Thursday, November 20, 2014

Tack-On, or Just Tacky?

In its Florida State University shooting story today, The New York Times includes in the last graf:
The university, one of the largest in Florida, has about 40,000 students enrolled in 16 colleges spread across Tallahassee, the state capital. The university has recently drawn criticism after reports that athletes on its football team, a contender for this year’s national collegiate championship, had received preferential treatment from the police in criminal matters.
So 19 grafs are about the shooting, and the 20th graf is what you see above (at least in the version now up). There are lots of names for a graf like that -- context, background, fodder, padding. Probably others I'm missing. But is it merely a tack-on graf, or is it just plain tacky?

FSU fans, of course, are hardly objective. See below:

And so on. You get the idea.

I skimmed a few other news stories to see if others tacked on info about the cozy relationship between Tallahassee/FSU cops and athletes, but I didn't see any. That's interesting and damning for the NYT, but that doesn't make it wrong. Let's take a moment to consider a possible defense for the world's leading news organization. It is the NYT that has, after all, broke stories about the too cozy relationship between cops and football players at FSU (where are you, Florida media?). A reader of the NYT might see the FSU shooting story and think, wasn't that place in the news recently? The last graf reminds the audience why FSU rings a bell. Plus we're talking cops in the football story, and cops in a shooting story.

(I know, FSU fans, it's hard to imagine the school not being in the forefront of people's minds, but it's not Harvard, it's not MIT, hell it's barely on the list of top public universities, so excuse readers of the NYT for perhaps not thinking much at all about the school. Other than football, why would you?)

Okay, so much for the NYT defense. Now, the prosecution.
  • It's telling that no other news org seems to have mentioned the football thing. That suggests a NYT bias.
  • And let's say an FSU prof won a Pulitzer or Nobel in the past week, would you have tacked that on to the story? No. This feels more like piling on, to borrow from the football lexicon. 
At least it's in the last graf, so the bitching from the FSU fans should also be placed in context. It's the 20th graf of a 20-graf story, a tragic shooting story. An argument could be made it should go higher, in terms of context for the reader, so buried so low seems a reasonable place -- if you insist on including it.

My own take? I would have left it out, but I suspect it got added to the story by some editor along the way, tacked onto the bottom.


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