News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to MinneKota@gmail.com

Monday, July 30, 2007

Dull spoons* and sharp wits take on Bloggersgate

[See *South Dakota Watch]
The case of Chad Schuldt and the purloined income tax withholdings has produced a beneficial fallout on the blogs. Many of them have commented on the coverage of this case. And many commenters have come forth from perspectives of experience and intelligence on the case. Among the commenters I recognize a former broadcast reporter from this northeast area of South Dakota who did a story some time ago about the many embezzlements she had covered and how some were apparent cases of greed but most were cases of desperation by people who got lured into the gambling convenience stores.

A strange part of the story is that the Sioux Falls Argus Leader has elected not to do any follow-up, although it broke the initial story on the missing money from the Hildebrand Tewes organization. The failure to follow up with specific information as it broke is journalistically incomprehensible. Subsequent news makes up what is called second-cycle stories, and the journalistic aim is to supply as many facts as possible so that readers are not left to conjecture on the basis of gossip. Some do not think the story has enough news value to merit much more than the barest mention. They suggest that this is a case where the gossip-mongering on the blogs and the delight taken from blogging opponents at the demise of Chad Schuldt are all that drives the story. I am among those who are dismayed at the cultivation of malice as a defining aspect of the blog culture, especially in South Dakota.

But there is another aspect to the story on which a good journalist can make a case for a detailed follow-up. The story fits a number of the traditional criteria for judging news value: audience, impact, proximity, prominence, and conflict. Kevin Woster of the Rapid City Journal did a follow-up that puts the story in perspective and utilized all of those criteria in crafting his story. The Hildebrand Tewes organization is a player in national politics and Chad Schuldt's blog got frequent notice, so that there is an aspect of prominence to be dealt with. And, of course, there is an audience out there that wants to know, like it or not. The fact that all this occured in South Dakota fulfills the proximity aspect. But the criterion that stands out is impact.

As a number of posts and comments have pointed out, with Doug Wiken's Dakota Today prominent among them, video gambling is a problem in South Dakota. Even though it is an old and sometimes tiresome problem, concern and confusion about it is a constant in South Dakota life. Our erstwhile radio reporter noted in a comment how many times she covered cases where people stole to cover their gambling debts, although the stories probably did not merit much more than mention from the police blotter or court records. In this case, the prominence of the players in this story gets coupled with a perennial problem and the story revives an old concern.

In the news business there is a type of story that follows what is called the Wall Street Journal formula. This is when there is a general trend occuring and the reporters find a specific individual or instance that demonstrates that trend at work. Stories of this formula give particular illustrations of the impact that trend has on particular people and lives. Kevin Woster's piece in the Rapid City Journal incorporates some of that concept in writing about how a constant problem produces a crisis in a particular lives of people who are well known.

Probably the most significant part of the discussion is that blogs have engaged in thoughtful, informed, and benign discussions of the true function of the journalism and the values that guide that function. That is encouraging progress. It leaves one feeling that, after spending time browsing through all the commentary, one has not frittered away part of one's life.

1 comment:

Douglas said...

Keep making posts like this and you will lose your curmudgeon reputation.

Be very careful.

I hope more people will think seriously about the idea of gambling only being paid for with a state-issued debit card and account.

Such accounts could only be charged by making a payment at a county tresurers officce. Records of amounts of gambling would be available to counselors, spouses, employers, etc.

Somebody might notice before a gambling "problem" turns into gambling addiction and embezzlement or other theft or asset conversion.

We the people don't have clean hands if we don't do more to control gambling problems in a proactive rather than reactive way.

There seems to me to be something fundamentally wrong when a state "must" get a major source of revenue from gambling and other "vices".

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