Sunday, April 11, 2010

Missing the point

Hmm. Given that the third graf includes this sentence:

Along with the president, the 97 dead included the army chief of staff, the head of the National Security Office, the national bank president, the deputy foreign minister, the deputy parliament speaker, the civil rights commissioner and members of parliament.

... you think maybe "key figures of Poland's recent past" is missing the point just a little bit?

You can see where the hed writer is going. The story's been in play since early Saturday, so a first-cycle hed risks looking stale. And international stories (the sort of thing that one memorable glasshole used to call "that Mideast trivia") are subject to particular scrutiny: mere facts often aren't good enough without some Context®. But this one seems really off the mark; it's as if Poland wouldn't be front-worthy on the strength of its present.*

The Freep chose a different way of grabbing for context without looking in the bag first. "Worst disaster since WWII" has the advantage of coming straight from an AP story used in the staff/wire rewrite on 1A:

Thousands of people, many in tears, placed candles and flowers at the presidential palace in central Warsaw. Many called the crash Poland's worst disaster since World War II.

After a statement that stark, a news story will usually circle back in a few grafs with some support: an indication of how many people make up "many," for example, or what events they're understanding this in the context of. The AP story never does -- and in the five columns the Freep devotes to the story inside the paper, the idea vanishes entirely. We're left with no way of knowing whether the context sheds any light at all on the subject, let alone whether it sheds the right kind of light.

All that aside: Hey, at least this rated a separate 1A story at some papers. At others, it barely managed a 1A reefer, and at a couple of once-notable regional powerhouses (that'll be you, Louisville, and you, Des Moines), it doesn't even get a mention.** The Eagle and the Freep would have done better by playing the story straighter, but they did have the good sense to recognize a major story when it jumped up at them.

* How key these figures are, and what constitutes the recent past, are other questions. The exile government had its important moments, but by 1989-90 it was really more an unusual artifact of World War II than anything else.
** For the Fox readership, of course, it serves a different purpose, evidenced by this comment on a folo: "
If this had happed to Air Force One it wouldn't have been a tragedy, it would have been a cause for celebration."

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Blogger John Cowan said...

In a Polish context, "recent past" means "since 1945", or arguably "since 1918". This is a country whose national anthem (itself fairly recent, dating only to the Napoleonic Wars) begins "Poland has not yet perished, so long as we still live." I bet the Poles are singing it a lot just now.

12:49 PM, April 11, 2010  
Blogger fev said...

Being from the part of the country where 1865 is the "recent past," I'm cool with flexible definitions of that idea. But the recent past still seems a strange thing to emphasize in a crash that killed the current head of state and a number of other incumbent leaders.

1:04 PM, April 11, 2010  
Blogger John Cowan said...

Well, as you say, it's a second-day head.

But yeah, there is a resemblance between "Poland has not yet perished" (written when there was no Polish state) and "The South'll rise again." Here's the first verse and chorus, just to give you an idea:

Poland has not yet perished,
So long as we still live;
What foreigners have seized,
We at saber-point shall retrieve.

March, march, Dąbrowski,
From Italy to Poland,
Under your leadership
Let's now unite the nation.

4:34 PM, April 11, 2010  

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