HOWLS! Groundhogs & Lazy Reporting.

I understand that the main focus of broadcast news outlets, like NBC10, is to produce relevant content for television, condense and simplify that content, and hastily post it online.  By recycling used TV content, reporters and anchors can easily generate website hits by directing viewers online to read further.  However, I would venture to say that the majority of the stories that end up online haven’t been fact-checked, nor even spell-checked.  They consistently contain multiple factual blunders, spelling errors, and sometimes… just plain don’t make sense.

This story isn’t awful, yet it may induce some howls.  First, this story is about PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) calling to replace Punxsutawney Phil with a robotic groundhog.  NBC10 files it under their local news beat, yet writer Teresa Masterson injects her own opinion mid story: “We could understand PETA’s fears for Punxsutawney Phil’s well being if Bill Murray was still plotting the furry fellow’s demise, but this is not the case.”

Kitschy, but let’s keep it to the news, thank you.  Secondly, Masterson includes a quote from William Deeley, president of the Inner Circle of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, but neglects to include one from PETA.  What about fair and balanced?

She also begins the article with some ineffective references and analogies that were so confusing I read the opening paragraph multiple times.  I hate that she refers to Groundhog Day attendees as “tens of thousands of revelers.”  Finally, she doesn’t wrap up the article.  It seems to end abruptly with no future, call-to-action, or conclusion.

Aren’t there more writers in the newsroom that can translate TV stories into decent articles?  We may trust TV news, but finding a well-written article on a station’s website is like finding a deeper meaning in Cameron Diaz movies.  It’s not going to happen.

– Julie Gargotta

• For the cover story of Philadelphia Weekly’s January 20 issue,
Michael Alan Goldberg reports on Philadelphia DJ RJD2. RJD2 has become widely known over the past decade: he tours all over the world, has put out records with highly respected labels, and a portion of one of
his tracks is used as the theme for the AMC show “Mad Men.”
The peg for Goldberg’s article is RJD2’s creation of his own record label, RJ’s Electrical Connections and the release of a fourth full-length album. This is a profile piece, so readers can expect that RJD2’s voice would be the primary one; unfortunately, the article ultimately serves readers poorly because RJD2’s voice is, in fact, the only one.

This isn’t hard-hitting reporting, nor would I expect it to be.

Rather, it’s a look into the career of a very successful Philadelphia-based musician, which is exactly the kind of articles at which alt-weeklies should excel. The problem with this article is that despite a career that takes interesting turns – putting out albums with Definitive Jux and XL Records, and having to work to get his masters back later on – the article lacks a depth of detail and perspective. Instead, quotes like “…getting hooked up with Def Jux, that was a no-brainer. Like, dude, you gotta take that. And then fast forward a few years to XL, they believed in The Third Hand and so it made sense to me at the time,” leave readers questioning what happened in those elided “few years.” Why did RJD2 and a respected successful indie label part ways? Similarly, the licensing of his songs to earn income is interesting (not only to “Mad Men,” but also to TNT’s “Inside the NBA”), but we don’t find out anything about the process behind it, only RJD2’s feelings about it.

While PW is dedicated to covering musicians and other cultural figures from the city to an extent that should shame most other regional media, one consistent complaint I’ve had about their cultural reporting – and this article is no exception – is their failure to provide enough context for the artists they cover. Goldberg offers an overview of RJD2’s career, yes, but this article doesn’t include outside voices that could have lent texture to the piece, filled in gaps, and further authenticated the DJ’s musical stature. It’s great that Goldberg things RJD2 merits a large feature, but I don’t walk away with a sense of why he matters.

– Nick Gilewicz

• My Howl this week comes from Inquirer reporter Sam Wood, whose wrote a story about the theft of computers from the Cecil B. Moore Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia. Someone broke through two walls and a bookcase to steal six computers from the library on Tuesday.

This story has a bunch of things wrong about it in my opinion. First of all, the reporter didn’t interview nearly as many people as the reporters in the City Council story did. There were a lot of other people that the reporter could have interviewed including the Philadelphia Police, and other people who work in the library. Even the least experienced reporter in any newsroom knows that you do not have a news story with only one source in it. You especially do not produce such a story when you have the level of experience that you need to even be considered for a job at the Inquirer.

While the story touched on the financial issues that the city’s libraries have been facing over the last few years, all it did was touch on it. When the branch manager of the Children’s Library said that the computers probably would not be replaced, I would have liked the reporter to go to someone in City Hall and ask about the process a library would have to go through to get replacement computers. It would not have taken any additional time, really.

– Denise Clay


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