Flint residents seek $722M over water crisis

This article from The Detroit News covers a recently-filed suit by Flint residents against the Environmental Protection Agency. It begins by describing the details and motivations of the lawsuit, then expands its scope to describe how the lawsuit fits in the larger Flint water crisis. It uses the experience of Jan Burgess, a former Flint resident, to humanize the issue and give concrete details of how residents were effected.

The lede contains several important facts of the story right off the bat, rather than a vignette of a resident whose health was effected by the crisis, which is what I might have started with. However, I think it is still effective because the figures (1,700 people and $722.4 million) are powerful and convey the gravity of the situation. I think the journalist did a fairly good job in the body of the article of summarizing the complex timeline of the crisis in a comprehensive but concise way. I also thought that the embedded document and quotes from the attorney and plaintiffs lent credibility. However, I felt that the end of the article was a bit confusing, as it tried to weave together the timeline of the crisis, the legal battle, and the story of the resident.

How do you feel about the ending of the article, which zeroes in on Burgess’s experience and ends with a powerful quote? How do you feel about the flow and clarity of the article? Is there information or alternative viewpoints that you feel the article left out?

 

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About Kelly Hall

Senior at the University of Michigan studying Global Health and Statistics. I'll start my public health MPH in fall of 2017!

10 Responses to “Flint residents seek $722M over water crisis”

  1. I completely agree with many of the points you brought up in this article. To me, the article’s flow and clarity was poor. I found myself confused at a few specific parts, and had to re-read a few paragraphs to fully understand the point that was being proven. In my opinion, the rapid sentences and short paragraphs disrupted the flow of the article.

    I really enjoyed the source they used for the Flint resident, detailing the process to which Jan Burgess tried to notify officials of the impending water crises. Hearing her story was powerful, especially since she was one of the first to respond to warning signs in her area. I also enjoyed how the writer explained the issues of inertia within government agencies. By having an effective, timely response, many of the issues surrounding the Flint water crises could have been avoided.

  2. I agree with your point about the “lede”. While it gives important information, I would almost go ahead and say the article is missing a lede and goes straight to the nut graph(s). What could have been the lede seems sprinkled throughout, with Jan Burgess and her testimony. I would have been inclined to start off the article by talking about Jan and her health conditions that have worsened due to the crisis, which I think would make for a compelling lede. This article is very different in terms of structure from what we have learned and other articles we have read.
    While I liked the kicker and how stark it was, the article all around did seem generally unorganized and did not have much of a flow. It seems to jump around a lot in topic and with chronological events. Overall, while I get the main point of the article, I had to read it a few times through to get all of the details and put the picture together. I think it could have been better structured to be more coherent and an easier read.

    • I totally agree with your thoughts on the lede. I felt myself rereading the opening paragraph looking for more context in the article, because it really throws you right in. However, I think that once you continue reading it does do a proper job helping the reader along to understand context. I think what this does best is the close/kicker, because it is a powerful quote that the author could not include themselves. Though I wonder, does this suggest too much of a bias?

  3. I agree with just about everything Kelly said. I wonder if the confusing end was due to a length constraint on the writer. It seems like the writer had a lot of information and perspectives on the issue to share, but ran out of space. The article is at just under 800 words, which seems far too short for the complexity of the topic. There’s a clear difference in paragraph length and style between the beginning of the article and the ending section (which, to me, seems to start shortly after the embedded document). The earlier paragraphs are longer, more descriptive, and the quotes contained in them are mostly excerpts from the embedded document. The later paragraphs are much shorter and often simply introduce a quote from one of the people involved. It almost seems like two different articles.

  4. Kelly:
    You picked a great article to critique and asked some compelling questions about it. I’m glad you asked about the ending. It’s interesting that the journalist chose to include a quote with profanity. Some of you did that with quotes in the depression assignment, which we will discuss next week. Personally, I don’t think it’s ideal to include profanity in quotes and think you can convey the same power in a quote in other ways. But this would be an interesting topic for discussion in the class.

  5. Great post Kelly! I do agree that the clarity of the piece diminished as the article moved along. Upon reading the article a second time, the timeline begins to come together, however this may have been avoidable with a clearer distinction of events. There were multiple actors in the end of the body and the series of events could have been presented more succinctly. Rather than jumping between flint residents, the EPA, and Michigan’s DEQ, the author of the piece may have been able to outline each point of view in a more linear pattern.

  6. Although the numbers mentioned in the lede are significant, I think it’s always more powerful to read a personal story than a statistic, no matter how large the statistic may be. I appreciated how the author clearly outlined the failings of the EPA from the beginning, as to set up a clear outline for what the article would discuss later. It seems to me that the headline fails to capture the purpose of the story-by not addressing why the Flint residents sought $722M. Instead, the headline could read: “EPA regulation failure incites Flint residents to seek $722M.” As for the profanity in the kicker, I can see why the author included it—to portray the anger and frustration of the Flint resident, and without the profanity, the same quote would not have the same effect on the reader.

  7. I really appreciated the personal insight of Jan Burgess, and I think hearing her experiences actually fit well in the story and supported the information given regarding the EPA’s seemingly lack of initiative in handling the Flint crisis, and the supposedly “confusing, incomplete and incorrect information” the EPA was given from the state of Michigan. However, I felt this article was a little biased, especially given the provocative quote at the end, because there were few details given about why the information the EPA received was so unsatisfactory. I would have appreciated it if this article had gone into more detail about why the EPA felt they acted correctly with the information they received, and what they believe the state of Michigan could have done differently.

  8. I agree with many of the points that you were making. I think the article really does a good job showing how the average citizen of Flint is caught in this blame game between the city/state governments and the EPA. The article also shed light on to the fact that while we debate about who is responsible for the crisis there are still numerous individuals still dealing with this problem. I think Jan Burgess’s story really allows the reader to empathize with citizens in Flint. Overall, it is very hard for people to move from Flint, especially those who have invested their entire lives in the area. I also agree that the usage of actual legal document strengthens the argument that the citizens of Flint are still caught in this legal battle with the government. I like how the article really drives the situation of the common person and not just the causes of the water crisis.

  9. Even though the article lacks good transitions in showing the chronological order of the Flint Water Crisis, it does a great job at showing the unwillingness of multiple government levels not holding themselves accountable while showing plaintiffs’ frustrations to the government’s handling of the situation. While the lede of this article is informative, it does not represent an interesting lede. Instead of repeating the title of the article, I would begin the article with Mrs. Burgess’s account of how she tried to seek help from the government in 2014.

    If I was to rearrange parts of this article, I would place the end quotes to the lede, push the original lede into the nut graph, and end the article with Mrs. Burgess’ plan of how to proceed with the case if it is not in her favor. With this new way of ending the article, the article would enable the readers to feel proactive about the Flint Water Crisis because perhaps, they then can anticipate Flint residents’ response on the legal outcome of this crisis, instead of feeling reactive toward it.

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