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The Four Ws?

Published Saturday, June 12, 2010 @ 8:14 AM EDT
Jun 12 2010

My first job as a newspaper reporter was to haul my sorry and, even then, not inconsiderable butt out of bed every morning at 5 am to check the local police departments for the prior days' events.

This entailed actually driving to the respective station houses- Homestead, West Homestead, Munhall, Whitaker, and West Mifflin- and physically reviewing the baskets containing the incident and accident reports.

Bleary-eyed, I'd dutifully transcribe the more significant ones, getting the names, addresses, and phone numbers of those involved. I'd also check the names of the officers who filed the reports. I quickly learned who were sticklers for detail, who were rather lax in their information gathering skills, and who had excelled in their creative writing classes. ("The actor seemed nonplussed by our appearance, and could not understand our concern and consternation over his over-indulgent ingestion of controlled substances in a futile attempt to mitigate his chronic state of ennui.")

After a quick stop at Moxley's on Eighth and Amity, the source of my life-long coffee addiction, I'd listen to the morning's gossip, then head across the street to the Messenger office and my seat on the rim of the city desk.

I'd call the Duquesne Police- we engaged in token coverage there just to irritate The McKeesport Daily News, which was trying to expand into our area- and then I'd review my notes with the city editor to determine what stories to pursue.

In between taking obits from local funeral directors, typing up school lunch menus, and telling callers that no, Homestead Hannah and Munhall Millie couldn't attend their bingo in person because, well, they were fictional characters who made pithy editorial comments in the front page Valley Mirror column, I'd write the police beat stuff. This involved checking the info on the police reports and often calling the officers involved to confirm or clarify the information.

Even as a 17-year-old cub reporter, I knew I couldn't hand in a story that didn't cover the "five Ws" in the first paragraph: who, what, where, when and why (or how). The first graf had all the basic info; the remainder of the story contained additional detail.

You can appreciate my frustration, then, at the following:

Crash on Route 51 sends seven to hospital
Saturday, June 12, 2010
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Seven people were injured in a traffic accident Friday in Pleasant Hills on a stretch of Route 51 where construction has made the road prone to collisions, Pleasant Hills police said. (Ok, I get it, it was in Pleasant Hills.)

Paramedics from several South Hills communities were dispatched around 7:40 p.m. to the accident involving two vehicles on Route 51 near Coal Valley Road. One car was carrying members of a wedding party, KDKA-TV reported. (Wedding party? That should have been in the lead paragraph.)

Two of the seven were injured critically, and one was flown to UPMC Presbyterian by helicopter. The remaining victims were transported to UPMC Mercy. (Wait a minute. Jefferson Regional Medical Center is less than a mile away. I can understand flying someone with severe trauma to the experts at Presby, but why take the rest to another hospital 11 miles and 25 minutes distant when there's a perfectly good hospital with an award-winning emergency department just up the road?)

The accident was the fourth to occur in that stretch of Route 51 Friday evening. The first three did not involve injuries.(Then why weren't police directing traffic? What massive bit of PennDot incompetence is responsible for this?)

Officers were still reconstructing the accident Friday night with the help of county police investigators. They said construction on that stretch of road has reduced traffic to one lane in each direction.

The accident reduced Route 51 to one lane, which was used for alternating northbound and southbound traffic.

This was the PG's second story on the accident. If I had turned this in to Earle or Ralph, it would have been bounced. And I mean literally. The paper would have been compressed into a ball and hurled at my head.

The Tribune-Review did a much better job:

Pleasant Hills wreck injures 7, including members of wedding party
By Michael Hasch
Saturday, June 12, 2010

Dozens of people attending a wedding rehearsal dinner could only watch in horror Friday evening as several members of the bride-to-be's family were injured in a two-vehicle crash near a construction zone on Route 51 in Pleasant Hills.

Two people -- including the woman's mother and stepfather-- were flown to Pittsburgh hospitals following the crash that occurred shortly before 7:30 p.m. as the family arrived at the Primanti Brothers Restaurant.

Five others were taken to hospitals in the crash between a car and pickup truck a few yards from the point where two lanes of traffic merge into a single lane, Pleasant Hills police Sgt. Richard Painter said. (They were taken to hospitals in the crash? What year and model crash was it? And again, what's the problem with Jefferson?)

Several people at the rehearsal dinner said the bride-to-be's mother and stepfather were in a northbound car driven by her brother. The younger man's girlfriend also was in the car. (I would have said "driven by her brother, whose girlfriend was also in the car." Picking nits here.)

Two men and a woman were in the southbound pickup truck, Painter said.

"(The bride-to-be) saw it. She knew it was her family and went running over," said Jason Seal, 26, of Carroll Township, who is a member of the wedding party for the Library couple who were planning to marry this afternoon in Finleyville. "The truck hit the car really hard... so hard that the (car) battery) came out... and is lying on the road."

Allegheny County Police are trying to determine how the crash occurred. Painter said witnesses told him there was a line of slow-moving vehicles in the passing southbound lanes and that one of the motorists stopped to allow the northbound car to turn into the parking lot.

The pickup, traveling in the curb lane, crashed into the passenger side of the car, Painter said. He said the truck was going faster than the 30 mph speed limit on what has become a dangerous stretch of highway.

"We've had six accidents here since Monday, three today alone," Painter said.

There's one, massive, glaring omission. WHO ARE THE PEOPLE IN THE ACCIDENT? We know their familiar relationships, that they're from Library and were supposed to be married in Finleyville today, even the name, age, and residence of a member of the wedding party... but not the names of the people involved in the crash.

That's the first "W"- who- and in none of the print or broadcast reports are the victims identified.

And don't give me this "officials did not release the names" bull. They entire wedding party was there. Someone could identify them.

Here are the available reports:


Post Gazette

Tribune Review


Note the differences in details and obvious errors in some of the reports.

I suppose the names will be released later today in follow-up stories.

But this is just inexcusable. I can just hear Earle... "This isn't a news story, it's gossip, and bad gossip. Names, Barkes! Names! People care about people. Here are two families whose lives have been changed forever, and you're telling me about Hyundais and pick-up trucks and traffic patterns and restaurants. I don't give a rat's ass about that stuff. I want all the victims' names in the second graf, and I want it in ten minutes. This paper's not going out until I get it, and you can explain to Joe Buck that he lost 100 news stand sales because you were too lazy to do your job."

Categories: KGB Opinion

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