Monday, April 03, 2006

Digging Through to Find the Story

A story on gangs in today's Commercial Appeal embodies some of what I dislike in the "new" daily newspaper, so let's take a look at it.

It divides into thirds rather neatly. The first third is filler, lots of heart-tugging stuff about a father and his son, now dead because of gangs. Feels good, less filling.

The middle section is an info-dump. Lots of facts about gang names and numbers (4000 - 5000 juvenile members!). But what's missing, as usual, is context and trend. Are the numbers of students in gangs growing? We're told that gang incidents are on the rise. How much, how bad, how long? Absent a sense of meaning, the numbers don't help much.

According to the Memphis City Schools, they have roughly 120,000 students. According to the story, there's roughly 5,000 gang members. That's less than 4%! And this is a problem, why?

The story has no discussion of what's being done. Nor is there any mention of a connection, if there is one as many suspect, between the new "no physical discipline" rules and the increase in school violence.

Then the last part of the story is a brief look at one father-figure / mentor, who was also the preacher at the slain student's (mentioned at the start of the story) funeral. I'm sure the wirter is quite pleased with herself for looping the story back around as she did. His presence is an allusion to one needed component of reducing this problem: a strong male in young men's lives. The story points out that this man has gone down the same road as many of the kids, but lived to regret his actions, and has now changed his ways.

That's all well and good, but he could have been a separate story, fleshed out, instead of taking space from some needed context. That's what I'd want to read from the daily: hard information, not soft feel-goodery.

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