It’s a journalism basic: Make the story understandable to your audience. It’s especially important when the story involves a death.
The story involves a military training mishap this week that caused the deaths of U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Timothy A. Officer Jr. and Tech Sgt. Marty B. Bettelyoun. CNN makes the basic details clear in this report.
CNN’s reporter says the airmen died in a parachuting free fall accident. It was a part of their special forces training. The Air Force Times story on the training accident also makes clear the association between “parachute training” and “free fall” in the fatal accident.
NBC’s coverage, on the other hand, assumes everyone knows the term “free fall” is associated with a parachute training exercise.
Said the NBC report: “A two-time recipient of the Bronze Star and a father of five were killed during military free-fall training in Florida, the Air Force announced late Tuesday.”
No mention of parachute training in the NBC print or video story. The term “free fall” may describe a number of different circumstances.
“Free fall” could be associated with a drop in the stock value of a company, a polling drop in public support for a politician, the name of a choreographer’s dance program, a decline in the real estate market in New Delhi, India, or the violent disintegration during a test flight of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo.
Here’s how the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the term:
Full Definition of FREE FALL
Three NBC employees, and NBC News correspondent Tamron Hall read the story on the NBC Today Show. She didn’t make the distinction either between a “parachuting free fall” accident and a “free fall” accident.,
The NBC report adds that “Both were Special Tactics Airmen, a force made up of specially-trained air traffic controllers, pararescuemen specializing in rescue operations, and military weathermen and forecasters.” Not sure most viewers/readers know what a pararescueman is either. The Merriam-Webster dictionary does define the word :”pararescue” as “a search and rescue mission by specially trained personnel who can parachute to the site.”
Make your stories understandable journalism students. Your credibility, and the credibility of your news organization may be at stake; especially when the story involves the deaths of two men serving their country in the U.S. military.