Howls! Editorializing & Laziness in the Newspapers.

Last Wednesday, Daily News writer Gloria Campisi continued coverage of the Art Institute dorm shut down. A carbon monoxide alarm went off early Monday morning, prompting the students’ evacuation to local hotels. The building racked up 12 pages of violations from the city’s Licenses and Inspections department including a broken fire-alarm and higher than acceptable carbon monoxide levels.

While three students were treated for CO poisoning symptoms and up to 250 had their lives in danger, not one had anything interesting to add to the article. I don’t believe that.

Ms. Campisi can’t be totally blamed for the lack of voices. No newspaper coverage included any interviews with students. That may be acceptable the morning after, but not two days later.

Previous articles quoted the Institute’s communication’s director, the Fire Department and the Department of Licenses & Inspections. Nothing new today. They say that everything is under control and the owners are cooperating with the city regarding the problem. Fair enough, but I’d like to hear from the students before jumping to this conclusion. What have they been asked to put up with? How long have problems existed? Are they seriously paying the Art Institute to live in a building with no fire alarm? At least the carbon monoxide alarm works.

On the other hand, what responsibility does the Art Institute have in assessing problems in their own dorms? Where is the parent outcry? I would like to hear a little more than the basic facts from spokespeople for each institution cleaning up the mess.

One mother screaming about how her kid almost died in a dorm that she pays for turns this article into the heavyweight that it could be. As a reporter, why wouldn’t you make those extra couple of calls?

– Brendan McNamara

• My Howl for this week comes, unfortunately, from one of the newspapers I used to work for, The Bucks County Courier Times. Ironically enough, it also comes from one of my former editors, Jackie Massott.

This story talks about the rape of a 15-year-old Philadelphia girl who was drunk and unconscious when the assault occurred. She was later found dead and half undressed in her basement by her mother. One of the young men who raped her pleaded guilty to the crime in…

Well, that’s just one problem. The story does not tell you what court he pled guilty in. It does not tell you if alcohol poisoning was the cause of the young girl’s death, It does not tell you when this happened, although it does tell you that the girl died in March 2008. It does not tell you where the young men were from, where this incident occurred, or anything else, really.

And on top of that, it editorializes right off the bat. If I had ever handed Ms. Massott a story with a lead that said “Teenage girls, think before you take an alcoholic drink”, she would have taken me to the woodshed and rightfully so. This is a police beat story, not a feature. Feature stories are the place to “get cute” with leads. Not police beat stories.

– Denise Clay

• In this article, journalist Regina Medina sacrifices journalistic standards in order to write a one-sided memorial to a slain victim.

When I read this article, I immediately was confused and asked myself whether it was written by the victim’s family.  The story starts off with drama by stating: “Aspen Birmbaum was alone at an out-of-town college last February 11 when a heartless gunman far away turned her world upside down.” The article then discusses how this “coldblooded killer” shot attorney, Eric Birnbaum, Aspen’s “selfless” father.

Now don’t get me wrong, I sympathize with the Birnbaum family and their predicament; however, using adjectives such as “heartless” and “coldblooded” to describe the killer when he or she has not yet been found weakens the story considerably.  This type of writing convicts any defendant accused of the Birnbaum homicide before he has had a fair trial.

In addition, the story is full of holes.  Medina’s, as well as the family’s, anger focuses on the killer—and rightfully so—but it leaves many questions unanswered. Nowhere does Medina ask the police why the case is not yet resolved, whether there are leads left to follow or how many police officers are still focused on the case.  Instead, the story lets the police off the hook in a very summary fashion.  Medina could have investigated the number of unsolved homicides in the area, average time for resolution of crimes, or the type of resources it will take to find Birnbaum’s killer a year after the crime occurred.  For me, this story left too many unanswered questions and did very little to help the victim’s family gain the closure they so desperately want.  And so I howl….

– Cherri Gregg

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