Thursday, February 02, 2006

Anybody else have an ethics issue with this?

I'm interested in y'all's thoughts on whether this particular trend has gotten way out of hand. I'm reluctant to rag on the particular scribe (whom I don't know) too hard, since the host newspaper has a long track record of looking the other way when Some Writers put their name on other people's work, but I wonder if it isn't time to start cracking down on this pernicious habit:

ABC anchorman injured in ambush
TV/Radio Writer
Only a month after ascending to one of the top positions in journalism, ABC News co-anchor Bob Woodruff was seriously wounded Sunday in a fierce ambush near Baghdad.

Woodruff, 44, and cameraman Doug Vogt, 46, also wounded, had just boarded an Iraqi armored personnel carrier to get footage of convoy duty when a bomb buried in the roadside detonated as they rolled by. They were standing partially exposed out the back hatch making a video log of the trip when the attack occurred near Taji, about 30 miles north of Baghdad.
After the explosion, rebels opened fire on the convoy's eight vehicles -- mostly U.S. Army Humvees -- after the blast. At least one Iraqi officer was wounded in the attack.

Although Woodruff and Vogt were wearing helmets and armored vests, they were struck in the head by shrapnel. Woodruff was also hit in the extremities, ABC said Sunday.

Both were taken to a military hospital in Balad and then were flown overnight by the Air Force to the U.S. military complex in Landstuhl, Germany.

Woodruff is the best-known journalist wounded or killed in Iraq.

"World News Tonight" has a national audience of nearly 9 million and is the top-rated network news show in Charlotte, viewed in about 10 percent of the region's households.

Notice the level of detail: The scale of the fighting ("fierce ambush"), what they'd done ("just boarded an Iraqi armored personnel carrier to get footage of convoy duty"), what they were doing ("standing partially exposed out the back hatch making a video log of the trip"), what was in the convoy ("mostly U.S. Army Humvees"), what they were wearing ("helmets and armored vests") and where they were hit. Pretty impressive for somebody writing from, well, eight time zones away. All the more so when no agencies that might have been on the scene get any credit.

We're not getting much value added in the writing, after all: "After the explosion, rebels opened fire ... after the blast," and at least one Iraqi officer was wounded "in the attack." Sounds like standard breathless on-scene, on-deadline cop-shop babble. Except, again, the writer wasn't there. So what are we getting?

The only real "value added" is at the end: "Woodruff is the best-known journalist wounded or killed in Iraq." But again, when a writer states a superlative or absolute, the burden's on the writer to provide a list of the runners-up and a summary of the scoring system. On the one hand, we want the writer to tell us exactly what "best-known" means, so we can have a meaningful comparison with, say, Michael Kelly or any of the other prominent American journalists killed or wounded in Iraq. On the other, we could ask whether "best-known" means "best-known among other middle-class ethnocentric American white guys." Or do we actually have some way of measuring the well-knownness of the various European and Arab journalistic casualties of this war?

As a reader, I'd rather know that the stuff I'm reading is written by somebody with some sort of direct connection to the events described. For a rewrite, I'd like to know where the material came from. Putting NAMEBRAND WRITER's name on top of someone else's work doesn't do a lot for me. I'd rather the unnamed people who ran the risks and did the work got the credit, and I'd rather newspapers didn't presume they should lie to their readers by way of trying to build credibility and authority.

What do the rest of y'all think?


Blogger melissa angle said...

Yeah, I've got a problem with it. It's always better to overattibute than under. I'm also kind of irked at the TV/Radio Writer byline in regards to the "value added" argument. As if we're supposed to believe this report more because it came from the TV/Radio Writer rather than a "regular" reporter. Puh-leez.

Now, answer me this: If this weren't the first report (and I'm assuming it is since it reads that way) and this were say, a few grafs in as background info, taking into account that Woodruff's story's been all over, would the non-attribution be an issue?

12:00 AM, February 03, 2006  
Blogger fev said...

Good follow-up points. I'd say the non-attribution would be a different (and in most cases lesser) issue, but still an issue. Facts (game scores, body counts and the like) pass into the public domain pretty fast. Expressions of fact -- "silhouetted against the gray November sky, the Four Horsemen rode to victory," or whatever -- remain with the creator. I'd have no problem with a two-graf summary of the salient facts of the ambush as background two days after the original event. But the more the story draws on the details -- the Jessica Lynch thing might be a useful analogy here -- the more you need to make clear where the details came from.

As a first-day story, though, grr. If the on-scene details are the story, give credit to the reporters who gathered them.

11:14 AM, February 05, 2006  

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