Monday, November 5, 2007

It's So Easy to Verify Some of This Stuff

Jon Sica interviews a local hero, Red Cross manager Bill Sullivan, and gets a good picture of the local response to California's fire emergency. To do the story, the local reporter uses Associated Press material. Unfortunately, he mangles the dates and weather reports because he did not verify the information he used.

Sica reports this morning “Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in Riverside County on Friday because of harsh winds.”

No. The Governor declared the county's state of emergency not last Friday, which was Nov. 2, but a full week prior, way back on Oct. 26, according to news releases from the governor’s office.

The “harsh winds” Sica reports for his date, Nov. 2, were described by the National Weather Service this way: “Weak Santa Ana winds are expected to develop Friday night into Saturday in southern California. Local wind gusts in canyons and passes may top off at 40 mph on Saturday; well below what was measured during the wildfire "outbreak" early last week.”

For the real date, Oct. 26, The Los Angeles Times reported: “Weather conditions are far better than earlier this week,” “weather conditions are improving,” and “the weather seems to be hold steady.” The NWS reported the Santa Ana winds were subsiding that Thursday and Friday.

Relying on Associated Press info isn’t the biggest crime in community newsrooms. Young’uns assume the big guys will get it right (a big assumption), and riding on their coat tails is a good way to learn. Well, the AP did get it right, but the kids forgot to (1) read the dateline and (2) double check what they were putting their names and the paper’s name to. The sad part is the Internet makes this kind of fact-checking very easy for those who care about accuracy in their news reports.

And Finally, Even Editors Need Editors ...

Four paragraphs into word processing, the local business editor gets around to telling readers there’s a quarrel between a Republican and a Democrat who scheduled two events for the same day. Burying the lead in order to tell readers, he pontificates writes:

.....Whenever the Florida Legislature is in session, protocol and procedure rule the day, sometimes to the point where they overwhelm the issues being debated.
..... In other words, it’s not always what you do, but how you do it. [Readers are so very grateful to have the deep complexities of the first sentence explained in simpler terms.]
..... Last week in Tallahassee began and ended on a sour note. Monday ended with House members angry over the Senate’s refusal to extend negotiations on a property tax reform package. [Which exemplify the lead’s protocol and procedure, how?]
..... By late Friday, the House Republican leadership was crying foul after a Democratic Rep. Scott Randolph, D.-Orlando, [sic] sent out invitations to all members to hear a speech Tuesday from a policy analyst from an ultra-liberal Washington think tank.
..... In this case, no one is questioning the Democrats’ right to invite anybody they please to the Capitol. But Rep. Paige Kreegel, R.-Punta Gorda, new chairman of the House Committee on Energy, said that the timing of the visit was inappropriate because it conflicts with an all-day House symposium on energy and the environment.
Okay, if no one questions the Dem's right to invite speakers, please share with readers how the lead about “protocol and procedure” grows out of a scheduling snafu, especially one in which the invited speaker is, as is later reported, the first one scheduled? I think I can guess, but readers are not supposed to have to guess when there’s an actual journalist at the controls.

In addition, readers deserve some justification for the editor’s unattributed and highly arguable description of the invited speaker’s organization as “ultra-liberal.” A few grafs later, the Republican describes the schedule conflict as a “political stunt” and disses the Democrat’s invited speaker as a political operative tarnished by association with a “progressive” organization. Are any senior editors on duty able to spot this editor’s slippery slide from adjective to adjective into a muddy morass of name calling?

The unattributed editorial keep flowing. “The Republicans should have no reason to be upset because Hendricks [the invited speaker] is scheduled to present his briefing [during lunch].”

Whether a Republican should or should not feel any particular way is an imperative that the editor/writer should attribute to someone, lest readers mistake it for his opinion.

Editors, presumably senior, seasoned and savvy journalists, should know better than to mix news with unattributed name calling, long fancy leads that go nowhere, and commentary that we’d be happy to read on the op-ed page.

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