Compare and Contrast

Larry Wilson of the Elmira Star-Gazette has a story covering the same territory as today's Corning Leader story on energy. So does Bob Clark at the Hornell Evening Tribune.

Both Clark and Wilson are good reporters. But in this case, I think Joe Dunning's Leader story is a fair bit better than the pieces they filed. The reason is simple. Rather than structuring his story as a he said/he said, and using Massa and Kuhl quotes to tell the story, Dunning summarizes the positions of both candidates and presents those positions in a dispassionate, factual way.

In other words, Dunning writes it as a policy story. Wilson and Clark write it as a controversy story. They use transitions like "The congressman criticized his opponent" or "Massa fired back". Those transitions take up space and also commit the writer to look for quotes that fit the controversy narrative. Dunning doesn't have to push the controversy rock up the hill, so he's free to put more facts and less friction into his story.

Some might argue that the controversy angle makes the story more interesting and therefore will sell more newspapers. I disagree. I think readers who aren't inclined to read about politics aren't going to read political stories, no matter how they're written. By focusing on the controversy and shorting the reader on facts, newspapers turn off the readers who want to learn more about policy.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm not holding myself up as a shining example of good writing. And I realize that being a local newspaper reporter is a very hard job. These guys have to cover a wide variety of stories, and they do so under deadline pressure.

So, I'm not running down hard-working professionals. I'm just saying, "more of this, please."