Media Critique Blog #5

Money is always a hot topic in the news. As humans, we often compare our lives with the lives of others. Comparing how much money we make is one way we can either feel better about ourselves, or a way to feel sorry for ourselves. The Birmingham News wrote a story titled “Alabama legislators will get $1,608 raises if they don’t decline them in writing.” The title is catchy and draws readers in very quickly. After all, we’re immediately curious to hear if any legislators are declining a pay raise.

David White, the writer of this news story, begins with a short indirect quote and then goes straight into the facts. When will the pay raise happen? Who has declined it? And probably most important to the reader – how much will legislators make now?

White states that, “The automatic cost-of-living increase that would be implemented in April would push the annual pay . . . to $55,046, a raise of 3 percent.” He then says that two Birmingham legislators, Dem. Rodger Smitherman and Rep. John Rogers, said “they intend to accept the raise because of the rising costs of gasoline, lodging in Montgomery and other work-related expenses.” Rogers is quoted saying he’s simply taking the pay raise because the cost-of-living is going up, and Smitherman agrees. Smitherman mentions that he recently stopped to fill up his car and premium gasoline was $4.00.

The problem with this quote has nothing to do with White, but all to do with Smitherman. It’s likely that the general public will read that line and think, “Hey! I have to pay for gas, too, and I’m not receiving a pay raise!” Once again, White has to subtly bring the reader back into the story before they turn the page or close the browser out of annoyance.

Smith does this by continuing the story with facts about legislators who have recently declined a pay raise. He even mentions that there are many legislators in Alabama that have chosen to only be paid $30,710 a year instead of the $52,646 many other are being paid. Senator Brewbaker, a legislator being paid only $30,710 says ”It just doesn’t seem right for legislators to take COLAs, or certainly take a big pay increase, when state employees certainly aren’t getting them.” This, as Smith knows, is a great quote to include because it will be greatly supported by the general public.

There were many direct and indirect quotes from legislators in this story. Smith quotes people on both sides of the ‘fence’ and did a great job remaining unbiased in his writing. He wisely spends much of the last section of the news story throwing around the acronym COLA – bringing the reader back to the idea of the pay raise being for a cost-of-living adjustment. If the cost of living is increasing, then perhaps a 3% pay raise is not a big deal. At the end of the day, Smith grabbed the reader with a great title, provided many important facts and great quotes, and kept the audience reading a story that would often be easy to become annoyed and even angry with. This is a great piece of writing!

The news story can be found here.

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