Thursday, February 21, 2008

Second Verse Same as First

"Change is in the air with the city government as two of the City Council's key staff members have announced their resignations. At the Feb. 5 council meeting, City Attorney David Holloman tendered his resignation effective Feb. 29. At Tuesday night's meeting, Ed Strube gave his notice to resign effective Jan. 2, 2009."

That was John Lawhorne's front-page lead this morning, complete with its mixed-up tenses. Maybe Lawhorne forgot, but everyone in town read his story carrying the identical information yesterday on the local front:

"City Administrator Ed Strube Tuesday night offered to retire effective Jan. 1, 2009. ... City Attorney David Holloman has already announced that he would be retiring ..."

News is suppposed to tell readers today what's different from yesterday. It's not news when the reporter simply moves around a few sentences. Lawhorne may have missed the week in journalism school when they teach how to write second-day stories. It's a sub-genre for adding salient, developmental information to a story that broke yesterday but which remained unfinished in some key point. Typical cases are accident stories in which the identities of victims are added the next day and government-action pieces in which reactions from folks around town are reported once the news sinks in.

When the topic is local resignations by two long-time administrators, readers might reasonably expect the reporter to have used the intervening 24-48 hours to interview the officials who resigned (he didn't), locate background about their years of service (he didn't), and gather reactions from people affected (he didn't). Both stories use quotes from the same city councilman made at the same meeting, saying essentially the same thing but in different words (did the councilman call and complain about being misquoted? No reference is made about correcting the record; merely a few words, not the substance, changed -- which brings up the ugly situation of reporters who polish quotes, but that's another blog day.)

Today: (And by the way, it's not a "shake-up" when someone resigns, effective nine months from now because he will have reached retirement age.)


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