Friday, October 26, 2007

An Anecdote Isn't Data

"The bill comes with two months remaining on a year that has witnessed some of the most high-profile gang violence in Manatee County history, including the Easter Sunday gang shooting on Coquina Beach that left three brothers seriously wounded; and the May 21 shooting death of 9-year-old Stacy Williams III. Three reputed members of the SUR-13 street gang were charged with murder in the case," Nick Azzara reports.

Azzara's reporting does many things right. Readers appreciate that he locates knowledgable people who articulate relevant cautions about this staged announcement. He's a little vague about whether this is a national funding proposal or a local one, but by reading twice and using common sense, an assiduous reader can deduce that all $900 million is unlikely to fatten the local sheriff's budget. He's also good to point out the politician's proposal lacks co-sponsors and a funding source.

The problem is the reporter omits any data that would inform readers, residents and voters about the big picture. We get an anecdote about two events and are told they are "high profile." But readers never learn if there are two shootings a year, a week, or every day. Readers are told about one gang, but are there others? (I know, I know: gangs are like lawyers; you need two to make a fight.) With "local law enforment officials" on the dias next to the pol, it would have been easy to pry loose even a round-figured indicator, if not a good current number. Elected sheriffs keep these numbers fairly handy, in my experience.

If DeSoto Sun editors had spotted this huge hole in the story, I'm sure they would have grabbed at least one reporter off the third-day homecoming dance piece and asked her to boogie over to the local sheriff's office and find out if gangs are a problem out here, 60 miles east of Coquina Beach. The congressman's district includes our neck of the woods and editors and reporters owe local readers a local story.

Another Question Where A Headline Should Be

A question hed is bad enough; when the story doesn't answer the question, it's superbad.

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