HOWLS! Stories covered unsuccessfully from TV and newspapers

chix• Chickens, goats, animal sacrifices, oh my!

• Fighting the closing of Philly charters.

• An ex-con is dead, but what is the story?

• Is it Coatesville or Connellsville?

6 ABC Sacrifices Balance and Accuracy

In a February 17 story, 6 ABC provides plenty of lurid details about a string of animal sacrifices in the Philadelphia area, but also misleads the viewer with a deplorable generalization and no balance whatsoever.

Chad Pradelli relies solely on the views of an investigator from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to make sense of the goat and chicken parts found strategically placed in various Philly locations. This investigator helps Pradelli connect the dead animals to the Caribbean religion of Santeria.

After this point, there is no effort to further explain Santeria or its connections with Christianity. If an obviously biased member of an advocacy group is a reliable source, then why not contact a follower of Santeria to lend their voice on the matter. The viewer is left to assume that the sum total of Santeria beliefs can be found in the blood and guts of slaughtered livestock.

While this imbalance is curious, Pradelli makes one ill-conceived statement that borders on cultural demonization. He states that Santeria is “commonly practiced by people of Caribbean and Hispanic descent.”

A 2001 Survey of American Religious Identification put the number of Santeria observers at 22,000. The U.S. census puts the number of Hispanics in the country at over 40 million. Even if you take into account the fact that people who practice Santeria are prone to conceal their beliefs for fear of reprisals, the count could not possibly be described as a common practice among Hispanics in general.

I am not even going to begin to delve into the hypocrisy of condemning the ritual slaughter of roosters and goats in a culture that gave rise to industrial livestock operations that torture and eviscerate animals with ruthless efficiency every second of every day. I am just going to eat my chicken sandwich, practice Santeria, and put the voodoo hex of bad journalism on Chad Pradelli and 6 ABC.

-Lance Duroni

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Two Philadelphia charters appeal closings

Officials from Germantown Settlement Charter School and Renaissance Charter School in Mount Airy are to present their cases to officials with the state Charter Appeal Board in Harrisburg. Martha Woodall reported that the schools have been ordered to close by the School Reform Commission and the school representatives are expected to ask that the schools be kept open.

Both schools had their charters renewed in 2003, after opening in 1999. The School Reform Commission unanimously voted in October to deny the renewal of both schools’ charters. They cited that Germantown “failed to abide by the conditions of its charter” and “was plagued by fiscal mismanagement.” The commission said that Renaissance’s charter was denied renewal because of the “school’s financial management problems” and “a history of low student test scores.” Both schools have decided to continue their appeals in court if the commission does not vote to renew the charters. An update to the original article stated that the Charter School Appeal Board has upheld the decision to close Germantown Settlement Charter School.

This Philadelphia Inquirer article is based almost solely on “official” information, specifically from the School Reform Commission. Also, there are no direct sources, but it should be noted that the charter school officials could not be reached for comment.

In Philadelphia, education is a major issue, and under the mayor’s new budget, parents may be presented with fewer options about where they can send their children. Because this story is about schools closing and this could impact nearly 700 children, it would have been helpful to get more information from parents. What will parents do if these schools have to close? What alternatives do they have in their communities? Providing this information to readers would help to make them aware of just how important these schools’ closings are for the communities they serve.

-Rachel Ross

Neighbor charged in ex-con’s slaying

This one took some time to sort out. Barbara Boyer wrote a short piece for the February 25 Inquirer.

The issue I am taking with her article deals with the topic of responsibility. Again, it took serious thought, but I believe Boyer irresponsibly reported on the death of Dallas Custalow.

Boyer points out in the lead that the victim was an “ex-con with a violent history.” When she brings up his violent history again it is at the end of the article. She writes that Custalow had a “lengthy criminal history that included murder, rape, escape from prison, robbery and burglary.”

It’s obvious the deceased was no saint during his time on earth, but I struggle with the writer’s reason for bringing this information to the forefront of her piece, particularly when no detail is provided concerning actual convictions. My thoughts on this were further reinforced when Boyer finished her piece by writing, “His most recent arrests included drunken driving in 1991 and simple assault in 1992.” Once again, the departed will not likely have a church erected in his name, but according to the reporter it has been 17 years since the man had been in legal trouble. There are no connections made in the article confidently linking his “violent history” with his death.

I realize what Boyer was attempting to do. She was trying to associate his violent passing-he was beaten to death-with his criminal history. Some may think I’m being too nitpicky on this, but without a verifiable and direct link between the two, I believe it is irresponsible to report on someone’s past in this way. Particularly in the manner Boyer did by putting the information in the lead.


-Brian Donathan

A W. Pa. town knows Coatesville’s anguish

In Sunday’s Inquirer, the Local section led with a story that had Coatesville in the headline-although the article was about a town in the western part of the state. The writer, Troy Graham, made many parallels between Coatesville and Connellsville but it was never clear to me why this article was written. Why do I need to know about Connellsville?

Connellsville saw 26 arsons over the course of 18 months from 2004 through 2005. The overarching message seemed to be that someone was caught, and the fires stopped, but it is unlikely that residents will ever know who was responsible for all of them. This is not exactly encouraging.

While the article was willing hope to Coatesville residents-two people had been arrested for arson in Coatesville at press time of the article-Monday, the day after the article ran, there was another arson. Graham obviously had no way of knowing that the arsons in Coatesville weren’t over. But how helpful was this article about Connellsville? If I were a resident in Coatesville, I don’t think that I would find comfort in this article.

There are two particular aspects of the reporting in this article that I question. First-the reader is never given a point of reference for where Connellsville is. Western Pennsylvania is a broad area. I had to use Google Maps to find out that Connellsville is about an hour southeast of Pittsburgh and a little less than an hour northeast of the West Virginia border. Second-I wonder why Graham chose to quote a victim of the arson as he did. Graham quotes Tony Pujia, whose hair salon was set on fire. Pujia said, “They thought somebody was p.o.’d at the town. Turns out it’s a retarded guy. He doesn’t know what he’s doing to people.” This quote isn’t exactly politically correct, and so I wonder what Graham’s decision-making process was to use these words.

-Victoria M. Indivero

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