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On Friday, a two-car collision rocked the East Tennessee town of Huntsville, killing five people and injuring three others. The event is undoubtedly tragic; when filtered through media reports, however, it becomes sensational. An Associated Press story on the crash lends some insight into how news orgs identify the newsworthiness of the deceased. Here’s the AP hierarchy, judging by the order in which the story identifies the victims.
1. Cheerleaders. The headline, “Cheerleaders Killed in Fiery Crash,” sets the tenor for the rest of the article. The death of any minor makes for a sad news day, but the piece sensationalizes the death of the four underage girls by identifying them by one extracurricular activity, which raises the story from the local level to one of national interest. The four young victims are identified throughout the piece as “high school cheerleaders” or simply “the cheerleaders.” It’s unclear why one of the victims, Ashley Mason, 15, is identified before the other three, sisters Scarlette A. Hill, 17 and Jaime Hill, 15, and 16-year-old driver Shirley N. Hughett.
2. Non-cheerleaders. The second car in the crash also held four passengers, one of whom died. Jeweline Ledbetter King, 49, is not identified as a cheerleader, or as anything else, for that matter. Also injured in the crash were 22-year-old Malcum King, 10-month-old Aiden Wilson, and Miranda King, who “lost her unborn child because of injuries from the crash.”
In the comments: Does the designation in the story seem off-putting, or does it make the story newsworthy?