July 25, 2008

When Donny Met Hector

Area man adopts large, dog-shaped armful of limp spaghetti.

Former Vick dog Hector has a for-real home and a loving family back in Minnesota now. KAALTV reporter Donny Rowles did a bang-up job of covering the story:

Odds were [Hector] would have been put down until a pit-bull advocacy group called "Bad Rap" met with Hector and found he was friendly and adoptable.

[Roo] Yori went to California to see Hector.

"I really liked what I saw. He's an awesome dog with a really solid temperament. There's a lot of myths about the breed that need to be shattered; there's a lot of stereotypes that need to be broken."

Yori and his wife hope Hector's example will show pit bulls can be good, friendly pets.

"I can sit here and talk all I want. But all they need to do is look at Hector.”
Click here to read the report and see the most excellent video. Sez you, "This basic stuff is 'bang-up' reportage? Good story, sure, but 'bang-up'?" Zip it, and watch the vid. The reporter is holding Hector, so help me. Check it out, there on the right: that's KAALTV's finest, Donny Rowles, giving pibble Hector a good rub. God bless the man. If only more reporters had the neurons to say to themselves, "These folks have forgotten more about dogs than I will ever know. If they can hold this friendly boy and play with him and take him into their home, what's not to like? Sure, lemme hold that sucker."

Weird as it may seem, not all reporters get this. Weirder still: editors don't get it, either. Editors assign pit bull stories to writers who've never housetrained a puppy. They assign pit bull stories to reporters who are too afraid of pit bulls to actually leave the office and meet one. Which, if you think about it, is kind of like an editor saying, "Y'know what I need for that upcoming feature on great food in Beijing? A reporter that doesn't speak a word of Chinese, hates travel, hates China, hates Chinese food and is such a crappy cook, she burns water. Maybe I could even find someone who won't speak to Chinese-Americans in person because she's afraid they might jump up in the middle of the interview and start a tong war. Yeah, that's the ticket."

When Jefferson wrote that he would rather have newspapers without government than government without newspapers, I like to think he had a different type of journalism in mind ;~)


Bill Fosher said...

Hi Luisa,

I don't think your criticism of journalism is exactly fair. It certainly doesn't reflect the reality of newsrooms. I'm a former reporter and assignment editor for local newspapers, so I can assure you that one the last things that any editor is doing is sitting around deciding which of his several reporters he will ask to stop doing the crossword puzzles and send out on a story about a dog attack. More likely, it's a matter of triage -- whose work can I drop while doing the least amount of damage to today's local news effort?

And I was working back when newsrooms weren't the focus of the MBAs who are now running news operations with an eye exclusively on the bottom line. Big city newsrooms are losing hundreds of reporters -- not collectively, but individually. Local newsrooms, where the motto has always been "do more with less," are trimmed back half of the staffing levels that were present in my day. And staffing in my day was inadequate.

In all likelihood, if the reporter didn't go out to the scene, it's not because of fear or reluctance, but because there simply aren't enough hours in the day. Sometimes the best you can do is cover a breaking news story by telephone.

Add to that the focus on getting stuff onto the web and the 24-hour news cycle, and you really can't begin to pick and chose who covers a breaking news story based on who might have some level of expertise in the subject area.

And, even if they did have a staff that included experts on dog behavior and training, sending the expert opens the organization up to criticism that the reporter was too close to the subject matter.

Now, having said all that, I will also say that I am noticing a trend in local reporting toward credulity that makes me want to hurl. Particularly in small markets and local newspapers, it seems that the approach is to do one-source, non-critical stories. If anything, the approach to blunting this seems to be to do a follow up story that provides the same level of credulity and obsequiousness to the opposing view a day or two later.

Efforts at synthesizing information, critical analysis, and good old fashioned truth squadding are down the toilet at most local newspapers and small-market broadcasters these days. As are editing, proofreading, and headline writing.

Could this be due to the fact that most local reporters are now of the generation that thinks "doing research" means "going on line and finding people who agree with me?" That treats all information as equally valid? That accepts the culture of assertion?

Don't get me going.

Oops. You already did.

Luisa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Luisa said...

Bill -- excellent comment, and I am stealing, er, borrowing it for a post. Thanks!

Caveat said...

When the media report a dog-on-dog attack 327 times from coast to coast, you have to wonder where the priorities lie.

TJ was referring to a press that was unfettered and whose role was that of a watchdog - alerting the people to government malfeasance was one of its primary purposes, for example.

Unfortunately, in my opinon, the watchdog has become a lapdog - more concerned about where his next stroking and delicacy are coming from than on sniffing out the facts and nuances around a particular issue.

I don't blame this on individual staff people. Newsies are one of the most undereducated, underpaid, overworked and underappreciated groups of workers out there.

I blame it on the concentration of information control into fewer and fewer hands.

Thank Dog for the blogosphere - all those commentators and reporters doing it for love, not money - which is how the fourth estate started out. Pamphleteers.

As you can tell, I have no love for the pull-it-off-the-wire, who cares about facts, nobody will know the difference, mainstream media.

But then, I've spent the last four years of my life working 12 to 14-hour days, seven days a week, fighting the propaganda and the bitter fruit it produces.

Nobody says that reporters have to be experts - that would be ridiculous.

What I would like to see, though, is consultation with real experts (rare), an ability to understand information that is sent in by concerned citizens (guilty) which often includes names, publications, actual facts and descriptions of the various players and their motives. I'm not saying take it at face value, I'm saying here's the evidence, check it out.

Twenty years in, we're still seeing mis- and disinformation about dogs in general, certain races and even fabricated races run as if were factual, ad infinitum.

If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen is all I'm saying (and a bit more, as usual) :>)