Case study: When an eagle eats a dog

24 Jan

By: Gabriela Gonzalez

In the discussion with peers, it was clear that we were all skeptical of the minimal sources used in the story, but still we accepted the story as fact. We were not skeptical enough to question the validity of the entire story. Different aspects, however, of the story bothered us because there were small things that contradict what we are taught in journalism.

1] Lack of Sources: The only identified source was Dennis Fleming. There is supposedly an account from “witnesses,” but the lack of identifiable sources makes the story less credible. There is credibility in numbers and names. This story lacks this support of evidence. The story says the witnesses said the pet was five feet away from the RV when it happened. Who are these witnesses? Anyone could make that up. Also, the reader doesn’t ever find out who the couple is. Ironically, the story revolves around the couple and their dog.

2] Ambiguity: In journalism, professors always tell you to get every detail. This would mean the names of everyone including the snatched dog. It would also include the name of the gas station as someone mentioned during the group discussion. Also, the story makes mention of a “Chihuahua-like dog.” What is that? The readers should be given an exact breed. Another detail that would be useful is why the couple went to Alaska.

Also noted, was a lack of clarity in the headline, “Eagle Snatches Dog While Owner Watches.” The headline makes it sound like the dog was snatched and the owner just watched. Perhaps a more appropriate headline would clarify and give the readers more of a feel for what actually happened.

Ambiguity leads to confusion, and it may deceive the reader or leave them unsatisfied. This could lead to a diminishing trust from the reader to the news organization. A factor that should always be present in journalism is accuracy.

3] Ethics and sensitivity toward the reader:  There is the quote, “It was the damnedest thing I ever saw,” which may be seen as insensitive to a reader. A parent may not like the use of “damnedest” in a paper that his child can pick up and read. Consideration for the variety of readers should be taken.

Also, the fact that while the woman was inconsolable, it says her husband came out of the motor home grinning and he was flailing his arms in the air yelling “Yeah! Yeah!” Even if the reader is not offended, the woman whose dog was snatched is probably not too happy. Ethically speaking, is this piece of information crucial to the story? Maybe it portrays the husband in a stereotypical way, so ethically it should not be included.

4] Skepticism is lacking: In journalism you are always told that if your mother tells you that she loves you, check it out. That sort of skepticism was lacking in this story. The story ended up being an urban legend. The writer chose to depend on one source. He or she put all of his or her trust in Dennis Fleming. Dennis Fleming turned out to be a creative man without an ounce of truth in the story he retold.

If more questions would have been asked in relation to solving the ambiguity and source problem, maybe the lie would’ve been revealed before actual publication.

5] Experts: Expert sources were necessary in this story to see if truly an eagle can snatch a dog. Wildlife Service could have answered this question. I asked the question of whether it was feasible for an eagle to eat a dog; not just lift it, but eat it, on Quora.

The only response I received was from Neil Russo saying, “A toy dog or a small puppy yes, but not any larger; especially the Golden Eagle, hawks, falcons and owls.”

He is a part of the general population who would believe this story. Fortunately, the story turned out to be untrue. An eagle cannot lift that much weight, even the one of a “Chihuahua-like dog.” According to the Bald Eagle Info website, eagles primarily eat fish and sometimes ducks and birds, but not dogs.

Experts add credibility to the story, and they can clarify misconceptions.

*Bald Eagle Info website: http://www.baldeagleinfo.com/eagle/eagle3.html.

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