HOWLS! Quiet vehicles, mayoral funding, hospitalized families and Fumo letters

020909_fumo1_6002SEPTA offers a hushed car to warm reception, say officials.

The mayor of Collingswood approves funding for buildings in the town during economic distress.

Separate car accidents land a mother and daughter in the same hospital.

Does a personal e-mail from Vince Fumo belong in The Inquirer?

Hush hour

While Jakob Dorof’s article doesn’t immediately shout “howl” to me, I am not entirely impressed with the story either. The first two paragraphs are full of unnecessarily flowery descriptors. I appreciate that Dorof is trying to paint a picture, but really, what does “sauerkraut harmony” mean? And perhaps I am exposing my unhipness, but I have no idea what he means when he references someone wearing “checkered latex.” These strange images detract from the story more than they add to it.

Also, I was left asking one fairly important question when I was finished reading the article-how do the SEPTA riders know that the first car is a “QuietRide” car? Several times throughout the story it is mentioned that the quiet car is enforced more by the passengers than the SEPTA employees. But how do the passengers know? Moreover, the article would have benefited from an interview or two with QuietRide passengers (and maybe some other SEPTA customers) as well. The only people Dorof quoted are SEPTA employees. They might be slightly biased as to whether or not their pet program is working.

Finally, Dorof’s transitions between paragraphs are pretty uncreative. Twice I counted a paragraph starting with the words “That said;” and “then again” and “likewise” were used each once. Not to say this is outrageous, but “that said” does not belong in an article-twice. It comes across as lazy on the writer’s part, as if he petered out after using all those crazy words at the beginning of the article. I have confidence that Dorof can do better than that.

-Victoria M. Indivero

Collingswood Mixes Cheers With Chafing

On Sunday, February 8, The Philadelphia Inquirer ran a story on residential/business development in Collingswood, NJ.

At first glance this article was on path to a possible HOOT, but the more I looked over the piece the more “construction” holes I found. The idea of the story is fantastic-citizen concern regarding public dollars used for a major construction project for housing and business in the middle of an economic downturn. The apparent stink stems from the additional funding the mayor recently put into the project as the banks refused to fund completion-the city had already dumped $11 million into the project. The staff writer, Matt Katz, was fair as he spoke to concerned citizens and the mayor himself, as well as some citizens who are happy with the development.

The article does this and a few other things really well, such as mentioning the specific concerns of citizens who object to the publicly funded project. Where the article goes sour is in its lack of follow-through on these accusations. I was left with questions, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but there were just too many crucial items that lacked enough detail.

For example, one citizen pointed out what appears to be a conflict of interest-the mayor of Collingswood is a lawyer working on other redevelopment projects in New Jersey-raising the question of what personal (possibly financial) benefit he gains from the completion of projects? Is the mayor willing to put up public funds now for personal gain down the road? The question was either not asked of the mayor or if it was, the reader is left in the lurch.

Although all sides seemed to contribute to the piece, overall the story fell a little too much on the side of the mayor and the citizens pleased with the developments. The article was written most likely because concerns were voiced, and the writer does touch on some of those, but I just wanted a little more follow up.

My personal favorite is the elderly resident of the new development discussing how much she loves her new home and surrounding improvements, although she has to endure the “sound of the train and a leaky roof.”

A LEAKY ROOF? Can we dig a little deeper on that, please? The writer skipped over it with the same apparent ease of his source-it’s a story about public concern and public cheer for an expensive and publicly funded redevelopment project. “The roof leaks” warrants more attention.

-Brian Donathan

Fate puts mom, daughter in same hospital

This article from the Daily News reports on Betty Jean Johnson and her mother, Sallie Hunter, who coincidentally were both admitted to Christiana Hospital in two separate accidents. Johnson was struck by a car while trying to cross Concord Pike, and almost two weeks later her mother, Hunter, was involved in a car crash on her way to visit her daughter at the hospital. This article includes an interview with Johnson, who said that she was in a coma following her accident, and has not been able to speak to her mother because of the severity of her mother’s condition. Hunter suffered a broken collarbone and had her spleen surgically removed. At publication of this article, she is listed in critical but stable condition.

Johnson was struck by a car on January 14, but that would only be known if a reader sought the original article, published on January 26. This follow-up article was published on February 7. At issue in the follow-up is the fact that there is no mention of the details surrounding either incident. Included in the original article is the fact that, in addition to Johnson’s mother, her boyfriend was also involved in the car accident. He was one of the three people killed. He and Johnson’s mother, Hunter, were struck by an out-of-control SUV on Interstate 95, and that is also not included in the second article. The details of the situation can only be gathered by reading the original article, and some news consumers may not be aware that there was a first article. For some, the second may be their only news of the situation, and that makes complete information about the incidents, including details from the original, necessary in the follow-up article.

-Rachel Ross

Junk Mail

Vince Fumo’s private life and his career as a public servant have both derailed in a spectacular train wreck of a corruption trial. Local reporters are left to sift through the rubble, separating that which is pertinent and of public concern from those tidbits that are better left for the gossip columns. The Inquirer staff has failed miserably at this task, seeming intent on shoveling as much irrelevant dirty laundry into their Fumo trial coverage as possible.

Accompanying a February 10 article titled “With Rendell help, Fumo defends work” was a verbatim copy of an emotional e-mail from Fumo to his daughter, presented by the defense to paint Fumo in a sympathetic light. His daughter, Nicole, denies ever having received the e-mail and suspects it is fraudulent.

Clearly, this e-mail has some relevance to the charges being brought against Fumo or it would not be part of the proceedings. Nicole’s husband is an ex-Fumo aide and prosecution witness who was allegedly paid out of public funds to oversee renovations on Fumo’s very private Spring Garden mansion. The couple’s intentions in cooperating with federal investigators have been attacked by the defense, making any personal correspondence between members of this quarreling family fair game for reporters.

But that does not mean I need to read this boilerplate sob story word-for-sappy-word. It sounds like a composite of four cards in the “Alcoholic Dad” section at Hallmark. There is a description of the e-mail in the main article, complete with several quotes. This is more than enough to get the gist of the message and understand the defense’s rationale.

I imagine the entire e-mail was included to let the audience judge its authenticity for themselves. This is unfair because it invites the reader to make a highly subjective judgment based on flimsy evidence. Devoting this much space to an ancillary bit of evidence is sending the Inquirer down a path toward a scandalous niche that the Daily News already occupies.

-Lance Duroni


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