Sunday, February 20, 2011

Strat 14

Bo Diddley’s estate in limbo

The story starts off by discussing what Diddley’s attorneys plan to do with the song’s publishing rights, but we don’t hear from this from the attorneys. Why are doing this? Why is this better or worse than other options? How does the family feel about this? There’s no attribution for the statement: “Diddley's attorney and two agents/managers are seeking to sell the publishing rights to his entire music catalog for $4.3 million to pay off possible tax debts for his estate, estimated to be worth about $6 million.”

In a story that deals with figures and money sums, there’s no crediting of these figures. “The sale of publishing rights would mean Diddley's heirs — six children and 16 grandchildren — would be out about $400,000 a year in record royalties for the next four decades.” Where does this figure come from? How did the reporter come up with it?

The story mentions court proceedings, and the accompanying photo shows Diddley’s son and granddaughter leaving a courtroom. It’s possible the reporter got much of this information from setting in the courtroom, but this is unclear.

The story does have creditable sources. One of them is Diddley’s attorney and the trustee of his estate, Ron Stevens. Although, he provides some insight into the proceeding, it is through e-mails, which aren’t a preferred method of interviewing. Another source is the judge in the case, Robert Roundtree, Jr. But, like with other sources in the story, it is unclear whether the quotes are taken from what was said in the courtroom or if the reporter personally interviewed the sources.

One thing I liked about this story was the reporter obtained a copy of the will from the family. Instead of relying on what either side said about the will, the reporter used independent information to verify the facts. Including the will gives the story credibility and support.

I think this story’s strength lies in its closeness to the case and proceedings. The reporter went to the courtroom, listened to the facts of the case and the version of events from both the family and the estate trustees. The reporter didn’t rely on getting the information secondhand from a wire service story or a phone interview the next day.

However, one thing this story could have done better was to better identify where the information was coming from. It’s unclear if the information and the quotes are coming from the court proceeding or from independent, separate interviews. I think the reporter could have done a better job of attributing the various bits of information to its sources.

To improve the story, I would include a quoted source near the beginning of the story. The story is divided into six pages on the web, and it’s not until the middle of the second page that the reader finds quotes. Including a quote higher up signals to the reader that the story isn’t a brief about the court case but a longer, more in-depth piece about the family’s battle. I would also try to clarify just where the quotes are coming from? Are they from the proceeding or were they obtained afterward? Overall, this story has good information, but without proper attribution it’s hard to know who said what.

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