News is written in a body that aims to tell a story with the help of facts and context. When used properly, these characteristics create a solid foundation to a news structure which aims for clarity, concision, and objectivity. At times, news writing must bear a certain degree of elasticity, especially when the issues in which it is applied to are congested with high levels of complexity, and coagulated by both vast amounts of data, and facts. In other occasions, stories must be guided by more narrative driven characteristics and complemented by facts, which lay more emphasis on the novelty or peculiarity of a given story. Local news providers aim to do just that, but at times, as seen in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s (AJC) recent coverage of a man killed over a video-game system, they can be influenced more by the biases of news-writing, which take for granted the journalistic value and obligation to cover those who cannot speak for themselves.
The AJC begins its coverage with an inverted pyramid style, providing the who, what, where, and how. It pushes the time in which the event occurred to the second graph, procuring, rather, to emphasize the motive of the crime within the first three lines. The lede runs at 35 words and uses active voice, which places the two individuals who were arrested for shooting the video-console owner as our frame of reference. Here’s the excerpt:
“Two people are in custody for the fatal shooting of a man during what Sandy Springs police said was the attempted theft of a video gaming system the victim was trying to sell on Craigslist (AJC).”
Moreover, the first 2 graphs are led by the description of what happened and the astonishing fact that the shooter’s baby was mere feet away from the scene of the crime. It personalizes the shooter’s character, more in fact than it does in the brief chronological account of the victim, Daniel John Zeitz.
The AJC demonstrates journalistic bias towards the conflict between the attacker and the victim, and fails to balance and provide at least a bare narrative of Daniel’s life. Here’s the attribute given to Daniel, found in the penultimate graph of the article:
“Zeitz was known by the name “Phobos” in online gaming circles, and one of his online gaming teammates set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for Zeitz’s funeral expenses. By Monday afternoon, the page had raised more than $10,000 (AJC).”
His characterization comes off second-handedly from the way in which he is being regarded by an online teammate. This contrasts the way in which the Huffington Post describes him through the same friend, who is now named, but in a more personal manner:
“Smith, known online as arCtiC, posted a heartfelt video on YouTube remembering his buddy as a kind soul who reached out whenever their friends were down.
‘Danny was one of those rare people that has all the right qualities — super nice and friendly to people he didn’t know,’ Smith told HuffPost Crime. ‘He was always helping his teammates, his family, his friends. It always hurts to have to see how much someone means to everyone else when they’re gone’ (Huffington Post). ”
The attention to detail is evidently quite different. Furthermore, another element of news writing is word choice, and the way it conveys a sort of tone, which seeks to deliver information as quickly as possible, especially within titles.
The AJC words the event as follows: “Police: 16-year-old girl, with baby nearby, killed man over PS4.” Notice how, if we didn’t have any sort of context over what happened, the incident might sound as if it came about through a dispute where neither of them had possession over the PS4. The word “over” simply implies that it happened because of it, but it doesn’t specify the causes. It’s too open-ended, too bias towards an immediate, causal conflict, granted newsworthiness only by the fact that a baby laid nearby.
Now, let’s analyze the title crafted by the Huffington Post: :16-Year-Old Girl Fatally Shoots Gamer For His PS4 While Her Baby Looks On: Cops.” Notice that instead of over, the Post uses for, a preposition better suited to indicate who acted as whom. Moreover, by saying that the action was committed “for his PS4,” the reader can easily come to the conclusion that the murder came about as a result of an assault towards Daniel, not just as a result of a one-on-one confrontation.
Nevertheless, The Atlanta Journal Constitution shows that it conducted the investigative process, as shown through a quick Google search in which one quote is directly attributed to the AJC’s article. However, the coverage lacks balance towards the victim, and it shows more inclination towards the coverage of the conflict and less focus on the narrative of the victim. Although it is true that what makes the story peculiar is the reason for why it happened, and the circumstances that occurred while the crime took place, a piece like the Huffington Post gets it right by providing as much information about Daniel as it did for the crime and the killer.
Journalist must exercise caution and attention to detail; they must be reminded that though novelty and peculiarness lead to easy online clicks, human narratives must always triumph over what comes off as morbidly glamorizing. Journalists must suspend not only their biases, but their instincts to find some sort of curiosity over what’s visceral and gory. They must always note that the victim’s side must balance the act of finding death amusing, especially in a case where the victim can no longer tell his side of the story.