Professor’s Choice: Can you recycle in journalism?

While much could be said about P.D. Lesko’s 2011 and 2013 articles about Recycle Ann Arbor, much could be said about the figures used in both.

This detailed article needs graphics to help show readers the data without overwhelming them. I found myself wishing for figures when Lesko talks about salaries and budgets and confused by the figures that were included.

The different sized pictures and logos in the family connections chart make it hard to follow. In the 2011 article, an advertisement blocks the right side, making it even more difficult to understand. The annual solid waste graph is much easier to read but does not seem to line up with the statements Lesko makes.  To me, the total amount of material sent to the landfill from 2000 decreased by 2008. Other areas of the article could have used figures, too.

Opening the 2013 article, I scrolled through to find the exact same figures used. I actually checked the titles to make sure that the articles were in fact different. Technically, they were. After reading more though, I noticed similar wording and statements throughout both articles.

This left me wondering, is re-using the same figures more harmful to articles than good? Is it better to re-state information for the reader or refer back to an old article? How much “recycling” of your own writing is okay?

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10 Responses to “Professor’s Choice: Can you recycle in journalism?”

  1. A well written article doesn’t always have to re-invent the wheel. Recycling your own writing can be an effective way to drive home important points that would otherwise be scanned over and forgotten. Readers should not have to sift through old articles to connect the dots, writers should compile all the important information in a single presentation. For the 2011 and 2013 recycling articles, the “Single Stream Recycling Family Connections” figure is a cluttered, outdated graph. It’s relevance to each article is minimal and re-use is not necessary. In contrast, the bar graph of total annual solid waste in Ann Arbor is useful graphic which serves as useful background information on this history of waste. Although a bar graph that included years 2009-2013 would be more useful in a current article, the story is a reflection on policy changes within the last few years and is therefore still relevant.

  2. Hi, thanks for commenting on my articles about RAA. Recycling reporting, particularly when it deals with relationships between people, and numbers, is always a gamble. Do readers need to be told the information “again?” For my part, I always assume that readers come to the pieces I write with minimal information.

  3. Although Lesko’s article was well written in the basic English grammar sense, it something still seemed lacking. Perhaps everyone has a personal preference that is different and some want the combination of mismashed articles that comes from reporting. The A2 politico blog with all of its links seems to me to be vaguely reminiscent of something the yahoo news would put out. This is news for the person who only has an extra moment and probably isn’t a regular follower that she cites. Having more focus on facts and less on what other people feel about the situation could make the article more relevant. Clearer, consise and somewhat more terse in wording news is a personal preference. Her blog articles–at least the two I read–seem like a massive book report.

    • **Sorry..please read this one (accidentally pressed the post button)***

      Although Lesko’s article was well written in the syntax sense, something about its layout and figures seemed lacking. Less text and more graphics could clarify the issue. Perhaps everyone has a personal preference that is different and some want the combination of mismashed articles that comes from reporting. The A2 politico blog with all of its links seems to me to be vaguely reminiscent of something the yahoo news would put out. This is news for the person who only has an extra moment and probably isn’t a regular follower of the issues, yet wants intense amounts of facts. It is hard to believe that people who would care about this level of detail would not have read the primary sources already. Clearer, consise and somewhat more terse in wording news is a personal preference. Her blog articles–at least the two I read–seem like a massive book report.

      Finally, I hope that this isn’t too harsh and I don’t mean this to be a personal attack on the part of the author. See you on Friday!

  4. I think it’s a safer bet to re-state old material than to refer back to an old article and expect a reader to familiarize themselves with details of something written several years ago. In hard-copy paper journalism, there is no choice but to re-state the facts, and for web-based journalism I think linking back to an old article provides a distraction and decreases the chance that the reader will completely read the article. Mid-article links are extremely distracting to me, at least. That being said, I think to a certain extent, recycling your own writing is critical. Especially if you craft a niche for yourself in the world of journalism, your expertise will always be changing, growing, and developing. It’s important to keep an audience up to pace and re-using information you may have once used could be critical. As long as your writing doesn’t sound redundant and that your new article builds on the topic, sheds new light, and answers new questions, I think it is absolutely fine to recycle your own writing. It’s a sign of a thinker and writer who values experience.

  5. I do not have issue with him reusing his old article, especially because in journalism, time is of the essence, so if he is able to use old facts, figures, and comments to fill in his article, then he can get the article out in a more timely manner. Personally, I though the second article (from 2013) was much clearer in its explanation of the downfall of Recycle Ann Arbor and its financial downfall. Did anyone else feel like the 2013 article was less confusing? Also, I thought the lede of the article, with the Bernie Madoff comparison, was much more catchy and intriguing than the first article’s introduction. The comparison of University of Michigan and Ohio State’s waste and recycle management was very effective and creating pathos in the article, because there are few things Ann Arbor and U of M hate more then losing to that school in Ohio. The kicker at the end, with fool me once, fool me twice, I though was clever, because it got the message across quite clearly, and was also memorable, as opposed to the ending of his other article, which did not have nearly as a dramatic close. Was there anyone else who thought the 2013 article was more effective? Especially since they both used similar quotes and stats, I think it is fair to judge the articles against each other for the purpose of strength in conveying the facts (and opinions).

  6. I also agree, the recycling family connections graphic was very cluttered and not easy to follow. With the website the key to the graph, if there is one, is covered up by the archives. Not necessarily the writers fault, but it makes the graphic impossible to decipher. As Taylor mentioned, the other graphic does not support the authors words in a convincing fashion. I feel like the nut graph of the story or at least the part that the average citizen would care about comes much too late. “Between 2000 and 2009, the cost of solid waste removal in Ann Arbor doubled” I think this statement needs to be way sooner in the article to grab people’s attention. The first paragraph does a nice job of giving some background to the situation, but unless you have a vested interest in RAA the next three paragraphs do little to make you care. The kicker also feels weak with that last sentence. I think the last paragraph could be restructured to accommodate the same information and end on a better note. In regards to the 2013 article being better, perhaps the author has just improved his knowledge on the subject over time and can speak more clearly on it.

  7. Very interesting question and connection between recycling waste and “recycling” journalism!! In general, I think that it is okay to reuse the same figures in a new article, as long as the graphics are still timely. The bar graph used in both articles may not be the most effective graphic to use in either of these stores. Both articles were written after 2010, and this bar graph only displays the Total Annual Solid Waste up until 2008. In addition, I’m not sure how the paragraph beginning with the quote that Ryan pointed out, which is positioned above the graph, corresponds with this infographic. The writer failed to convince me that, “the number of tons of materials sent to the landfill actually rose after Uerling took over at Recycle Ann Arbor” with this graphic because the graph does not include recent data. I think the two graphs in the 2013 article are much more valuable to the story because they contain more recent measurements. I think “recycling” previous work is okay, as long as it is brief and some kind of new perspective or issue is the focus of the article. When a writer is following a prolonged story or “beat,” it’s sometimes difficult to make the story different than a previous one. But Lesko’s topics are different, so I think the 2013 article is alright on that note.

  8. I think that authors should definitely reuse data and figures that they may have used in the past to strengthen their story. Many readers may be new to the author’s work and even those who are regular readers probably have forgotten the figures or statistics from two years ago. That being said, Lesko’s family connection chart could have been greatly simplified and not as cluttered so readers wouldn’t have as much of a struggle to follow it. The annual solid waste graph I think should have been placed next to an example of numbers that we would fully grasp, because I don’t think many of us can picture a ton on its own so it doesn’t make as big of an impact on us when we read it.

  9. As an engineer, I am immersed in a field that is constantly subject to both change and critique. With that said, something I’ve learned from countless lab reports and research papers is that every piece of writing should be special. If you have the same audience, which most of the time is true, people want to see progress and fresh ideas. People want to see more work being done than just reusing old material. I think people could learn a lesson from that and their material would be better received.

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