Sunday, January 16, 2011


Man and woman back together after genitals set on fire

Published in the Gainesville Sun

A week ago, a man was in tremendous pain when his girlfriend allegedly set his genitals on fire after pouring gasoline on him.

Days after what seemed like a terrible ordeal, the 42-year-old man has been released from the hospital after undergoing surgery and says the episode was all a misunderstanding.

"It was an accident," Andrew Williams said in a telephone interview with the Ocala Star-Banner on Saturday afternoon. He added that his girlfriend "didn't know it was going to happen."

Since his release, Williams' sister, Alice Pierson, and her mother, Helen Colding, told the paper they've not seen or heard from their loved one since Wednesday.

In fact, both mother and daughter said after his surgery, they had plans to pick him up from Shands at the University of Florida on Thursday. But Pierson said when she called the hospital, an official told her they had nobody by that name in their system.

After going back and forth with the official, Pierson said she hung up. Unable to locate her brother, Pierson said she heard her brother's girlfriend, 29-year-old Victoria Bynes, who was arrested by deputies for aggravated battery for allegedly setting her boyfriend's genitals on fire, had picked him up from the hospital and that he was staying with her.

"We heard he was staying with her. I know my brother is a grown man and can make his own decision, but at least call us," Pierson said.

Reached by phone, Colding said she has not seen or heard from her son.

Williams told the Star-Banner that Bynes "came and got me," and he assured the paper that "no charges will be filed," something his sister feared would happen.

"We've been together for a long time," Williams said of his relationship with Bynes.

Williams said his family had visited him in the hospital and claimed nobody told him "nothing" about the fire.

Asked if he and Bynes had been arguing before the incident took place, Williams said "no." Asked if she had gasoline in a bottle, Williams terminated the interview, saying he had to go.

"It's very sad," said Pierson. "It hurts me because it hurts my mother. Yes, he's grown, and he can do whatever he wants, but it hurts my mother and when that happens, it hurts me." Pierson said their mother is sickly and that she worries about her children.

Bynes could not be reached for comment.

Colding said her son and Bynes do not have any children and that Bynes has treated her "good" during Bynes' relationship with Williams. She said she was at home when Bynes came there and asked to speak to her son.

After being told he was not there, she said Bynes told her that Williams had "some explaining to do." She said Bynes left, saying she was going to "do her niece's hair."

Colding said Bynes has called and apologized.

"She said she was sorry," said Colding, adding that she has forgiven Bynes.

Even though she has forgiven Bynes, she said, "I can't be around her now. She hurt my whole family."

If given this story, I would question whether it belonged in the paper. It's certainly an interesting story, but there's not much news value in it. I think the initial report was good enough, but a follow-up about the couple is not necessary. Specifically, I would question the appropriateness of adding family drama to a news story. If I had written this story, I would have tried to investigate a possible domestic violence angle. Many victims of domestic abuse return to their abusers despite knowing the possible consequences. Is this one of those cases? To find more answers, I might talk to the investigating officer and an abuse counselor.

1.Who are the people affected?

The man, Andrew Williams, whose genitals were set on fire and, to an extent, his family.

2. How are people affected or how might they be affected?

I think the story tries to turn the incident into an issue of community concern by just including interviews with the family. To more completely do this, the reporter could investigate if this was the first incident between the couple and, if so, discuss the prevalence of victims returning to abusive partners.

3. Why are you writing this?

To inform the community on an interesting and unexpected development in an earlier-published incident.

4. Who are the bureaucrats?

The bureaucrats are doctors at Shands at the University of Florida and possibly the officers who investigated the original incident.

5. What are the key questions?

-Why did the victim return to his girlfriend?

-Were any charges filed against her?

-If so, is it legal for him to return to her?

-Are there any avenues the family can take to protect the son if they feel it is necessary?

6. What research must you do?

The reporter could look at the incident report or talk to the police and girlfriend about what happened.

7. Where can you go?

For this story, the reporter can request the incident report from the Public Information Officer at the police. He or she can also interview the PIO over the phone or in person.

8. What are you missing?

If I were to investigate the domestic violence aspect, I would contact and interview an abuse counselor. Williams' refusal to answer his family's questions makes he wonder if there's a part of this story that is being missed. The fact that the victim is male makes some people less likely to think about abuse, but it is something that should be looked at.

9. How can you be creative?

The reporter could look at other domestic violence incidents statistics for the county and find out if it is common for victims to return to their abusers. This could be part of a follow-up story or an enterprise story.

10. What is your vision?

This story could be used to investigate the occurrence of male victim/female abuser cases. This is something that is not looked it very often, and a story would be an interesting way to educate the public about such incidents. More information from the police and an expert on domestic violence could help achieve this.

Case Study 2

When dealing with an unexpected situation that interrupts the everyday flow of the newsroom, it is important for a news organization to have a crisis plan. A crisis plan is helpful because it can provide structure and order during a time that may become chaotic and uncertain. When events like natural disasters and shootings happen, the public is looking to the media to provide as much information as quickly as possible. Having a plan allows a news group to keep up with a story rather than letting it get away.

In a case like the Tucson shootings, the first thing I would have done as an editor would be to send a pair of reporters and a photographer to the scene of the crime and to the hospital. In a widely publicized event like this one, the are bound to be a lot of other reporters looking to interview officials and witnesses. It’s likely the reporters would have to wait for officials to release certain information, either at the scene of the crime or at a separate location for a press conference. Of course, the reporters would need to find out the basic information about the case, including, how many people were hurt/ killed, is the suspect in custody, who is the suspect and is there still a threat of more violence. Once these first questions are answered, the information would be written into a quick story and posted immediately to the website. Next, the reporters would dig a little deeper to find out more information (what was the shooter’s motive, who is he, who was his target, who were the victims, etc.). This information is important to know but is not pressing. To answer these questions, the reporters would probably look to talk to Gabrielle Giffords’ family, her office and aides, the family of the other victims and the shooter’s family. One avenue that shouldn’t be overlooked is social networking sites. If the shooter had a Facebook or Myspace account, a blog or a website, then they could provide insight into his motives and the type of person he is. It’s necessary to look at these right away and save them because in a case like this, law enforcement officials would want to close them off immediately.

Another important thing to do is to maintain the lines of communication between the newsroom and the reports who were sent out. When there’s an update it needs to be put on the website. There should probably be at least one in-house person responsible for keeping the website’s information updated and fresh. The important thing to do in crisis cases is to be accurate and timely. Having a plan lets a news group do both in an efficient and organized way.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Case Study 1

Eagle Snatches Dog While Owner Watches

Valdez, Alaska -- A bald eagle satisfied its hunger at a Valdez gas station when it snatched up a small dog and flew away, leaving the dog's owner screaming in horror.

The chihuahua-like dog had been let out of a motor home to run around in the station's parking lot while the owners, an unidentified couple from Georgia, cleaned the vehicle's windshield.

Witnesses said the pet was about 5 feet away from the RV when the eagle swooped down from a perch in a nearby tree. Before the owners could react, the eagle circled up and away, heading off toward the city's harbor clinching the pooch tightly.

"It was the damnedest thing I ever saw," said Dennis Fleming, a gas station attendant. "The dog gave one yelp and that was it."

The woman owner clutched her hands to her face and cried, "Oh, my God," while Fleming tried to console her.

Her husband, however, didn't appear to take the dog's departure too seriously. Fleming said as the man walked around the side of the motor home, out of sight of his wife, he began to grin and chopped his hands in the air and exclaimed, "Yeah! Yeah!”

I think this story presents an interesting case. On the surface, it doesn’t seem to satisfy the basic rules of newsworthiness. It’s not significant or prominent and has very little human interest value. The first question that I would ask the reporter is: Is this story so unusual that it deserves a space in the paper? I’m not familiar with Alaska or other mostly rural areas, but I imagine they are dangerous areas for very small pets, like Chihuahuas. Cats and small dogs are probably in harm’s way in areas like that. This reminds me of an adage professor Mike Foley used to repeat to my Reporting class. He believed a story about a dog biting a man was not news. But if a man bit a dog, then that was always newsworthy. I feel the same about this story. I’m not surprised that an eagle “satisfied its hunger” by snatching up a small animal. However, I would be surprised if a small dog snatched a fully grown bald eagle.

Another thing to consider about this story is what type of newspaper published it. A story like this is probably more suited for a small-town or weekly paper than a larger daily. The story is also well-written but frivolous. Why would a dog-snatching matter to anyone other than the owners? Unless the man and woman were tabloid celebrities like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, then most people would not bother to read this story and thus it has no place in most newspapers.

Also, if this incident were a part of a larger trend of giant birds scooping up household pets, then one could argue that it has a justifiable place in the local paper. However, a fact like that isn’t mentioned in the story.

The article reads more like an interesting vacation story than a news story. Depending on the style of the paper that published it (preference for local human interest stories, size, etc.), then the story may have only a small degree of newsworthiness.

Who are you?

Shannon Parrish

  • Where are you from?
    • I’m from South Florida, but I have lived all over the state, including Gainesville, Tallahassee, Fort Lauderdale and Miami.
  • Why did you come to the University of Florida?
    • I came to the University of Florida to get an affordable education that was close to my family. Plus, almost all of my relatives have come through UF.
  • Major?
    • Journalism
  • Why are you taking this course (besides the fact it is required)?
    • I’m taking this course because I actually enjoy editing. I’m not great at it, but JOU 4201 was the first class I took here in which I felt comfortable. I’m also fascinated by grammar and punctuation rules.
  • Outside interests, hobbies, avocations, things you love to do?
    • I’m an avid reader. I’m always reading or re-reading something. I also love to watch old, classic movies. If my TV is on, then it’s probably turned to Turner Classic Movies. If I’m not watching TCM, then I’m checking out the latest sports scores. I love baseball and football, but, strangely, I would never want to report on them.
  • Tell me one interesting thing about you – something that makes you unique.
    • I lived in Europe last year for about four months. I guess that makes me unique.
  • Are you the first person in your family to attend a university?
    • No.
  • On a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being top-notch, how would you rate your knowledge of grammar, punctuation and AP style?
    • 7.4
  • On the same scale, how would you rate your skills with working with InDesign and PhotoShop and with online media in general?
    • Overall, I would rate myself a 6. But I’m more comfortable with some programs than others.
  • What online skills do you feel you are proficient at?
    • Photo editing and researching/ fact finding.
  • Where do you get most of your news?
    • National Public Radio, New York Times and The Daily Show
  • What books are you reading and have read in the last three months?
    • I’m currently reading “Hannibal” by Thomas Harris, “One Thousand and One Nights” and “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison. In the last three months, I have read more books than I can list. My favorites were “American Psycho” by Bret Easton Ellis and “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison.
  • Career Goals? Be specific as possible. Elaborate a bit.
    • After graduation I would like to continue working in public radio. I’m currently a producer with WUFT-FM, and I really enjoy it. Although I would like to stay in the NPR family, I have my sights set on working for an English-language news organization abroad. I’m working on honing my German skills, and I would like to move there in the future.
  • What magazines, newspapers and news Web sites do you read regularly?
    • I read and listen to NPR every day. I even recently added the app to my new Smartphone. I also get the New York Times, Media Matters and TIME to my Google Reader. I also have Google alerts for Florida, Gainesville and Tallahassee.
  • What is your favorite Web site?
    • My favorite website is
  • Do you blog?
    • No, I don’t blog regularly.
  • Do you have any media/communication experience? If so, what?
    • I’ve been a part of WUFT-FM for almost two years. I started as a volunteer and then became an assistant producer and now a producer. I also interned with a local bookstore in 2009.
  • Are you pursuing a media related internship or job at this time?
    • Yes, I’m working on getting a television production internship in Tallahassee right now.
  • Do you have an updated resume in your files?
    • Yes, I update my resume whenever there’s something new to be added to it.