Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Courageous Doc Does Nothing!

Just when I think I got nothing to write about in terms of local news, the Sun-Sentinel drops a gift in my lap. Check out the front page story by Jerome Burdi. It's accompanied by a great overhead photo (at right) by Lou Toman of flaming wreckage on U.S. 27 (Toman, btw, also scored big yesterday with a great trial pic). The story focused on the potential heroics of Dr. Pedro J. Gonzalez, who was coptered to the scene to amputate a man's arm caught in wreckage. A hint of the letdown comes in the subhed: "Trapped man almost needed roadside surgery." After a huge 11-paragraph build-up, full of dramatic "Oh God, I hope I don't have to do this" quotes, the doctor gets to the scene and ... sits around and watches while paramedics ultimately saved the man's arm. Burdi does an admirable job with his material. It's just that the material was ultimately lame and the thing ends up smelling like some concocted hospital P.R. deal.

The editors buried the general story on the wrecks on U.S. 27 on page 5B. Done by Andy Reid and Brian Haas, that article was sturdy. Any report with a wreck victim who says "next thing I see, I was driving into a split trailer full of meat" can't be all bad. Problem: Not a single person died. So rather than the "huge pileup but nobody died" story the editors went with the "heroic doctor who did nothing" story. The beauty was they could trick the reader, before the jump, into believing that it was actually a great article.

A look at the website indicates how proud the editors must be today of the bait-and-switch. The original AP story on the U.S. 27 pileups, however, is the No. 3 most e-mailed article of the day. Toman's photo is No. 4. The front page story is nowhere to be found on the home page at all.

So what should the Sentinel have done? Well, they should have called up the editors at the Palm Beach Post and gotten some advice. This morning's Post also put the U.S. 27 mess on the front page with an equally compelling photo. But it led headlined the news -- three truckers cited -- and the Story of the Day, written by Kelly Wolfe and Rochelle E.B. Gilken, begins with the crash and combines a little bit from the do-nothing heroic doctor in a complete and very well-done article. This is the starkest example I've seen so far of the Post running circles around the Sentinel. And it has nothing to do with the reporters (the Sentinel has just as much talent as the Post in that department). It's all about leadership.

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