Saturday, August 13, 2005

Missing The Story In Your Backyard, While Getting Your Butt Kicked by the Times


Pharmacy fraud story in Westchester reveals homefield advantage for The Journal News means nothing when most essential details of the story are left out
Gannett's The Journal News, like so many of its corporate brethren, has long been interested in style over substance. The only daily covering New York City's tony suburbs in Westchester and Rockland counties, it has consistently underachieved compared to other metro suburban papers such as Newsday and The Bergen Record (full disclosure: I worked at the Journal News and The Record in the late 1980s and early 1990s).
Still, The Journal News does serve its purpose, providing much of the local news the New York dailies won't bother with except when there's a sensational death or something of that ilk.
Which brings us to a story yesterday about a pharmacist charged with $4 million in insurance fraud. The story grabbed my attention as the drug store is in my hometown, and the accused was a supposed pillar of the community who had persevered despite having a CVS a few doors down while a mega Walgreen recently opened nearby.
The Journal News put the story on the bottom of page 1. So far, so good. But the headline was a clueless "Tarrytown pharmacist says he is not guilty." Of what?
The subhead told us Neil Norwood is accused of fraud, but provided scant detail of just how widespread it might be. Instead, the story focused on his pro forma arraignment and tussle over his bail. Who cares.
The real story was found in The New York Times on B4 headlined "Westchester Druggist Held in $4 Million Fraud"
The article by Anahad O'Connor details how Norwood allegedly overcharged customers, shorted their prescriptions, substituted generic drugs and billed insurance companies for brand names, and in several instances withheld fertility drugs from women trying to get pregnant.
The Journal News article from apparently stretched-thin veteran reporters Jonathan Bandler and Liz Sadler alludes to some of that in the lead, but then barely touches on it in the article. And the best part of the story, the fertility drug angle, is totally missing.
A bad day for Neil Norwood. Not much better for The Journal News.

While I neglected to note that The Journal-News had a story on the arrest the day before The Times, the point remains that with a second-day lead, that's when you have a time to develop the story further and elicit the more juicy details that a deadline may not afford a reporter. In this case, The Journal-News stumbled badly, choosing to focus on an arraignment rather than zeroing in on details freely offered up by a media-friendly D.A.

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