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.

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