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News Stories as Stimuli to the Theory-Policy-Practice Thread

Links to Newspapers

California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: January 29, 2000
Latest Update: October 20, 2001
E-mailFaculty on the Site.

News Stories as Academic Sources

The Linking Problem with Major Media
Accessing Newspapers. The problem defined.
Link added July 12, 1999.

Using a News Article to Make Conceptual Linkages

The Shaken Baby Syndrome and New Definitions of Crime
Link added July 14, 1999. Link checked January 24, 2000.
Story still available at LA Times; bit now $2 to read it.

News Stories as Academic Sources

by Jeanne Curran and Susan Takata
Part of the Developing Topics for Research Series
Copyright: July 1999. "Fair Use" encouraged.

News stories in the major newspapers are one stimulus to the definition of important issues in social justice. You will find references on the site to the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and others. Investigative reporting is a career that attracted many potential Ph.D. professorial types when the four year colleges began to institutionalize their curriculum and alter the former professoriate into "workers" doing standardized and regimented jobs. Teaching hundreds of students leaves little time and energy for discovering and following through on major issues of social and political justice. Investigative reporting, to the extent that it has survived into the end of this millenium has afforded some opportunity for the intellectual and academic freedom lost by the ritualization of higher education on the non-elite campuses.

The media, whether as the result of solid investigative reporting, or of marketing competition, provide one valid measure of the issues on which public discourse centers. To take that as the only measure would be to treat the media as far more powerful in trend setting and manipulation of popular thought than they actually are. But to consider their content and the extent of that content on a given issue, is one valid measure, that we can then combine with further scholastic references, which are sometimes indicated to us by good investigative reporting.

Consider health and nutrition. NBC's investigative report on the unsanitary conditions in many of the Los Angeles restaurants prompted action by the County Board of Health, and would have provided a researcher with many of the questions that needed to be asked and reliable authorities that should have been able to supply answers. Lead investigative stories provide you with key words for a literature search.

On Sunday, July 11, 1999, the LA Times ran an article on Shaken Baby Syndrome: "Judging Parents as Murderers on 4 Specks of Blood," by Barry Siegel. Siegel reports a case in which a pathologist classified an infant's death as homicide, caused by Shaken Baby Syndrome. The article empasizes the concerns for "justice, not convictions" by both prosecutor and defense attorneys. Arguments were heard in good faith.

The prosecutor, as well as others, knowing the estimate that some "5% to 10% of deaths attributed to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) were actually shaken baby homicides." The forensic pathologist who diagnosed shaken baby syndrome in the case reported was absolutely sure he was right. The prosecutor (after the couple pled and was sentenced) and pathologists nation-wide were absolutely sure he was wrong, that this was not a shaken baby homicide. The State "filed a motion for post-conviction relief," the case was dismissed against the parents, who were freed. And the forensic pathologist who had diagnosed homicide called the prosecutor at his home at midnight, to accuse the prosecutor of "stabbing him in the back." Of that, at least, the prosecutor was certain. Shaken baby syndrome had been misdiagnosed according to the preponderance of testimony by experts sought out by both prosecution and defense. "Stabbing in the back" indicated a personal involvement in the diagnosis wholly inappropriate to the neutrality of the science of forensics, and was one valid measure of an arrogance in intellectual enterprises that can destroy. In this case lives were ruptured. Science is not about "objective knowing." Science is about an open mind and good faith hearing of all the evidence which is proffered.

The Linking Problem with Major Media

Now, needless to say, we would like you to go to the article and read the entire piece. The killing of children is a major social justice issue. And how, in fact, we determine that such a killing has occured is of major concern to the methodologies of many fields. But this is a newspaper article. And newspapers have different news every day. Kind of a tradition with them.

Many major newspapers are on the Web. But you have to catch the article while it is fairly current. In the interest of making you aware of newspapers as a stimulus to public discourse and sociological research, I sought to find a way to link you directly from our site to the article. In fact, that has been done. Some reports on this site are accompanied by links into local newspaper articles, now archived.

The advantage of such a link is that you would not have to navigate your way through the newspaper's archives and you could at least read the article without charge. I still think this should be possible as a learning tool, but no time today. What this means to you who have few Internet skills, is that you may need to get a friend to access the article through the archival procedures, explained in detail on most of the newspapers' archive sites. You could also find the article on microfiche in some libraries.

Within a few years this whole problem will disappear. We regret that there is not more incentive for our newspapers and TV media to make access easy for you, especially since it is most often those who are least advantaged that need this help.

We try to be careful enough on the site to always give enough information that you can locate the article should you need to for reference purposes.

This is what I asked the L.A.Times for: "I often use your news stories as a lead in to scholastic research and discussion from theory to policy to practice.  When such a story sparks an important teaching piece on our site, I would like  to let my students link to that story to read it, but it will be archived by that time.  Mine is the poorest of the state colleges - I can't ask the students to pay for the stories.  This is a small group, and it's purely educational.  Could we work out a way I could link to the specific articles?"

And this is what the L.A. Times answered:

"Thank you for contacting the Times, Jeanne...

Students, I am not functionally illiterate. I did read all that. Really I did. I just wanted a link, honest. jeanne

"While we don't have time to look up stories for the public as a complimentary courtesy, the following tips about "Finding Stories" should indeed help you.  They are also on the site in our VISITOR SERVICES section at:"

I just tried the Visitor's Link, and did find the article by typing "shaken baby syndrome" into the Search Text dialog box, and then clicking Search. May it work for you.