Monday, 1 February 2010

Watching the watchers - bike accidents in the media

I promised, more than a year ago, to analyse all of the motorcycle accident media reports I came across.

I promptly forgot.

This year, I may just be able to do that.

I will be looking for judgemental language, any hint of editorial disapproval of motorbikes, any missing information which the content of the report suggests should have been available to the journalist, and evidence of the media outlet padding copy by re-using old quotes.

I won't be scoring, but I will be analysing them.

I hope that, somewhere along the line, I may also answer some questions about how journalism can work, and perhaps fix some misconceptions, as well.

We start with "Motorbike rider hit by ute dies" from the Courier Mail.

Informative headline, grammatically a bit iffy but at least straightforward.
A MOTORCYCLIST struck by a utility at Windsor on Brisbane's northside more than a fortnight ago, has died in hospital.
Who did that subbing? There are clauses in there weeping for relief. Still, reasonably clear once your mind drops in the missing commas and sorts it out.
The 27-year-old man from Arana Hills suffered serious injuries in the crash on Newmarket Road outside the Homezone Centre on January 12.
This just gets in more information, but isn't great journalism writing. Just as a point: "27-year-old Arana Hills man" is easier to read, and not just because one extra word is missing.
Police said the motorcyclist was travelling west on Newmarket Road about 4.40pm when it collided with the dual cab utility at a set of traffic lights.
Okay: Why? Thankfully, there is no high-horse hinting here of who was at fault, but unfortunately, there is no information, either. Was the ute running a light? Was the rider? Was the ute stationary and the rider forgot to brake? Or hit a patch of oil on the road and couldn't? Or the rider, or driver, was distracted by a low-cut top on a pedestrian?

At the very least, I would have liked to see "utility which was stationary", or anything. This is reporting, but hardly counts as journalism.

Plus: Have you noticed the nice semantic switch? The headline said "struck by utility", and the body said "collided with utility". Now, technically the second does not contradict the first, but the headline suggests that either one was running a light, and the ute struck the bike, or that the ute plowed straight into the back of the bike, which is all too likely a possibility.

The "bike was travelling, when it collided" suggests that one was running a light, but doesn't confirm it.

It is common practice for the headline to be (re)written by a (sub)editor at some point along the line, but that headline definitely suggests that the journalist had more information than was put in the report. Time or space constraints could account for that, but it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
The 33-year-old utility driver was unhurt.
Nice to know, I suppose, but: no shit.
The bike rider died of his injuries in the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital last night.
What injuries? Probably not released by police, so I suppose we can't expect too much.
The death takes Queensland's 2010 road toll to 12 lives lost, 12 fewer than at the same time last year.
It is the first motorcycle fatality this year.
Which puts us ahead of the curve, which is nice but unlikely to last.

Okay; This piece is so basic that it commits the lower-order sin of being almost pointless. No information about the accident except time and place, which raises more questions than it answers; no information about the nature of the rider's injuries (or what they were wearing, but I really don't trust non-motorcyclists to handle information like that intelligently, either); and no information about who was judged to be at fault, etc.

More to the point, that headline raises questions that the body of the article didn't answer.

I can't really say that this article was bad, but it definitely isn't great, either.


Heather said...
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John said...

I just hope you come out successful in your mission to analyze the motorbike accident reports available with the media. Research indicates that the major cause of motorcycle accidents remains the failure of other motorists to recognize motorcyclists in heavy traffic or at night. Findings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states that speeding, aggressive driving, and driver inattention are leading causes of motorcycle accidents. Negligence on the part of the motorcyclist also leads to accidents or collisions. So does improper breaking or turning. Bad weather remains a problem or causal factor, though its influence is small. The good news is that those who have suffered from injuries in motorcycle accidents can make successful compensation claims. An efficient personal injury lawyer will help you in filing for the claim. For more information visit accidents at work .

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