unbiased you are no longer writing a news article. I am curious how the suicidal blonde story was able to make it past editors and in to the paper. Editors need to watch out for emotionally invested journalists and help them to make their stories more news appropriate.

 Chicago Murder Trial Begins for Suicidal Blonde

Former Model Killed 3 Musicians With Car in Bid to End Her Life, Prosecutors Say

They probably never saw her coming. [if you don’t know whether they saw her coming or not should this be the introduction?]

It was July 14, 2005. Lunch hour in Chicago.

Three local musicians who worked day jobs together at an audio electronics company were stopped at a traffic light in a Honda Civic in a suburb north of the city.

At a speed authorities estimated at 70 miles per hour, Jeanette Sliwinski, then 23, who, police said, was trying to kill herself ran three red lights and slammed them from behind in her red Mustang convertible.

Both cars flew airborne on impact, witnesses said, each landed crushed upside-down on the pavement.

Sliwinski’s lawyers have denied that she was attempting suicide. Her current attorney did not return a call seeking comment on the case.

The 3 young men died[What are the names of the deceased?]. The woman walked away [How did she walk away if her ankle was broken?] with a broken ankle.

Her murder trial begins this week, more than 2 years after the crash.

“The one thing that would have brought this thing to closure would have been had she been successful in what she set out to do that day,” said Dave Meis, older brother of victim Douglas Meis, referring to the alleged suicide attempt.

The crash and subsequent arrest brought Sliwinski internet infamy. Many blogs and websites have posted modeling pictures of Sliwinski since she was arrested. [is it appropriate to link to her modeling photos?] (Click here for pictures.)


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