Sunday, April 15, 2007

Real journalism alert

Bravo to Dan Horn and the Enquirer for the most enterprising piece of journalism we've seen in months. Horn's examination of death sentences reviewed by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals is good work, the kind of work we would expect to see more often from a metro newspaper. I read the story with skepticism, thinking as I'm reading, "what about this angle?" And Horn would address it.
The Enquirer, however, seems to have set a limit, that no story, no matter how big and important, will take up more than one page of the newspaper. This limit on story length also sets a limit on the Enquirer's ambition. Horn's finding that judges here seem to decide death penalty cases along party lines could be extended to many other kinds of cases as well -- immigration, terrorism, drugs, white-collar crime. The story should have gone farther in looking at the decisions of particular judges to see if they're just automatically taking one side or the other without good reasoning. Alice Batchelder or Nathaniel Jones might have been good candidates for this. Lastly, a finding like this is more powerful if it has some predictive value. Could the Enquirer have listed pending cases and the judges assigned to those cases, to project the outcome? That would have been cool. You know the lawyers in those cases have already done this, and such a listing would have reinforced to the judges that the Enquirer is a now a watchdog of these decisions.
I'm not faulting Dan Horn, who is a very capable journalist. He produced a very good story in the space he was afforded. Maybe he did propose a more ambitious project and his editors rejected it. Maybe he thought about proposing a more ambitious project, but didn't because he knew his editors wouldn't go for it. Maybe you can think of this story as a baby step, but a newspaper that's been around for 165 years should be beyond taking baby steps.
And why just Cincinnati and the 6th Circuit? This could have been a national story, and still could be, but can we expect the Enquirer to be that ambitious? I'm not optimistic. The last word to the Enquirer on today's good work should simply be: more.
Unfortunately, Horn's bright spot on the front page is dragged down by the pointless piece about the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky. Newspapers have been accused in the past of treating fundamentalists disrespectfully, and many of those complaints are legitimate. Today's story went too far in the other direction, implying on the front page of the biggest circulation paper of the week that this museum is a good thing because it has strengthened the faith of the people who work there, as if that's something we should all strive for.
This is not a front page story. Where publication of Horn's story restored a little bit of my faith in the Enquirer, placement of the creation museum story on the front page took it away. That story is about as unsophisticated and unskeptical as a story can get, and the Enquirer is pandering to somebody by putting it on the front page. A better candidate for the front page would have been Michael D. Clark's story on big high schools.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The story should have gone farther in looking at the decisions of particular judges to see if they're just automatically taking one side or the other without good reasoning.

Disgruntled Enquirer copy editor: It's further not farther. Just trying to help.

8:39 AM  
Blogger Newsache said...

Thank you. It's the oldest and cheapest trick in the book, to try to discredit an argument by picking apart the grammar and pointing out minor factual errors. Smoke a cigar and feel self satisfied, but the argument survives. Is that the best you can do? I'm just trying to help you achieve your potential.

8:51 AM  

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