Home > editing, headlines > Coach Joe Paterno dies: You be the editor

Coach Joe Paterno dies: You be the editor

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When Joe Paterno died on a Sunday morning in 2012, it was news across the country.

Reporters and editors had to make many decisions including:

  • How high up in the story should the Penn State sex abuse scandal and his 2011 firing be mentioned?
  • How should he be described in the headline: Was he the legendary coach, the fired coach or the disgraced coach?

Look at the headlines and the tops of the stories in the slideshow I’ve posted. And read the complete stories I’ve linked to below. Pay particular attention to where in the story the scandal is mentioned. You’ll notice it varies from first graph to sixth or seventh graph in some cases.

Associated Press

The Daily Collegian

ESPN.com

Pennlive.com

Philadelphia Inquirer

New York Times

Washington Post

Los Angeles Times

  1. Do you think the location of the news outlet (New York vs. Pennsyvlania, for instance)  or the nature of the news outlet (student paper vs. sports outlet, for instance) played a role in the editors’ decisions? In what way, did geography or the nature of the news outlet affect news judgment decisions.
  2. How much of a role should geography play in news judgment decisions? Be specific in your answer.
  3. If you had been writing or editing the story and writing the headline, what would you have done? Why?

Answer your questions thoroughly in no more than two pages.  Submit answers as directed by your instructor.

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  1. Robby Korth
    January 24, 2012 at 11:49 am

    1. After reading these stories I believe that location absolutely had an influence on where the sex abuse scandal was mentioned in the story. In some cases the placement later in the story was subtle and seemed natural (The Daily Collegian and Center Daily Times). In the case of the Patriot News story from Pennlive.com, the obituary was cheesy and over the top. In that story I found it ridiculous how Paterno was portrayed as “college football’s greatest coach” and “The Lion King.” That story was in poor taste, but obviously played towards a central Pennsylvania audience that loved Joe Paterno. The national outlets did a better job of looking at the stories objectively. Right now when readers see Joe Paterno they need to be reminded of the scandal. It gives more context to his death, the story wouldn’t be nearly as big on a national scale if not for the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
    2. I would have written the simple headline “Joe Paterno dead at 85.” People know who he is; they don’t need to be reminded of everything until they read the story. The man was an icon in college football but also dominated national headlines just a few short months ago in a story that transcended sports and readers will recognize his name. I would have made sure that the scandal was mentioned high in the story so that readers could get context and realize why they were reading about a retired Pennsylvania coach’s death and why they should care.

  2. Brett Brown
    January 24, 2012 at 7:35 pm

    The location of the paper definitely had an influence on the story. The way the articles portrayed Paterno differed depending on the new provider’s location. National sources treated the story in a more even-handed way than those in and around Penn State seemed to. This is especially true of the Pennlive.com article, which treated Paterno as an American hero. An editor should know his or her readers. Nationally, most people most likely don’t really care about the history of Paterno’s coaching career, but in Pennsylvannia they probably do. This is why a story like the one posted on Pennlive.com is acceptable, even if it is a bit over the top.

    Location also had an obvious affect on where the mention of the sex abuse scandal was placed in the article. The localized papers placed their mention of the scandal a few paragraphs into the story, while the national sources put theirs in the opening paragraph. National sources need to tell their readers what the story is and why it is important because they tend to deal with so may important stories every day. This is why they mention the scandal so early when compared to local sources. If I were working on this story, I would be more likely to mention the scandal later in the article. I think it was nice that the localized papers gave the reader a few examples of the good Paterno did before reminding them of the scandal.

    The headline was another part of the article that varied depending on location. The headlines on the national stories were simple and referred to Paterno as the “longtime” or “former” coach, or simply went with a version of “Joe Paterno dies at 85.” The local stories, again, tended to highlight Paterno’s greatness, and called him “legendary” or mentioned his “unmatched legacy.” Again, this is an example of an editor knowing the audience and playing into their interests. If I were writing or editing this article, I would be more likely to go with something along the lines of “Joe Paterno passes away at 85.” Again, this may change if I were working near Penn State.

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