One Story, Two Versions, Big Lessons

Here is a story about the death of the son of the offensive coordinator of the Green Bay Packers. These two versions raise ethics questions about how subtle difference in writing and storytelling styles dramatically change your understanding of the story:

AP story:  http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2012/football/nfl/01/09/mike-philbin-missing.ap/index.html?sct=hp_t2_a5&eref=sihp

ESPN story:  http://www.espnmilwaukee.com/corp/page/01/09/12_Packers_%27family%27_faces_tragic_loss/378?feed=2&fb_source=message

I urge you to compare these two pieces to learn some key lessons:

-The AP version of the story includes a mention of criminal charges that the deceased had faced calling them sex abuse charges.

-The AP version mentions the charges as the last sentence.

-The ESPN version of the story puts some context on the charges.

-The ESPN version of the story mentions the criminal case much higher in the story and the closing line of the story is far more sympathetic.

QUESTIONS:

Why are the criminal charges relevant to the story of the young man’s death?

If the charges are included, where should the writer mention those charges in the story? Why?

How much responsibility does the journalist have to explain whether the criminal charges have any connection to the death (or not?)

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2 thoughts on “One Story, Two Versions, Big Lessons

  1. I think criminal charges are only important to mention if it had to do with his death. If it had nothing to do with it, then I think if it is mentioned it is mentioned not as the main part of the story. The story is his death, not the charges he faced in this instance. I think too many times journalist think sensational first and ethics and or real journalism second. It is sad but a trend unfortunately.

    • I don’t believe it’s necessary to list the criminal conviction in the context of a news story about his death. Mentioning it “in passing” — especially as a final nugget in the one story — raises questions and distracts from the main news – the tragic death of a young man.

      If reporters DO mention this criminal case, I believe they should include information that allows the reader to understand what type of crime is alleged. A reporter wanting to make a report of the case might have questions such as:

      What is the age of the victims? I have seen the phrases “young girls,” and “girls” but never ages.Were they 2-year-olds at a birthday party or 17-year-olds at a keg party?
      Were they unconscious?
      Were they injured?
      What was the actual charge?
      Was there a plea-bargain?
      Did the defendant receive preferential treatment in the courts because of his family ties?

      But it would seem those questions would have been better asked at the time of the court actions, not after a sentence has been served and the defendant is deceased.

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