Blowing A Small Story Out Of Proportion

During my reporting shift this past week I came across a problem all journalists come across from time to time. How can we tell a story without blowing it out of proportion?

This past week I covered a story about a local landfill that is facing fines after breaking three violations. From what I had heard, residents were extremely concerned with the violations and also had other complaints about the landfill. Seems like your typical story right? Right. But what I came across was an issue of deciding how to cover this story fairly. Did the landfill deserve to ripped on by neighbors and get a chance to speak out against them? Should I only focus the story on the violations or even see what they were doing to fix them? With only a minute to tell the story, I needed to tightly focus it on something I felt was the most important.

How I decided what to focus my story on:

I started out by doing what all journalists should do. I investigated the matter by going door to door to all the neighbor’s homes. The homes were pretty spread out and there weren’t too many near the landfill, so right away I knew it might not be as big of a deal as some made it out to be. After knocking on doors, I found some residents had no complaints at all and some were upset over various things. One neighbor declined to go on camera and the other neighbor who was upset wasn’t home to talk.

After talking with neighbors I visited the landfill, toured it, and investigated whether nearby neighbors were actually in danger. Although the neighbor’s complaints were legitimate, blowing trash and odor smells, it didn’t put them in any sort of danger. I found the landfill was being close in May of next year, so once that time comes, all the complaints they have now will essentially disappear.

In the end, I decided to focus my story on the violations and what the landfill is doing to curb their problems.

As I realize, every story needs to include how it affects people. I definitely believe we need to address resident’s concerns, but is it too much to write an entire story around it if only a few people are affected? In my web story, I included the resident’s concerns, but felt it would be too much to revolve the entire broadcast story around a few complaints. I decided telling our viewers what the violations were, and what the landfill was doing to help get rid of those violations would give them much more information than just a story about how a few residents are mad. It’s also a much more of an updated story this way.

Sometimes I feel stories blow a situation out of proportion, giving viewers the wrong impression of the problem. Our job is to inform the viewers, not to create an illegitimate fear. I didn’t need viewers thinking this landfill is purely evil, when in fact they received violations that almost all landfills face at one time or another. But with the accurate facts I gave the audience, I leave it up to them to decide, without trying to obscure the true situation of the story.

If you’re interested, take a look at my story below. You can also read the extended web story here by clicking here.

In the next blog entry I’ll be examining how blowing national stories out of proportion can create a culture of fear. Stay tuned!


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