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The Petraeus Sex Scandal: a News Story Right out of the Journalism Textbooks

Posted on the 13 November 2012 by Themarioblog @garciainteract

The Petraeus sex scandal: a news story right out of the journalism textbooks
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TAKEAWAY:For those expecting a quiet news cycle following the US Presidential Election, here comes a story that qualifies with check marks for all the traditional components of what makes for the ultimate news story.

When the old definition of news still applies

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As I started my run down Park Avenue in New York City Monday, these are the front pages that were selling well outside the subway entrance

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And for newspapers in Tampa, the national story that suddenly lands home with a good local angle: seeing above, Tampa Bay Times, The Tampa Tribune, tbt

It usually happens during the first week of a Journalism 101 class: Students are introduced to a definition of news, then to components for what makes news.

In 1917, Lyle Spencer, former dean of the school of journalism at Syracuse University, defined news as any event, idea or opinion that is timely, that interests and affects a large number of persons in the community, and of two stories, the one that affects the largest number of people is the better story.

Furthermore, these are the elements that make for a news story that may affect and/or appeal to a large number of people:

—Oddity or unusualness
—Human interest

So, along comes the story of General David Petraeus: a sex scandal with alleged national security ramifications. For those who have been on disconnect mode following the US Elections: David H. Petraeus, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency and one of America’s most decorated four-star generals, resigned on Friday after an F.B.I. investigation uncovered evidence that he had been involved in an extramarital affair.

If we go by the news components listed above, the Petraeus story has almost all of them. It is no wonder, then, that it is the lead story in almost all of the US newspapers I have sampled in the Newseum website.

Enter the other woman:  Paula Broadwell, the co-author of a biography of Petraeus titled All In: The Education of General David Petraeus, which was published this year.

Enter what the New York Post refers to as “the other other woman”: Jill Kelley, who lives in Tampa, Florida, for which this national story now has a local element of proximity.  Ms. Kelley allegedly received harassing emails from Paula Broadwell, prompting her to tell an FBI agent about them.

In turn, this is what led to the investigation that uncovered the alleged affair between Petraeus and Broadwell.

News stories run in cycles, and some stay longer than others. This one is not likely to disappear anytime soon. It is a story with long political legs, too, and many questions lingering over the timing of the resignation. In addition,  Petraeus had been due to give evidence before a Congressional body this Thursday concerning the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi in which four Americans were killed, including America’s ambassador to Libya. It is now thought that Petraeus will not attend the session.  In today’s environment of instant expressions via Twitter, the story also acquires wings.

Then prepare for probably more titillating details about the affair itself, as people who knew those involved come forward with their stories.

Lyle Spencer would look at the Petraeus scandal and give it an 11+ for a story which fulfills almost every requirement for the ultimate news story with significance and consequence to many—-not to mention that reliable crowd pleaser combination that is sex and prominent participants.

Of related interest:

Petraeus ghostwriter ‘clueless’ to affair

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