Sunday, October 12, 2008

Heds, stories, events

A couple of steps seem to be falling out of the journalistic process here, and it'd be sort of nice if editors stepped up and started enforcing things a bit:

McCain talks policy at rally
Candidate turns away from attacks that were met by shouts of ‘terrorist' from crowd

DAVENPORT, Iowa -- Republican John McCain, the clock ticking down on a chance to narrow Democrat Barack Obama's lead in polls, turned away Saturday from visceral attacks on his rival to pivot back toward policy differences.

McCain kept his speech in this Iowa river town focused on the economy and other policies, a striking change from just days ago when his campaign redoubled its challenge to Obama over his association with a former '60s radical.

You can see where the hed writer was working from in the lede: "pivot back toward policy differences." But getting to "talks policy" from there takes some inferring, and it needs to be backed up in the story. Is it?

When an anti-war protester interrupted him, McCain nervously watched what the crowd would do. The protester was hoisted on shoulders and McCain's supporters chanted “We want John.”

“You know, my friends, there's a perfect example of some people who just don't get it,” McCain said to applause.

“As people are trying to stay in their homes, keep their jobs and afford health care, is what they want for us, to yell at each other?” he asked. “No. They want us to sit down together, Republican and Democrat, to work through this terrible time of crisis.”

I can see how some coders can have a close call with that last one, but I can't call it a policy statement, because I can't call "work through this terrible time" a policy. (Nor is this graf, which the paper cut: "Which candidate's experience in government and in life makes him a more reliable leader for our country and commander in chief for our troops?" McCain asked. "In short: Who's ready to lead?")

You could skip the next three grafs (on grounds that prayer -- even the "millions of people around this world praying to their god, whether it's Hindu, Buddha, Allah, that his opponent wins, for a variety of reasons" -- isn't policy either), except that they set up the conclusion:

“While we understand the important role that faith plays in informing the votes of Iowans, questions about the religious background of the candidates only serve to distract from the real questions in this race about Barack Obama's judgment, policies and readiness to lead as commander in chief,” Wendy Riemann said.

OK, got it now: "Policy" means putting aside attacks on your opponent's character so you can concentrate on important stuff, like -- your opponent's bad judgment! You can see how people have trouble in content analysis class until they get their codebooks straight.

Blame this one partly on the AP, but mostly on the copydesk. There are two assertions in the lede -- that McCain is turning away from "visceral attacks," and that he's turning toward "policy" -- and the desk chose the one that isn't supported to put in the hed.

Here's one from the local paper (since Charlotte didn't seem to think the Alaska abuse-of-power tale was worth much -- certainly not as much as Cindy McCain's visit to the speedway -- and the Freep at least had the vestigial good judgment to front it):

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin unlawfully abused her power as governor by trying to have her former brother-in-law fired as a state trooper, the chief investigator of an Alaska legislative panel concluded Friday. The politically charged inquiry imperiled her reputation as a reformer on John McCain's ticket.

Um, implicationally, for this to be true, doesn't Palin have to actually be a reformer? (Much as Your Editor's "reputation as a power forward" would entail his actually having been one?*) Pinning this assertion to the "team of mavericks" itself seems the way to go here.

The "objective" turn in journalism isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's historically been an easy thing to game. An election is a nice time to keep people from gaming the system.

* The Central Ohio bureau can stop giggling any second now.

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Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

"Imperiling her claim" - see? Not so hard.

7:11 PM, October 12, 2008  

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