It's how you use the space you have

Longer stories offer better chance for depth

Sept. 22, 2007

by David Kopel

Story size matters.

Consider, for example, the Sept. 14 stories in the Rocky Mountain Newsand The Denver Post,both discussing Gov. Bill Ritter's possible support for collective bargaining for state government employees. After Ritter discussed the idea on Mike Rosen's talk radio show on Thursday, both papers reported his remarks on Friday.

The Rockystory was a moderate-sized 17 paragraphs. It consisted mostly of Ritter defending his ideas. There was a paragraph summarizing some objections of unnamed Republican legislators. Besides reporting on the Ritter/Rosen radio dialogue, the Rockyarticle advanced the story by supplying a reaction quote from Senate Minority Leader Andy McElhany. McElhany pretended to take seriously Ritter's statement that collective bargaining was merely a possibility, and not the sine qua non of Ritter's plan to "partner" with state employees.

The Rockyarticle was satisfactory - but not nearly as good as its 29-paragraph counterpart in the Post.

The Postarticle quoted everyone who was quoted in the Rockyarticle, plus five additional people: Republican State Sen. Shawn Mitchell, a spokesman for a small-business group, a spokesman for a big-business group, and spokesmen from two major unions of government employees.

The Postarticle also provided background information about Ritter's campaign contributions from labor and business groups, and Ritter's own history as a union member and son of a union member. In addition, the story summarized Ritter's actions on labor issues in past months.

Both the Rockyand the Postarticle were impartial. But the Postarticle was more than 50 percent longer, and reporter Jennifer Brown effectively used the extra space to present a much broader and deeper story than did the Rocky.

"Could Colorado Become Collywood?" was the title of Postwriter Andy Vuong's Sept. 11 article on the Colorado film industry. For two dozen paragraphs, Vuong presented the complaints of people who believe that Coloradans are not spending enough to subsidize the movie business.

Vuong ably showcased the diverse advocates for corporate welfare. But the article lacked even a single sentence of counterperspective questioning Vuong's assumptions that working families in Colorado should be forced to give millions of dollars in subsidies to one of the wealthiest industries in the world.

Kudos to the Post for presenting a balanced story about a sexual minority most of the rest of the media ignores. The new book Ex-Gays? A Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientationstudies homosexuals who have participated in religious programs to redirect their sexual activities. The book finds that the programs succeed for some but not all of the participants.

A Tuesday article in thePostreported the book's conclusions, and added a Colorado angle by getting reactions from local groups. Not surprisingly, Focus on the Family praised the book.

The article also solicited a comment from a spokesman for the Pikes Peak Gay and Lesbian Community Center. As reported in thePost,the spokesman said, "This study was very biased and very slanted" and "People should be very skeptical about this study."

But these assertions leave the reader hanging: How was the study "biased and slanted"? If the spokesman supplied any evidence to support his charges, the evidence should have been included in the article. It would have been especially interesting to know if the spokesperson had any arguments about actual scientific flaws in the methodology of the study, rather than ad hominem attacks on the authors or the publisher (who are all conservative Christians).

The Post'snew online Western politics site,, deserves a pat on the back for breaking the story about the departure of Rep. Tom Tancredo's spokesman Carlos Espinosa; he's going to Nicaragua to work for a pro-democracy organization. The Washington, D.C., weekly The Hillprovided some more information in a Sept. 12 story written by former Denver Postreporter Mike Soraghan: Espinosa's Latino background "helped deflect some of the charges of Hispanic-bashing directed" at Tancredo.

Four cheers for the Denver weblog, run by liberal Denver criminal defense lawyer Jeralyn Merritt. As detailed in the new book Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case,TalkLeft was one of the few media outlets to report and analyze the facts fairly, showing that the rape charges were an obvious hoax.  

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