seal  Purdue News

May 27, 2003

Purdue media experts

What makes a national story?

A Purdue University media expert says that journalists are sometimes amazed at which stories, such as the murder of a young California woman or the disappearance of a girl from Utah, draw national attention.

"Sometimes you can hear the journalists themselves speculating about why a particular story seems to have legs," says Glenn Sparks, a professor of communication. "Journalists are sometimes baffled about why a story emerges, and it can be difficult to predict which story is going to catch nationally. I'd say it's more of an art than a science."

Nevertheless, Sparks says there are some traditional criteria, such as location, human interest and prominence, to help evaluate why certain stories get national attention. In addition, Sparks says a new dynamic has recently emerged: finding the story that can captivate the public's interest for weeks at a time.

"We are seeing more of a mentality in journalism that there has to be a big story that reporters can keep coming back to day after day," he says. "This may have started about the time of the O.J. Simpson trial. Increased competition and economic factors also may be fueling this tendency."

CONTACT: Glenn Sparks, (765) 494-3316,

Expert: Times scandal scars profession, classroom

The recent controversy at the New York Times will not only affect the journalism industry, but it also will be felt at the academic level, according to a Purdue University journalism professor.

"The case at the Times will have industrywide ramifications," says Jane Natt. "But, we will start to see a huge impact in journalism education."

A young Times journalist, Jayson Blair, has admitted to plagiarizing or making up of information for dozens of stories. He also claimed to be reporting in other countries and states while he was in his New York apartment.

"Journalists are expected to do more of their own research now," Natt says. "In the old days you had librarians who looked some things up for you. Some might ask if the growing corporatization in journalism is a component, but I wouldn't blame this on corporatization. Most of the journalists who get caught are not stressed by producing quantity of stories but quality of stories."

Most professors already are teaching students about journalism and research ethics, but Natt says if students are more comfortable and competent doing their own research and interviewing, they might be less tempted to plagiarize or fabricate.

"I am concerned about students borrowing information and lines from other stories," Natt says. "It's so easy to cut and paste from the Internet. Why do your own background when the work is already done and available on the Internet?"

Natt also can talk about how the Blair controversy will cause the media to take errors and minor inaccuracies more seriously, as well as source citing.

"This does not help the ongoing fight that print media has with credibility issues," Natt says. "And it may also prevent some credible journalists from writing creatively."

CONTACT: Jane Natt, (765) 494-3322,