Sunday, April 03, 2005

Errors of Omission at the S.I. Advance?

A few days ago, in response to a reader's query, I disclosed that I had nothing to disclose - that I had no relationship with the oft-linked to Staten Island Advance (other than that of subscriber). I mentioned that the Advance website got the majority of linkage because they offered the most complete coverage of local news. That may be true of the slightly odd and offbeat stories I like to cover here - but when it comes to hard news there sometimes seems to be a reluctance to tell the whole story.

Over the years I've noticed odd details being left out of news stories - descriptions of criminal suspects, causes of death, identities of important players and places in a particular story. It only seems to be certain items that lack full coverage - other times the reporters go out of their way to get every last detail - though it seems most local car accidents and small scale drug busts get better coverage than some robberies, assaults and murders (not to mention the Advance's curious apathy towards organized crime stories - but that's a rant for another day). I've often wondered if these incomplete reports were due to deadline pressures, lazy reporting or purposeful suppression of information. A comparison of today's Advance and the New York Times raises the question again - though I'm not sure it does anything to help answer the question.

The Story: A young man is tragically killed, likely murdered, outside a local tavern.

The Headlines:

New York Times
S.I. Man Is Stabbed to Death in a Dispute at a Bar
(note: this is the headline that appeared in the print edition - the online version simply states "Staten Island Man, 18, Is Stabbed To Death"

Notice the difference. The New York Times - most people's paper of record (at least on actual news items as opposed to the generally hard left op-ed pages) - considers the tavern to be a major part of the story. The Advance mentions the bar in passing a few times but never identifies it. The Advance does mention a couple of nearby shops - a hair salon and pizzeria - but fails time and again to refer by name to the bar where the altercation is thought to have started.

The Times, on the other hand, identifies the bar, identifies and gets a "no-comment" from the bar's owner and interviews the occupant of an apartment above the bar. They also mention the same pizzeria.

So, why doesn't the local beat reporter at the Advance supply the same information? Are the Times reporters simply better at their job? Does someone at the Advance want to protect - if only temporarily - the tavern or someone associated with the tavern? I have no idea why it happened and I only suggest the idea of a "cover-up" hypothetically because the omission of that readily available information instantly makes the reader wonder why? Like an obit for a young person that simply states "died at home" the lack of information leads to speculation - often totally off the mark.

Do I think the Advance is covering up something in this story? No, not really - nothing important to the average reader at any rate. Is the Advance still the best source for local news? Yes, if only because of the general indifference of the other papers. Does it still bother me that they were out reported on a story that happened in their, and my, backyard. A little bit.