« Gunflint Trails are Evacuated | Main | The Future of Journalism »

Coon Rapids abduction

A police report said that a stanger had abducted and assulted a 12-year-old girl on Friday. The girl was on her way to school bus stop. After that several police officers and State Patrol helicopter crew tried to track down the suspect. In about an hour investigators found a 46-year-old man who was arrested early Saturday.

I read two stories. One from the Star Tribune reported by Tom Ford and the other from the Pioneer Press reported by Dave Orrick.

In the Pioneer Press story Orrick first starts off the lead with a cliche, "The stranger may have been no stranger at all." The second paragraph describes the kidnapper without fully disclousing the person. It says, "He lived within blocks of the schoolgirl he is accussed of abducting Friday morning..." Then finally the reader reads the lead, "On Friday, Coon Rapids police say, he drove up to a 12-year-old girl who was walking to her bus stop and asked her for directions. Then he grabbed her, pulled her inside the SUV, threatened her with a knife and drove off.

These very first few paragraphs fail to meet the standards of an effective lead. The first paragraph is a cliche, which is totally inappropriate for this sort of story. A cliche at best would be used for a light-hearted headliner, or in sports. Not a story about a 12-year-old being abducted. The second paragraph once again fails to meet the readers needs. It teases the reader by not naming the suspect and just re-tells the headliner. YES, we know that there was an abduction....TELL US MORE! Then in the third paragraph Orrick describes the kidnapping without identifying the kidnapper. What was he thinking?

Finally at paragraph 5 Orrick finally says, "On Saturday, Christopher John Mitchell, 46, was arrested on probable cause for kidnapping...." Orrick should have not taken so long to identify Mitchell. Once agian this is a serious story that deserved the attention to a standard Interverted Pyramid style.

In the Star Tribune story Ford writes a much better representation of a standard and respectful story. Ford does a better job, but still doesn't introduce the accused to the readers until the third paragraph. The good thing that Star Tribune did was not indentify Mitchell. Ford writes, "The Star Tribune generally does not name suspects until after they were charged." I think is an important standard to have in a news room because the right to privacy is vital, I think until proven guilty.

What would happen if Mitchell was innocent? The Pioneer Press flashed his mug shot all over its web site. Claiming that police has the abductor. If is innocent, his life would never be the same thanks to the Pioneer Press. I think that the Star Tribune took a responsible approach in indentifying the suspect.