Analysis: Chaos at Oakland religious school as gunman opened fire is recalled

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The article Chaos at Oakland religious school as gunman opened fire is recalled by Maria L. LaGanga and Matt Stevens is a national breaking news story form the April 2 Los Angeles Times.

Hours after Oakland police were called to a small religious school on Edgewater Drive, authorities recounted the frantic and often confused events of the afternoon with new detail and clarity.

This is a confusing lede. The reporter made a very simple statement ("A school shooting occurred in Oakland") into a very complex and confusing introduction. This was clearly a press conference or statement of sorts, so I understand not wanting to make the news that a press conference was held, but it could have been lead in better. The writer also began with a phrase ("hours after") when it should have started with the news of "authorities recounted."

Police dispatchers received the first call for help at 10:33 a.m., said Officer Johnna Watson, spokeswoman for the Oakland Police Department.

This is a solid paragraph. It is active and appropriately sourced. The only thing is that this is setting up the rest of the story to be chronological when I think it is more important to do an inverted pyramid model so the news is first.

Within minutes, police and rescue personnel arrived at the low-slung building in an industrial area that is also home to a sprawling car dealership, a food bank and several Korean-run businesses.

First, this should be split into two sentences where the "that" is. Also, "within minutes" should go at the end of the first sentence, not the beginning. It distracts readers from the real point of the sentence. There is nice detail about how the building looked and what kind of neighborhood it is in. The color is good, especially for a dramatic story like this, but there could have been much more detail to make it even more real.

Quickly realizing there was a shooter on the loose, officers called in specialized SWAT units, which made entry into the school building, where at least some of the victims were discovered. It appeared, Watson said, that most, if not all, of the shooting took place inside. SWAT officers methodically cleared each room in the school and in surrounding buildings in search of more victims and the shooter but eventually concluded that the suspect was not inside.

And the author did it again. The phrase beginning with "quickly" should go at the end of the sentence. Phrases confuse readers, so every sentence should be straight forward and clear. The whole first sentence uses many commas which is hard to read and understand. The writer should have considered splitting that sentence up into several smaller ones. Watson's attribution in the second sentence should go at the end, not awkwardly in the middle. The last sentence is likewise confusing with lots of "ins" and conjunctions. Also, how does the reporter know they "quickly realized" or "methodically searched?" Unless that is sourced, it sounds a little like an opinion. This was a very long paragraph that should have been condensed down.

A man suspected of being the lone shooter was taken into custody a short time later. Watson did not identify the man and described him only as "an Asian male in his 40s." She did not say where the man was apprehended or what led police to him. Investigators were still working to determine a motive for the shooting and the man's connection to the school.

Instead of saying "suspected of being" it might have been nice to make that active, as in "police took a suspect into custody." Watson's quote probably could have been paraphrased instead of using an awkward partial quote. The writer did a pretty good job of sourcing, but I think this paragraph could have been split into a few shorter ones for clarity's sake.

Ezra Curry, 48, a bus driver from Berkeley, had a dentist appointment near the school. He arrived about an hour after the shooting had started and described the chaotic scene. "I saw a melee. Cops with rifles drawn, five helicopters flying overhead. I saw a body on a blue tarp in the median. He was still alive, they ... tried to bring him back."

The quote merits its own paragraph; it should not be jammed in with the speaker's introduction. It is a great quote, there is a lot of detail and the word "melee" which is awesome, but I question its accuracy. It sounds like a very stressful situation and if only this guy was spoken to, I'm not sure his memory can be trusted on its own. Also, was the shooting still going on an hour after it started or did he just see the aftermath? That could have been made clearer. Also, the "..." is only for if words are cut out of the quote, not for dramatic pauses. This sounds like it was put in for a pause, and I am not okay with that. This is news, not a novel.

The death toll stood seven by midafternoon, and several other people at the school were injured.

Wow, this news should have been first, in the nutgraf if not the lede itself. School shootings are crazy and as important as it is to know how events unfolded, it is way more important to know about casualties. Also, midafternoon should be specified by what day it actually was (Monday). This could have been two sentences as well.

Writing breaking news can be just as chaotic as the news itself, but this was not well done. It was confusing and hard to follow. It also obscured the real news. I think the writers were trying to give a dramatic spin to the news as well which was unnecessary. The news is dramatic enough, it speaks for itself. There is no need to try and add drama with an artistic lead and circular writing. It just confuses things. The two sources were good, but I would have tried to talk with someone from the school because that perspective was lacking. If more attention was paid to the basics of news writing, the story would have been much more readable.

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This page contains a single entry by ryanx790 published on April 2, 2012 7:02 PM.

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