Wick Communications

Clip a little off the top

In journalism on July 12, 2012 at 8:35 pm

If you are like me, you (figuratively) run to your newspaper’s digital archives several times a day. Perhaps it’s just evidence that I’m getting older, but I often remember bits and pieces of earlier stories while the context and specifics remain just out of my mental reach.

Luckily, we can use those old clips to our advantage. Believe me, that’s much easier than it was 10 years ago – before server-based archiving.

The term “clip job” is sort of a newspapering pejorative. Cutting and pasting stuff your staff printed previously is not the highest art. And no one is suggesting you do that. But stories often build over time and you should read what’s come before so that you can add context to the story of the day. (One more caution: Remember that things change. In 2008, you may have reported that Bob Jones was found guilty of murder. His conviction may have been overturned in 2010. So be careful.)

Want an example of how it’s done correctly? Take the story of a transit cop who shot a man during a nighttime melee in Atlanta last fall. Obviously, this was a big story locally, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has been reporting each development. Since October, at least three AJC reporters worked on the story. I guarantee you that each story built on the work of the one before. Each subsequent reporter referenced stuff previously reported. No one resorted to cut and paste. They deftly rewrote stuff from the past. …

Here is perhaps the most obvious example of rummaging for gems in those old Atlanta clips. One enterprising writer looked back through the records to find out how MARTA cops had previously handled similar incidents:

For instance in 2006, a DeKalb County grand jury that investigated a spree of police shootings found that MARTA Officer K. Sims was justified in shooting and wounding a car burglar at the Brookhaven MARTA station. Sims contended that the man tried to stab her with a screwdriver while she was grappling with him and they fell into the car.

The grand jury, however, criticized Sims for trying to grapple with him with one hand while holding her gun in the other. It also criticized the MARTA internal affairs investigation and praised a GBI investigation.

There have been at least four other MARTA police shooting since 2000, which averages to less than one every two years. In 2006, three days before the Sims shooting, two MARTA officers shot and killed a man who allegedly attacked one of them at the Midtown MARTA station.

In 2008, MARTA officers shot and wounded a homeless man in Woodruff Park near the Five Points Station who reportedly cut one of them with a knife.

None of this is new. But it’s a good reminder to add context and historical reference to the news of today by reading what you’ve previously published.

Clay

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