Paul Rilling: Publishing stories before they’re ready
Oct 31, 2013 | 4247 views |  0 comments | 31 31 recommendations | email to a friend | print
On occasion there is good reason to publish a story before a newspaper has all the available information. If it is a breaking news story that needs to be reported immediately, like a fire or a continuing crime story, you go with what you have and follow up with more news as it develops. In other cases, not time-sensitive, you wait until you can print a complete and balanced story.

The Star doesn’t always follow this policy. A story in October headlined “Easier ID” reported on a new device that helps law-enforcement officials detect illegal drugs with a claimed very high accuracy rate. The article by Tim Lockette explained how the device, the TruNarc, is helping law enforcement officials, although its evidence is not admissible in court. The story quoted the district attorney, a member of the Calhoun County Drug Task Force and a spokesman for the company that makes the device. It reported that the district attorney and the local drug force member were going to Montgomery that day to urge state officials to make statewide use of the TruNarc.

When The Star noted that a local criminal attorney could not be reached for comment and that efforts to reach the director of the state Office of Prosecution Services were also “not successful,” the newspaper was admitting that the story was not ready for publication. The viewpoint of a criminal defense lawyer was essential to a balanced evaluation of the device, and the opinion of the state official who oversees district attorneys across the state was important. Surely another criminal defense attorney could have been reached, or the story could have been held until more complete. It would also be interesting to learn why TruNarc results are not admissible in court and how widely the device is used in other states (Oct. 16, Page 1A).

Good use of charts

An article on statewide campaign funds for the 2014 state elections was thorough and well displayed. The story, by Lockette, was on the front page with a light orange screen and a cash-filled pumpkin,photo illustration by Trent Penny. Use of lists and summaries, with color on both Page 1A and 6A, made the story easy to follow. The charts did a good job of showing the money trail from major donors to PACs to candidates for statewide and legislative offices (Oct. 27, 1A).

On the tube

The Star’s sports TV listing of the baseball postseason games Oct. 2, 3 and 4 showed the games on TBS, but The Star was directing cable viewers to games they couldn’t see. The listing made no mention of the contract dispute between CableOne and Turner Broadcasting that caused the problem. One short sentence would have helped frustrated cable users.

The Star did publish a story on the settlement of the dispute (Oct. 26, 5A). It said that CableOne serves “more than 730,000 customers,” but it didn’t give the service area.

Star brights

• Problems that state and local residents are having with access to the health insurance marketplace through Healthcare.gov were reported, a good local angle on the national news, by Patrick McCreless (Oct. 15, 1A).

• An interesting feature about the discovery of a steamer trunk in Pennsylvania, a trunk formerly owned by Anniston resident Carlton Sterne Lentz, by Eddie Burkhalter (Oct. 22, 7A).

• “Dynamic duo,” the story of two senior Donoho volleyball players who lead the team’s surge this season, by Brandon Miller, photo by Penny (Oct. 2, 1B).

Star dims

• A photo cutline under the picture of a building, “The Quintard Avenue bank building that housed the First National Bank in 1979 and most recently Wells Fargo will”…will what? (Oct. 6, 3B.)

• An article by Lockette reported on a meeting that didn’t happen between Anniston’s mayor, city school officials, the state school superintendent and officials from Gadsden State Community College. Mayor Vaughn Stewart said, “That meeting is not going to happen.” Other participants in the non-meeting could not be reached for comment, according to the story (Oct. 25, 3A).

• The article about a possible third-party movement by Brian Anderson had little substance. It was based on one small bit of news, a Gallup Poll finding that a majority of Americans favored the idea of another political party. There was no reported activity concerning another party. None of the persons quoted suggested the likelihood of a third party (Oct. 15, 1A).

• Although HB56 has been widely used to identify Alabama’s tough immigration law, its use in a banner headline will not tell many readers what the stories below are about (Oct. 31, 1A).

Paul Rilling is a retired former editor at The Star.
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