Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Motorbike accidents in the media - part 20

Here we go again and I'm now a month behind thanks to a massive surge in reporting and the complete inability of my free time to return to normal levels.

Excuses, excuses.

Five pieces here. Because.

There are two longer pieces I want to take a brief look at first. Not too surprisingly, they're both court reports. Court appearances are scheduled, predictable and full of quotable quotes as well as juicy details.

They're both from the Courier Mail:

From November 5: Man accused on hit-run death of pedestrian at Coorparoo granted bail

Yes, you could guess there was going to be an over-long headline, couldn't you?

The article is mildly detailed on events and fairly free with its commas. It does not, to put it plainly, paint a sympathetic view of the accused. String of offences - extensive history - false licence plates. That's even before getting to the actual charges relating to this event.

Plus, I would be very interested to hear what the opinion of the court is when a "letter from a drug rehabilitation counsellor at Cleveland who has been helping" is handed up as supporting evidence.

A problem I see in many longer articles, and particularly court reports, is the endless stream of "he said, she said" comments and this particular example is not immune. That may be due to deadline pressures, it may be due to legal concerns. It's tedious, whichever it is.

This article is also lacking any details on how the alleged accident occurred or what is alleged to have happened. It was a hit-and-run, and that's all the detail we're given.


The second article is also November 5, and deals with the speeding-and-collision event previously covered in this series, the infamous "like an F-111" highway incident: Jail for speeding motorcyclist who struck man severing his leg at Woolloongabba

Right in the opening paragraph we have "abhorrent history of speeding" and "at the speed of an "F1-11",".

The first one should not have been there unless it's a quote - and in that case, mark it as such - and the second one is phonetic but nonetheless inaccurate.

So a good start, then.

The copy-editing on this piece could have been tighter, as well.

Reading it, I get the feeling I should be grateful they don't try a poorly-informed description of the bikes, like "powerful one-litre motorcycles" or "large-capacity motorcycles." It's been done, you know.

However: "Sparrow, a martial artist with a criminal history for violence". Um, what? Cue up another stereotype. It is not, in this context, relevant. If some of that history was directly related to his school, or if he had used his training as a threat, even then it wouldn't be relevant to this story. Even stating he has a criminal history of violence is barely relevant in this context - the history of speeding fines and the fact he struck someone at excessive speed, severing their leg - those facts are relevant. The rest, not so much.

The actual incident is one of those cases that make the rest of us want to thump the riders responsible while screaming "YOU'RE NOT HELPING!"

Mind you, I haven't been keeping an eye on media reports of four-wheel idiocy so I don't know what the comparison is.

Interestingly, defendant Sparrow was disqualified from driving absolutely. So it can be done, then.

It is hard to avoid the feeling, reading this article, that the paper judged as well as reported. And that wasn't necessary or good journalism. A bald reporting of the facts of this case needed no emotive additions from the writer or editor to get the point across.

By comparison, from November 7 from the same paper we have Motorcyclist dead after falling from bike at Noosaville.

Headline still too long but the article is crisply written, contains just the essentials and, although it could have done with some brief rearrangement of facts between paragraphs, is perfectly good brief news writing.

From November 8 the CM gives us Motorbike rider hurt in crash with car in Red Hill, Brisbane.

I've been to the Broncos NRL club for a work function and I don't particularly like the road outside it. Of course, we're given no information on whether the location of the accident was relevant or just a coincidence - somebody been drinking, perhaps?

This could be have been a little more tightly edited, but the main problem I have is: "motorbike rider" comes across as a clumsy construction. What's wrong with "motorcyclist"?

I'll finish up with a longer piece, from ABC News Online this time. From November 12, Moto-cross rider badly hurt in fall.

See that headline? Perfectly good and only six words, if you count a hyphenated construct once. I'm actually surprised it is hyphenated. I was expecting motocross to be one word by now.

Personally, I would have rewritten some of the paragraphs during editing. For example, third paragraph: "He's recovering today" is a bit redundant. Leave it out, say he had an eight-hour operation, and we can assume he's recovering unless told otherwise. There are only three choices: Worse, worrying or improving. Only one of those is really newsworthy.

Also, those quotes:

The mother said "He has a couple of small bleeds in his brain but they're not worried about that at all that's a bit of head trauma and that's just affecting his short-term memory, that's normal, they've said so."

Ummm... head trauma can be a huge concern, an affect on short-term memory might be permanent and small bleeds can be serious if pressure continues to build. With all due respect for the fact I Am Not A Doctor, I suspect either he's not getting most appropriate supervision or she misunderstood what they said. "That's normal" could be misinterpreted as "that's normal, so it's fine" instead of "that's normal, unfortunately." This is pure conjecture, of course.

Also: "We all just pray for broken bones and they all heal." Unfortunate choice of words? I think she meant "We all pray for just broken bones, which heal."

It's nice to see an inline link in the article, however, something the ABC does less than some other news outlets.

I wish him a speedy and complete recovery, or at least a recovery indistinguishable from complete, which is usually the best we can hope for when any nerves are damaged.

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