Anatomy of a news story

There was a story floating around this weekend that makes a wonderful exercise in ascertaining the difference between solid newspaper reporting and TV/video news fare. Perhaps the medium really is the message.

One story, one news organization. Two different messages and tones — one that is relatively scholarly,and one that is simply meant to scare the devil out of you.

See if you can figure out which is which.

The Associated Press story documents the increase in routine maneuvers at airports called “go arounds,” which — as the name implies — is when a pilot decides to abort a landing and go around for another crack at it. This can be warranted when another plane hasn’t cleared the runway or the approach just isn’t to the pilot’s satisfaction.

Here’s the “print version” carried by many newspapers (the Star Tribune carried a severely edited version of it). Nothing you’re about to read will make any sense if you don’t click the link and read the full story.

Here are the take-aways from this version of the story:

  • The “go around” is a routine maneuver. It’s not a tense situation.
  • Go-arounds haven’t been blamed for any crashes or midairs in over 30 years, but air traffic controllers worry that without more safeguards, an accident is inevitable.
  • The sources of knowledge in the story are a pilot, and several air traffic controllers.
  • The main problem is intersecting runways at large airports.

    The Associated Press also packages a video version of some of its stories for use on Web sites, using the same reporting as the basis of the story.

    Here’s how this same story was packaged for an online video audience:

  • The “routine maneuver” becomes the “dangerous maneuver” in the video version.
  • The air traffic controller and pilot are replaced with a scared passenger. “It’s a catastrophic accident waiting to happen,” the passenger says. We’re not giving any information about who this passenger is or why he’s considered an expert on flying airplanes.
  • The pilot who says “we’re trained in that maneuver, os it’s not a tense situation,” is replaced by a controller who says, “it gets your nerves going, it gets your adrenalin going, it gets your adrenalin a little too much going than we would like.”
  • The video version blames pressure from the airlines. The original version has no such claim. The video version also leaves out the fact the FAA has changed procedures at several airports and “found no safety issues” with certain practices.

    The person who did the original reporting is not the person who cobbled together the TV/video version. In the nation’s newsrooms right now, there is some occasional howling from reporters about having to produce their work for multiple “platforms.”

    The loss of a story’s integrity in this case provides a good reason why they should.

    • It’s quite strange.

      Essentially the only reason that go-arounds exist is for safety. (As you know Bob, but for other readers…) ATC needs to maintain separation for situations where a pilot may need to do a go-around. It’s like saying parachutes used by fighter jets pilots are dangerous because another fighter jet may hit the parachute.

      So yes, to get from the point of an already biased non-story to the kind of content that was in the video is sick.

    • Al

      What do you suppose the early morning TV report for this story would be like? I gave up on early morning WCCO news when I would see the 4 sentence story from 10 pm become a 2 sentence story for 6 am (advertised 4 times earlier in the show with 1 sentence teasers). Sometimes important parts of the original few sentences were cut. Occasionally it was clear that the person reading it seemed confused by the sentence that popped up on the teleprompter.

      “The loss of a story’s integrity in this case provides a good reason why they should.”

      They should produce their work for for multiple platforms, or resist letting their work go to multiple platforms?

    • Bob Collins

      Al: Sorry, they should provide their material to multiple platforms, and they should be the ones to do it.

    • JohnnyZoom

      Just curious: is the anticipated medium of the story the determining factor as to how is is, er, told, or is this more of a reflection on the particular, eh, journalists? Or is there something about video newsclips that attracts certain, um, kinds of journalists? That is, both of the above?

      I might suspect the latter: video is a newer media and so-called media bias is certainly on the rise. Of course, it is not that media bias (or its opposite) that I am referring to (they pale in comparison), but rather the bias towards being more captivating and compelling. Attention span and all. That video is a perfect example of this bias.

      As it is, “fact” is not synonymous with “truth”. I can understand that journalists might be trained to deal only with “facts” and not try to promote “truth” (whatever that is). I would only hope they would all strive to not offend it, either.

    • Bob Collins

      The medium changes HOW the story is told. For example, it doesn’t make sense – imho — for me to jam radio scripts down your throat if I’m writing a blog.

      However, it shouldn’t change the story, itself, and that clearly happened here.

      A bunch of aviation forums, as you might expect, are chortling about this being an example of how stupid the media is — painting it with a pretty broad brush, of course. Many of the posters didn’t see the printed version, which was very expertly done.

      AP video is primarily directed at the online audience and it seems to me that its underpining is the belief that the online audience is incapable or disinterested in the facts as outlined in the printed version, that the story needs “gussying up” to make it truly interesting.

    • WillieV

      As a frequent flier, and a long-time aviation buff, I’m concerned about the video take. It’s another example of the “man/woman in the situation” shortcut to talk to a passenger who knows little about an issue just to get a great sound bite.

      YouTubing? I would hope AP’s videos would be better produced. And Bob as a publisher ourselves we struggle with the multiple platform approach too. In the end the more involvement the original writer has the better.

      The video version of this is a little “too” scary. Thanks for sharing it.

    • Working in Politics I see this story a little different. Since I work with DEM’s and REP’s I hear all the time from both sides how the media bias taints the story for the opposition or against them. I have always, for the most part, thought local (and most national) newspapers and MPR (and NPR) radio did a pretty good job of presenting a whole picture. TV has always seemed hit or miss on coverage, but after this I wonder if it is the media presentation. I wonder if a picture is worth a 1000 words if that means that 30 seconds of video is worth only 10 words.