Case Study 1: Eagle Scoops Dog

24 Jan

The story of a bald eagle snatching up an unsuspecting small dog outside of a gas station to the helpless horror of its owners is nothing short of a juicy story. However, the lack of evidence supporting the sparse details of the story itself lends itself to suspicion. According to Snopes.com, a website dedicated to debunking common myths and urban legends, the story of a dog being scooped up by a rogue bald eagle has been circulating for years with no evidence supporting the plausibility of the tale. My lab discussed the story and what questions we would have for the reporter and editor had the story crossed our desks to run in the paper.

The lack of tangible details about the story raised a number of questions —

  • What breed of dog was it? What was it’s name?
  • What were the names of the couple who owned the dog? How long did they own the dog?
  • How many witnesses saw this incident?
  • Are there any testimonials from the victims?
  • Is it physically possible for an eagle to lift a small dog and fly away with it?
The fact that these questions went unanswered left many holes open and pressing these inconsistencies as issues could have prevented a newspaper publishing a fabricated story.

 

There are many experts who could answer the biological and habitual questions regarding bald eagles, such as a local Wildlife Conservation Society chapter. When I was an intern with NBC Miami this past summer, I had access to an entire contact list of experts in a wide variety of disciplines, which came in handy when writing stories about topics that are unfamiliar. For instance, I researched a story about a large python that had been found in someone’s farm, and I called a local wildlife information source to verify the details of the story and of the snake’s rescue.

 

Even if a database that extensive is not easily accessible, there are many websites dedicated to sorting fact from fiction that can be a great basis for finding the right questions to ask. This article on the blog Vikitech lists six helpful websites such as PolitiFact and TruthOrFiction to help journalists make sense of inconsistencies and questionable facts. The website Quora would also be useful for researching questionable situations like this. For instance, a journalist could pose a question to find a wide array of sources, such as experts, or if anyone had heard of a similar story and if that story had more substantial support. Joy Mayer, a journalism professor at the University of Missouri, posed a question on Quora as to how journalists could use the social media tool, and most of the answers were focused on using it to locate sources and experts that could lead to a follow-up and more in-depth investigating. On my own Quora account, I asked how student journalists could get the most out of the website. While Quora would not be the end-all-be-all of reporting, it’s certainly a useful tool for finding sources  and leads.

 

In the end, a lack of information about this particular incident, even if scientific evidence supporting its plausibility was available, is still suspicious enough to warrant holding off on this wild tale until more facts could be verified. Moral of the story: Don’t fall prey to a juicy scoop without a solid waffle cone to support it. I’ll work on the metaphors, I promise.
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One Response to “Case Study 1: Eagle Scoops Dog”

  1. Ronald R. Rodgers January 25, 2012 at 3:19 pm #

    Well done. Did you think to ask Quora if it was possible for an eagle to pick up a dog?

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