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Reports on Infant Deaths at Fort Bragg

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11 Infants have mysteriously died at Fort Bragg, three in the same house! Tainted Drywall or coincidence?  

This is the question that everyone involved is asking. When the U.S. Army joined with the Consumer Product Safety Commission to release a statement about the on goings, some people in the community, especially the ones who were affected, were outraged with the results that claimed that the tests were inconclusive. Coverage of the story differed from newsroom to newsroom. So we decided to examine two articles, one from ProPublica and the other ABCLocal.

 

The first article we looked at connected to the deaths of nine infants in Fort Bragg was a story from ProPublica. ProPublica is an independent non-profit newsroom. They strive to produce investigative journalism which their audience cares about, drawing stories with “moral face”.  The leaders of ProPublica have all spent extensive time in popular mainstream journalism, such as The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. There is no lack of experience underneath this newsroom.

Our second article pertaining to the infant deaths came from ABCLOCAL news. The ABC family of networks is owned by The Walt Disney Company,who in their mission statement exclaim that they only support “unparalleled entertainment experiences based on the rich legacy of quality creative content and exceptional storytelling”. This was in direct connection to all four sections of their company, including the media networks section, where ABCLOCAL falls. The statement contrasts what we, as viewers, want in good journalism. The Walt Disney Company is a well-known and respected company when referring to their parks and resorts, and studio entertainment. But, on the other hand the company is not as recognized for their work in the newsroom.

ProPublica was founded by Herbert and Marion Sandler, the former chief executives of the Golden West Financial Corporation, who dedicated to donating $10 million dollars a year. The Sandler Foundation is still the main funder of this project. They began with 28 journalists but now have grown to 32 fulltime reporters. ProPublica took a surveyof their viewers and came up with these results; the median age is 55, close to 70% of their viewers are male; only around 30% are under the age of 44, also a little more than 50% of their viewers consider themselves liberal. By analyzing this data we can give support to the idea that liberals are the backbone of independent news. This data also is evidence that an older age group focus on ProPublica rather than the younger generations. Also in 2009 Associate Press began a program to promote nonprofit journalism. This program distributes some of ProPublica articles, along with other nonprofits, to Associated Press members.

 

ABC when it began was a part of the “the big three”, which was comprised of ABC, NBC and CBS. But, in the 1940’s when the big transition to television came around they began to fall behind. Around that time is when United Paramount in 1953 purchased ABC and had a 30 year stent with ABC. This was until Capital Cities Communication bought them for a short 10 year period.  After ABC started going into the gutter, again, Disney swooped in and purchased the company and has owned it ever since. In recent years ABC has dominated the adult age group, 18-49. The adult age group is their main audience. This provides with evidence that ABC is a popular station and is one of the most viewed networks.

Propublica is an example of modern day journalism.  It works out of a Manhattan office newsroom, with a compilation of 32 journalists; all working together to produce investigated reporting aimed at the public interest.   What separates Propublica from mainstream media is that it publishes all of its articles online at Propublica.org.

This type of journalism is an example of how and why modern day newspaper circulation and advertising have been on the decline.  Like explained in Chapter Four of Pavlik and McIntosh’s book Converging Media: a New Introduction to Mass Communication, there is a high percentage of the younger generation that are reading news today online. That statistic would also be the reasoning behind the fact that advertising on the internet has shown an increase of up to 31%.  However, that increase has not yet been dramatic enough to make up for the decline in print advertising.  Advertising is very important to print journalism, similar to how Propublica increases revenue; many newspapers rely heavily on the ad space sales to generate income.  (Pavlik and McIntosh, 119-120)

According to the articles analyzed and all facts behind the Fort Bragg infant death investigation, reports establishing any cause where due on Thursday February 10, 2001.  The first evidence I noticed that was different between Propublica.org and Abclocal.com was how they handled the coverage on the reports presented by the government.  Originally published on February 10, 2011, Propublica updated the storyon February 12, 2011, to include the information from the company that conducted the test.

Environmental Health and Engineering is the company that the Consumer Product Safety Commission used to conduct the test.  The conclusion to the test was that no environmental factors, including the dry wall, were to blame for the infant’s deaths.

Abclocal offered no update once the reports came out, nor did they offer any results of the reports. Instead, Abclocal simply stated that the government had not revealed a cause.

Propublica.org supports its evidence by following through with their investigation.  Staying true to its mission of investigative reporting, Propublica had not one, but three outsourced experts review the report released by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the U.S Army.  Abclocal offered no such review and simply hyperlinked the 263 page report for the readers to view and makes sense of it themselves.

It was pretty evident how each news sources decided to frame the story.  It was obvious that Abclocal had no side in the matter, keeping it a neutral report.  On the other hand, Propublica had a strong opinion on the matter and appeared not to be afraid to publish how they felt.  Propublica reported bold accusations made by their experts, saying the CPSC report used to exam the drywall was “unreliable and incomplete”.(Propublica.org) Propublica pointed out several questions raised based around the testing.  For instance the Army failed to conduct a chamber test on the dry wall. According to Michael Foreman, head of Forman & Associates, Chamber test are used to measure off-gassing from drywall.  Foreman’s company has been investigating tainted drywall since the crisis came about.   While the Army said the homes did not have tainted drywall, CPSC’s own investigators stated different, saying that the homes had consistent signs of tainted drywall.

Another expert and member of the ASTM drywall committee, Michael Shaw, said that “The idea that they [the government] are skating around this and not doing the obvious means is very troubling.”  Additional accusations came from Foreman, saying: “A company or government official that won’t do a chamber test is on that in my opinion is scared to death of what the results could show.”

While Abclocal did break the news story first back in August of 2010 and again inSeptember of 2010 the last and what in my opinion, the most important report of all three, they fell short of anything investigative or informative.  They offer no official comments, quotes, details or had any expects chime in on the matter. The last articlethey wrote, published on February 9th was a mere 250 words. Propublica’s article was over a 1000 words.

In ProPublica’s article about the released report of the Consumer Product Safety Commission and U.S. Army about the infant deaths, the title is one example of how ProPublica legitimizes their position. The inclusion of “Skeptical” in the title automatically frames this article without any more evidence needed to conclude ProPublica having a strong opinion. That opinion is that the CPSC is not telling the entire truth about the sulfur off-gassing tests.

They clearly have this view on the subject because soon after they give a brief description of the pretext they go into experts reviews, which contrast the results of the CPSC and Army. The three experts cited is another convincing argument for ProPublica having a strong opinion on this subject. This entire article is a perfect example of how well ProPublica follows their mission statement:

To expose abuses of power and betrayals of the public trust by government, business, and other institutions, using the moral force of investigative journalism to spur reform through the sustained spotlighting of wrongdoing.”

In this case the CPSC and Army are the institution which abuses their power by trying to cover up the truth. And, ProPublica is exposing their wrongdoings through interviewing expert witnesses.

The video/article “Another mother speaks about Bragg baby deaths” shows that ABCLOCAL has changed their view point in regards to the subject. Sculley, the mother of one of the decease infants, feels that the Army is trying to cover up her son’s death. The article which is being compared with the ProPublica article is very objective and gives the viewer no reason to believe there is any foul play. This shows that the ABClocal news changed what they said. It as if they wanted to have breaking news but they pulled back and decided to let the story die down.

As you can see,  both newsrooms chose to go about covering this story using two different angles.  ProPublica took a biased approach while ABClocal chose to cover the story objectively. How would you have covered the story?

 

Sources:

This is a picture of the house in question. It is in Fort Bragg

 

Pavlik, John V., and Shawn McIntosh. Converging Media: a New Introduction to Mass Communication. New York: Oxford UP, 2011. Print.

 

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Jill Waxman
    February 24, 2011 at 9:36 pm

    Great work and information! I thought it was really great how thorough you both were on describing the different types of newspapers and the main consumers of these news outlets. I would recommend describing a little bit more about the articles in general and comparing and contrasting how both newspapers described the articles. I would also do a read through for spelling and punctuation errors but other than that, great job!

  2. michellee3
    February 24, 2011 at 9:38 pm

    From Chelsea Clement and Michelle Earley –

    Excellent paper. We liked your Read More tab, but feel that you could strengthen your introduction a little more. Perhaps you could also add a few more links into your paper. You could also expand on your conclusion to make the paper stronger. Interesting paper!

  3. February 24, 2011 at 9:41 pm

    Excellent job giving background information on the sources, and comparing and contrasting them. You also did a great job following the rubric, talking about converging media and including evidence from the book. I would talk a little more about the articles themselves and where they get their evidence from. Check back for just a couple grammar and spelling mistakes. Other than that great start!

  4. February 26, 2011 at 5:46 am

    Helpful comments from your fellow team members. I’d suggest embedding the links directly into your story rather than leaving them at the end, as that will improve the article’s flow overall. As noted, there are some typos and word choice issues, and the article could be written for better flow. Another question: what does it mean to have a “strong objective opinion on the matter”? Were they fair? Do you think it was somehow unfair and biased for ProPublica to question the reports and by extension the army as they did? Or do you mean to say that their framing suggested that they believed that there was more to the story than ABC did (initially)? Please say more about how each source constructed different frames for their reader/viewers. Also I don’t really understand your point in the last paragraph: that the ABC report was “very objective,” that they “changed,” and then that they wanted the story to “die down.” What is your evidence for thinking that they wanted that? And how are you led to think that their reporting is “objective” based on their framing? In other words, how do they legitimate their views? Read some of the other papers for examples of this. Good start!

  5. March 9, 2011 at 6:20 pm

    Great job!

  6. May 5, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    Interesting commentary. I am the public affairs officer for Fort Bragg and enrolled in a masters program in Media Psychology at Walden University. Good discussion.

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