Masterclass: How not to write a news story

Opinion – A crack team of staffers from the Daily News shows us just how not to write a news story.

When Google employee Sasha Blair-Goldensohn was struck by a falling branch in Central Park earlier this week, he was rushed to hospital where he is now recovering and we all wish him well. But over on the New York Daily News, the dynamic duo of Rich Schapiro and Chloe Rosenberg decided we needed to know more.

Much more.

The News chose to dub the victim the ‘Google Genius’ in a fine display of headline writing skills and interviewed everyone and his uncle (literally) for background on the unfortunate man, so what should have been a one or two paragraph story expanded into a three-part epic – Google genius hurt in Central Park ‘slowly improving’, Central Park tree limb puts Google engineer in coma and He’s the Google genius’ guardian angel – all bizarrely written in a sub-Mickey Spillane manner.

A doctor jogging through the park saw the incident and held a piece of clothing against the victim’s wound until paramedics arrived. That’s all we need to know, really, but let’s hand the story over to the newshounds from the News to fill in the vital details.

Ear-splitting scream
In their account, the doctor in question is not only named, but we are given the vital information that he is 48 years old and a travel medicine specialist with offices in Manhattan and Poughkeepsie. And Dr Rajiv Narula didn’t simply see the accident, he “was jogging through Central Park on Wednesday when he was jolted by the sound of a gargantuan tree branch snapping, followed by an ear-splitting scream. Narula craned his neck and spotted a man lying on the ground, motionless, 20 feet away. “

Narula also noticed that the injured man was bleeding profusely. “It was squirting out, with every pulse,” said Narula, lapsing into medical jargon. Intriguingly, we also learn that a mystery second doctor stepped forward to give assistance, although he is clearly not as important as Narula, as we are not informed of his age, area of medical expertise or office location.

“With few options, Narula tore open Blair-Goldensohn’s bag, pulled out a pair of jeans and pressed that against the wound.” What brand of jeans? How could the reporters have made such a basic error?

When paramedics arrived, they gave Blair-Goldensohn oxygen, stabilized his neck and loaded him into an ambulance which didn’t just take him to any old hospital, it took him to the New York-Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell Medical Center.

And News readers were no doubt relieved to learn that Dr Narula then jogged back home and went to work. The newsdesk thought they were also clearly desperate to learn more about the tree that attacked the genius. Fear not – as ever, the News has the details: ‘a 100-pound limb came crashing from a massive pin oak tree near W. 63rd St.’

This time it’s real
The previous day, the dynamic duo of Rich and Chloe roped in the assistance of a third hack, Edgar Sandoval, and managed to secure the following bizarre quote from Blair-Goldensohn’s stepdad, Matthew Stolper, who was nowhere near the scene of the accident, yet managed to describe it in a singular manner:

“It was like a cartoon, a safe falling from an upper-floor window – except this time it’s real.”

Blair-Goldensohn’s uncle Marty Goldensohn, joined the cast of thousands interviewed and added – again implausibly because people really don’t speak like this – that ‘his nephew’s subtle signs of consciousness have given the family hope’:

“He’s in there, under a cloudy mist, so we’re hopeful.”

More hacks
But having his crack team of Rich, Chloe and Ed on the story clearly wasn’t enough for the paper’s news editor, who assigned a further three hacks – Joy Resmovits, Erica Pearson and  Wil Cruz – to sniff out yet more information. They also tracked down Uncle Marty, who by now was ‘holding a bedside vigil’ and came out with another unlikely quote: “I’m not worried about Sasha because he has IQ to spare.”

Among the dozens of people interviewed by what must surely be the entire News newsdesk, we also learn further vital information from 48 year old computer analyst John May: “You take your chances no matter where you go in the park. You can’t live under a rock – everywhere in the park there is a tree!”

Meanwhile, Rich, Chloe and Ed had doorstepped the victim’s mom, Gwenda Blair, who improbably said she hoped no one else ever has to endure such a frightening tragedy and ‘hoped it was only once in a blue moon’.

This seems an unlikely choice of words for a concerned parent to use, and the News continues by passing on the vital and relevant fact that Blair ‘has written several books’.

She added that the incident reminded her of ‘another harrowing moment’ for the family – when her husband, Dick Goldensohn, died of a cardiac arrest. Again, our cub reporters cannot resist adding yet another pointless fact – that the departed Dick was ‘an acclaimed journalist’.

Who is no doubt now spinning in his grave. 

Read the original News stories here, here and here. It’s an education.