The Spokesman-Review : interns

Friday, July 21, 2006

Parker: Drinking and Discoursing

First, I must echo Jared's message about the importance of thorough editing. I've been working for the last four days on a story about motorcycle safety that is slated for Sunday's paper. This enterprise piece has been a change from my other assignments thus far, which were shorter. During my research, my desk has literally become buried in sheets of statistics about national, Washington and Idaho fatal crashes. When I turned in the first draft of my story, I included too many of these figures, despite knowing that I should keep them to a minimum. Even I had trouble comprehending them when rereading my story. Coming with a fresh perspective, editor Dan Hansen was able to help me trim some of the excess numbers and emphasize the human element of the story.

Now, for the drinking portion of this discourse. Thursday night I hung out with hundreds of bikers at Easyriders Road House in Post Falls for a weekly motorcycle celebration. Prior to the event, my research indicated that alcohol plays a major part in many fatal motorcycle crashes (About 30 percent in Washington between 1993 and 2004). So I was somewhat surprised to see many riders drinking multiple beers before hopping on their hogs and riding off, many not wearing helmets, into the Idaho sunset. Yet no riders I talked with would admit to having more than one beer. One suggested that he has "two beers for two wheels." The organizer of the event, however, insisted that riders police themselves. It is impossible to judge from mere observation whether these riders were exceeding the legal blood alcohol limit, but watching the event helps explain why alcohol is a factor in bike crashes.

One interesting aspect of this assignment was interviewing people about drinking who were possibly intoxicated. At what point does a potential source become too intoxicated to consent to an interview? Is a "buzzed" source reliable but a "wasted" source off-limits? A journalism ethics professor would likely suggest, and rightly so, that some sources who are mentally or emotionally challenged cannot give consent for stories. I propose that even though people choose to drink, intoxication can become a similar factor. What are your thoughts?

3 Comments:

  • Parker: I didn't get a chance to see the article in sundays spokesman, I'm in Billings Mt. for the national Hillclimbs and then to Sturgis;appreciate if you could E me a copy or snail mail; thanks, tom McLaughliun AMA field Rep.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:26 AM  

  • I find it interesting when reporters observe illegal activity, and can't or won't, or aren't allowed too report it. I would feel partly responsible if or when something bad happened. I think someone "buzzed" may not be able to give consent; someone inebriated definitely not.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:53 AM  

  • "I find it interesting when reporters observe illegal activity, and can't or won't, or aren't allowed too report it."

    Anonymous,
    The issue of reporting illegal activity is a tricky one. In this case, as I mentioned, it was difficult to determine whether people were indeed intoxicated. Although it is not a complete excuse, it is important to note that hundreds of people witnessed the drinking and could have reported anything they felt was illegal.

    By Blogger Parker Howell, at 3:10 PM  

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