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A Very Bad Gamble

I have a little bit to say about a story this week, so let me start with that story — from the 26 November 2017 issue:

Bad Gamble

When a lone armed robber hit a Chase bank branch in Chicago, Ill., she was pretty clear on what she wanted the tellers to do: “Let’s go to the vault,” she ordered. That, and “If you look at me, I will shoot.” An employee said he couldn’t get into the vault, which required “dual control.” The robber, wearing an overcoat over a pink floral nightgown, wouldn’t accept that, and demanded he put in his access code. He complied, and the robber escaped with more than $126,000 in cash. When investigators arrived, employees said they were “70 percent sure” they knew who the robber was: a former colleague who had transferred to another branch. Detectives went to that branch, and Latasha Gamble, 24, arrived to her job late. She confessed to the robbery, and said she put the cash into a trash dumpster. The money has not been recovered. (RC/Chicago Tribune) Though police report a massive upswing in “dumpster diving” in the Lakeview district.

The story came to me via the South Florida Sun Sentinel. As I was writing it up for commentary, I was surprised that they didn’t give a city where it happened — just an address of the bank branch. It’s at that address in “South Florida”? Can they be a little more specific? I like having a town, so I went back to their story.

Screenshot from the Florida-based newspaper. How is it they expect readers to know where this happened? (Click to see larger.)

I read the story again very carefully, and never saw a city mentioned. Then I noticed the photo caption, where the newspaper noted it was in Lakeview. There is a Lakeview neighborhood in Pensacola, but that’s hardly in the south of Florida: it’s on the gulf coast in the panhandle — way north.

After researching it a bit more, I realized that the Sun Sentinel’s story was a verbatim copy of the original — in the Chicago Tribune!? I went back and searched the Sun Sentinel’s page for “Chicago” and sure enough, in light gray type, it notes the reporter works for the Chicago Tribune. The word “Chicago” was otherwise not on the page. As in Pensacola, Lakeview is a neighborhood (or “community area”) in Chicago. Nowhere near Florida.

This is an old, ongoing problem with newspapers. They forget that part of the very definition of news is proximity: something happening nearby means more to local readers than something far away. While the Sun Sentinel may have figured a robber that stupid must have been a Florida native, that’s a bad, bad assumption.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with running a distant story that the editor thinks readers will find interesting or informative, but they need to be clear on the facts — the classic “who, what, why, when, and where (and maybe why, if they know) — when they run any story. Clarity and attention to detail is what helps make news believable and helpful; being sloppy, like they were here, is what is slowly killing “legitimate, mainstream” news, opening it up to attacks that it’s not getting the facts right. In this case, the news media’s critics are right.

(If you’re not familiar with the term “dumpster diving” from the tagline, there’s an article on Wikipedia that explains all. “Some …do so professionally and systematically for large profits” indeed!)

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9 Responses to A Very Bad Gamble

  1. Jim, Colorado November 27, 2017 at 7:04 pm #

    Dayam (the story and explanation required more than one syllable).

  2. Jeffrey, Mass. November 27, 2017 at 7:19 pm #

    Worse than that, many online “news” sites that are supposedly the online presence of a physical newspaper or TV station don’t put their *own* location anywhere on site. After all, everybody “knows” where “The Tribune” is located, or “Channel 4 News”.

    Yes! I’ve complained about THAT for, oh, 20 years now. It astounds me that publications don’t immediately grasp that they get (and WANT!) traffic from outside their local area! -rc

    • Sabra, Arizona November 27, 2017 at 7:21 pm #

      This. I can’t tell you how many times I have read a story, then had to track a location based on their weather forecasts. Fortunately, I’m well-traveled enough that I can recognize most areas with enough city locations given. But what about those who aren’t?

  3. Marty, Odessa TX November 27, 2017 at 7:34 pm #

    Agreed! Our local news channels are notorious for this. It’s bad enough that “Local News” has stories from 400 miles away as well as other states, but they often fail to properly locate or DATE! There’s plenty locally to report on, they just don’t want to pay people to actually do the stories. Much cheaper to rob stories from affiliates.

  4. Wayne, Florida November 27, 2017 at 8:34 pm #

    I find that an inordinate number of news articles published on the web do not include a publishing date as part of the content of the article, which is probably relevant to a reader when the article comes up in web searches along with 500 other hits. It seems that that publishers forget that the web is “forever”, not just for the day of publishing as it is with newspaper and TV news stories. While the publishing date “automatically” appears in a newspaper at the top or bottom of each page, that is not the case with the web.

    It should be — that’s the “when” part of WWWWW! The flip side of this, though, is publications that remove older stories to save space (as if hard drive space is expensive anymore): they could have seen a little ad money from serving those pages, but instead they serve error messages. Dumb. -rc

  5. Sherry, Alabama November 28, 2017 at 3:17 am #

    Very good detective work! It’s emblematic of news reporting today — it takes reader detective work to get to the real story. Are we being scammed by Russian propaganda? Does journalism and opinion overlap? When a journalist “analyzes” the news, who analyzes the journalist? It all starts at the source. If the first media report is inaccurate, sloppy, etc., then it gets skewed — in this case a Chicago story becomes a Florida story.

  6. Richard, Calif. November 28, 2017 at 2:35 pm #

    “Laziness has become the chief characteristic of journalism, displacing incompetence.” –Kingsley Amis

  7. David ; Arkansas December 2, 2017 at 7:11 am #

    One of my local TV stations is good about publishing stories from out of town on their website, but often neglects to say where they got it (often from another TV station, which may or may NOT be the original source).

  8. Richard, Michigan December 2, 2017 at 8:46 am #

    An early candidate for Quip of the Month: “While the Sun Sentinel may have figured a robber that stupid must have been a Florida native, that’s a bad, bad assumption.”

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