Digital media / Journalism

MLive’s one-voice report on Occupy Detroit isn’t fair or balanced

Anniversary articles are as much of a journalistic chestnut as Halloween safety tips and Dream Cruise previews. They’re the Groundhog Day of assignments: soft, predictable and unhurried.

But any story can be elevated by an artful, imaginative writer. And in less skilled hands, we get what Mlive posts today as coverage of Occupy Detroit’s first anniversary

The 749-word report has 24 paragraphs, but only one interview source initally. Occupy Detroit partisan Lucianna Sagbash of Hamtramck is quoted in 12 sentences. Her 349 words praising the movement amount to 46 percent of the total, not counting paraphrased portions.

My posted comment about that tilt brought a response from writer Gus Burns: “I am seeking other people with opinions about the Detroit Occupy movement.”

Alas, that quest proved elusive and the story remained an admittedly incomplete report about an anticipated occasion. Occupy Detroit, after all, is a hot-button topic that’s not as benign as Halloween, Dream Cruise or Groundhog Day. One Detroit business journalist, for instance,  cracked Monday on Facebook:

Who knew that [Occupy Wall Street] would collapse upon its own self-absorbed, pretentious weight rather than lead to global proletarian revolution?

In MLive’s ariticle, readers see Sagbash say:

The biggest thing the movement did was turn a bunch of people who were aggravated into a community and then give them new tools to fight back . . . Occupy is not us against the man, but us standing up for the little guy.

By contrast, a slightly shorter anniversary news article the same day at InsideBayArea.com in Northern California quotes a Wells Fargo bank executive in three sentences along with five local Occupy members or backers. The writer also includes this perspective for context:

But as organizers hail the movement’s successes, in Oakland it devolved into street warfare with vandals and angry anarchists squaring off against police. The message was muddled as a long list of social justice causes joined the grievances against capitalism, including police brutality, prison reform and protecting medicinal marijuana laws. Those at a large Occupy camp at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza in front of Oakland City Hall were joined by drug dealers, street people and anarchists. Businesses were damaged.

That’s part of a 720-word report by Doug Oakley of the Oakland Tribune, owned by the Media News Group that also owns The Detroit News. (The News and he Detroit Free Press have only wire service coverage from New York of Monday’s anniversary.)

An MLive editor should have directed Gus Burns to broaden his report before it went up.

This isn’t breaking news with a competitive rush to post. If an anything-goes approach applies to an anniversary story, I wonder how reliable this local news team is when events are as live as its name.

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2 thoughts on “MLive’s one-voice report on Occupy Detroit isn’t fair or balanced

    • Better than four years ago, Geoff, though obviously not as well yet as you, I or the administration would like.

      Thanks for reading and commenting, though I trust you recognize I focus on the article’s lack of breadth rather than on Occupy’s messages or the continued need for them. Regardless of the current economy, an anniversary report on a protest movement needs more than one voice.

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