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The One with the Campfire

Posted by on | August 8, 2019 | Comments Off

Remember when you were a kid watching Friends–or in my case the Partridge Family–and the cast would sit around the campfire and reminisce about events from previous episodes?  Naturally, the brief introduction was followed by a repeat segment from a previous show.  These are called “clip shows” and they allow the producers to provide a “new” episode without actually supplying any new content.  All they need is a hook–the campfire or some other plot device that serves as an introduction to the previous clips. 

Newspapers like to repackage old material and call it new as well.  All they need is a hook.  Check out this article about Bill Montgomery. 

The story is a clipped together version of previous Republic hit pieces. The hook is that someone mentioned Sandra Day O’Connor during one of the meetings and O’Connor’s son called the Republic and “bristled” at the comparison.  Notice that Montgomery never made the comparison.  That’s the old campfire trick.  There’s no actual connection to O’Connor, just the opportunity to repackage old criticism of Montgomery in a new story.

 The One with the CampfireThere are two types of hooks.  Producers CREATE hooks.  They write a campfire scene and then refer back to the previous episodes.  Journalists are supposed to DISCOVER hooks.  Some event occurs and this makes the old story relevant.  I think it’s bad form to use a weak hook like the O’Connor connection as an excuse to rehash an old story.  But I’m not claiming that it’s unethical.

But what kind of hook was this one?  Did the reporter DISCOVER the hook, or CREATE it?  Here’s the sentence that Maria Polletta used to introduce the hook for this story. 

Scott O’Connor, bristled when he learned of the comparison. He later contacted The Arizona Republic to call it “misleading.”

That strikes me as a strange set of events.  Your telling me that someone who watched this hearing noticed that one of the Commissioners mentioned Sandra Day O’Connor.  That person told Scott O’Connor about the comment and then Scott O’Connor “later contacted The Arizona Republic to call it “misleading.”

Really?  OK.  Maybe. 

But how about this scenario?  Maria Polletta was looking for a hook in order to rehash her Montgomery story.  So she goes through her notes and notices the O’Connor reference.  She finds Scott’s number and leaves him a message that includes the quote about his mom and then leaves her phone number.  Scott “bristled when he learned of the comparison” and then later contacted the Republic.  In other words, he was upset by her message and called her back. 

Both of those scenarios fit Maria’s sentence, but under the second scenario, the reporter CREATED the hook and then used the hook in order to rehash the story. 

I don’t know the Republic’s policy.  Maybe it would be OK for the reporter to call Scott O’Connor and say that his mom’s name came up at the meeting and ask what he though and then use the fact that he bristled as an excuse to rehash the story.  However, if this is what happened then she needed to disclose that fact in her article. 

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