Howls! The Inquirer’s Great Idea Gets Bad Treatment, and The Daily News’ Brush with Ethics.

When I stumbled upon an in-depth dance article on Philly.com’s website I was thrilled.  How wonderful to read a feature story on a sector of the arts so underrepresented in mainstream media!  However, as I began to read the story about a young orphan from Africa with dreams of becoming a great ballet dancer, my enthusiasm quickly faded.  Not only did I find the story to be lackluster and a bit stagnant, the article was dated June 8, 2009.  This 8-month-old article was still hanging around the landing page for “The Arts!” Has there been nothing compelling to write about in the dance arena since then?  It’s hard to imagine.

Although I applaud Inquirer writer Ellen Dunkel for the concept of the story (if it was her concept to begin with), the actual execution and presentation was lacking.  Firstly, where was the research?  Dunkel could have given us more information about Michaela DePrince’s roots in Sierra Leone or about the elite Rock School here in Philadelphia.  Perhaps Dunkel should have written less about DePrince’s adoptive family structure and more about the ballerina’s dreams.  The writing lacks a certain spice, as if the writer was not particularly enthralled by the subject matter.  With such a visual subject as ballet combined with the emotional images one could conjure up of a war-torn Sierra Leone, I think Dunkel had more than enough meat to work with.

Yet, even worse than the content was the style in which she wrote the piece.  Dunkel began the story with a nice opening paragraph, but after the fluffy introductory paragraph it was all down hill.  Dunkel was quote happy.  She also often used pieces of quotes instead of paraphrasing material.  Worse yet, the quotes she chose were disappointingly dull.  When quotes are not artfully inserted in a story and instead haphazardly placed, the piece becomes choppy.  Without flow and active verbs, the reader feels little motivation to continue.  I chose to continue to read the piece in its entirety because I love dance and I wanted to give Dunkel a fair shake.  I doubt most readers would schlep through the entire article.

- Julie Gargotta

There’s been something bothering me the past couple of weeks. On Wednesday, it was on page 5 of the Daily News. It’s called “At A Glance,” and it’s sponsored by TD Bank: “The Most Convenient Way To Get Your News Presented By America’s Most Convenient Bank.” There’s a TD Bank logo at the top, and a banner ad at the bottom. There are five small stories on the page, 2-3 sentences each, about a shooting, a bank robbery, the gubernatorial race, and some  other local news. The stories are attributed to “Staff and Wire Reports.” They’re placed under sub-headings which are highlighted in TD Bank green.

We all understand the need for advertising dollars. And if the Daily News can sell a full-page ad to TD Bank, good for them. But there needs to be a line between advertising and editorial content. We already have stadiums, concert halls and all sorts of events sponsored by banks.

The Daily News should show some restraint. If a bank approaches you and offers to sponsor a page of your news, you should offer them a full-page ad, in which they can describe what it is that they actually do. A page like this just gives the impression that everyday life is made possible by corporate sponsors. I’m not sure if other papers are doing similar ad/news combinations, but this is a slippery slope. Despite its reputation as a sometimes sensationalistic tabloid, the Daily News is still one of the most reputable papers in the city. Its editors should understand that blurring the line between advertising and original content will only weaken the public’s already shaky trust in the media. A HOWL! for all involved.

– Jared Brey

(editor’s note: The Inquirer has a similar sponsored page of news in brief).

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