Monday, December 31, 2007

Web Boy is Short on Space and Time

Below is the headline composed as dramatic dialogue followed by the entire, complete and whole story in one line, deemed sufficient to inform by Charlotte Sun's Web editor:

Remember the girl who shot President Ford? She just got out of prison
XXXSAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Sara Jane Moore, who tried to assassinate President Ford in 1975, was released from prison Monday, authorities said.

Actually, I remember two women who tried to assassinate President Ford in 1975. The subject of this one-line story was 45 years old and had been married five times by the time she drew a bead on the 38th president. Hardly a girl.

Of course, there isn't enough room on the Web to include any of that. And there isn't enough time in a busy boy's day to look stuff up before writing a headline. I'm sure there's more to the story, like was Moore's sentence up or was she released for good behavior or set free as a result of prison overcrowding? Charlotte Sun readers will never know.

Just as an aside, Lynette Fromme, who had shot at Gerald R. Ford two weeks before, was 26 at the time and already had attended college and dropped into Charles Manson's group. Again, hardly a "girl."

Get the boy an AP Stylebook and have him read the entry for "girl" on page 106.

Meanwhile, Brian Gleason reaches for clever in a year-end wrap by writing, "Playboy Playmate and would-be millionaire heiress Anna Nicole Smith died in February beside a nightstand full of uppers and downers, setting off a paternity battle for her daughter that had more contenders than the 2008 presidential election." Instead of clever, Gleason delivers fictionalized, exaggerated and just plain incorrect reportage. The real story isn't good enough for his creative flow, and he's writing a column, so let's not let facts get in the way of a (largely irrelevant) reference. And the rescue is so easy: "seemed."

And just in case locals need to drive somewhere fast, the Web story can direct them to the details: Charlotte names speeding zones for New Year’s week

The Web desk boy means, of course, deputies will be looking for speeders in designated zones. But there's not enough room on the Web to be quite that clear.

And an afterthought about stuff on the Web: The health tab "Feeling Fit" last Sunday ran an article calling Beijing China's "capitol." The Charlotte Sun's promotional paragraph on the Web for the story has carried the error day after day after day. One advantage of the Web is an alert editor can fix things. If he cares. Or knows.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Cookies for Santa

Two dangers in writing mandated, weekly columns in a family-owned newspaper are painfully revealed by the DeSoto Sun's general manager: the pressure to generate copy to feed the beast and the urge to butter up the boss when Christmas bonus time looms. The two made an unfortunate marriage last week. What should have been a private message from grateful servant to kindly master landed, just four days before Christmas, on the front page of Our Town:

Our company is exciting to work for and its top management is dedicated to the bone when it comes to the needs and wants of serving Sun readers. Working for this company is like preparing for Christmas Day, but doing so every day of the year. After all, we gather, package and deliver in the wee hours of the morning before most even know we’ve been there.

Shoot, our paper is full of information: it’s educational and inspirational. At times some might say it’s a bit too sensational, but it’s loaded with goodies that area merchants care to share so your needs and wants can be met, as business dealings are handled with respect.

Gee! It’s great to work and be part of the fun. I’ll have to be ending now, 'cause I’ve got other work to be done. – Joe Gallimore.

The two last paragraphs appear to have been composed for an almost-poem.

Top Ten Stories Ignore Real Follow-up

Old World Wolf is reading and writing remotely, so she’ll follow up with more detail a bit later. Meanwhile, she sees DeSoto Sun pages clogged with easy reruns of the year’s top ten stories (a designation open to debate). If there are any real journalists looking for stuff to do in this little window of time between the year-end holidays, the newspaper’s publishers might want to suggest more mundane follow ups -- you know, the sort that require paid reporters to push back from the desk and find the front door, visit offices, cultivate knowledgeable sources, ask questions, and generally take a second look around town for more than chamber of commerce stories.

Follow-up possibilities abound. Arcadia readers still don’t know what happened to the eight high-powered rifles taken by an unreported number of burglars from a pawn shop earlier this month. They still don’t know if the school district’s littlest plagiarist completed her fund-raising goal and caught the bus for a private tour operator’s so-called student leadership conference. They don’t know if the unanimous vote back in October by the county commissioners directing their administrator to “look into” recycling (instead of dumping sorted materials to the landfill) has resulted in a single hour of effort. Readers still don’t know when the same commissioners will be able to receive e-mail from AOL, MSN, and Comcast subscribers – all of whom, along with scores of others, are permanently blocked as spam generators. Arcadians still don’t know whether the flurry of grants applications announced by the school district have been rejected, accepted or what. They still don’t know what the school’s graduation rate and dropout rate figures are doing or the impact of enrollment on state funds headed to town. And DeSoto Sun subscribers are still reading nearly daily letters to the editor about a controversial red-light-scoflaw entrapment brouhaha that started with a news story and grew into an editorial – neither of which was shared with DeSoto readers or is available in the Internet archives to local subscribers, despite all the reader interest. Even a personal request to the editor to shoot OWW a copy of the articles as a professional favor has been ignored.

We’ll follow up. We promise. The categories will be:

Toothless, barkless watchdogs
Journalists that aren't
Reporters that don't
Editors who can't spell because the pay is low

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Not at Attention

Despite the caption, the student platoon is not "at attention," and neither are DeSoto Sun editors. Old Word Wolf gently suggests photo editors apply their education and read a picture's cutline, especially when it comes from that famous one-name photographer, Provided. Editors are paid -- yes, paid! -- to see that words and images are in synch. Standing at attention in a military drill isn't the same as looking left, crossing arms over the tummy, slouching with elbows dangling next to the hips, or standing with hands folded over the derrière.
Out of pity, OWW won't even bring up the issues of whether a news photograph should tell a story or be related to a story. When this one flew in over the transom, it saved the publisher from having to pay a real photographer to produce genuine photojournalism. Reader Generated Content.

Writers can also compose pictures with words, but mixing metaphors spoils the recipe, as in: "Area music group gives Christmas an Irish flavor."

To me, the Irish taste pretty much like chicken.

At the heart of the article, Laura Schmid skips the guideline that a sentence should showcase one idea. She stirs the description of a group member into a stew of half a dozen other items that includes a gratuitious opinion about teenage hairstyles and a chronology of past concerts.

The now-17-year-old -- a fast-talking, gregarious, tall youth sporting the longish hair currently popular with teenage boys -- now tours the United States with the Celtic music and dance group, Marcille Wallis & Friends, which paid its fourth visit to Arcadia Tuesday night for its annual concert.

What do these little details tell readers?

1. Accuracy isn't important. Lean, clean writing isn't important.

2. Shopworn and trite are good enough.

3. Hey, we're just filling up the hole around the ads.

4. The publisher doesn't mind, so why should readers?

And one last gem from the same edition:

Hmmm. If this head is the work of a paid desker, then maybe reader generated content isn't such a bad idea.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

New Web Page; Same Old "Journalism"

The Charlotte Sun has opened a new Web site. The major change seems to be a preference for gigabyte-sized ads at the top of every page that require many a long minute to download. Its flash-and-crash graphics eat up the humble subscriber’s bandwidth allocation pretty quickly. Headers on every page are flashing ads that make it difficult to read any normal text on the page. It’s like having a strobe light go off in the reader’s face. With all the whiz-bang, the Sun's publishers have forgotten to improve the most important thing: its journalism. This morning, local readers enjoyed this bit of nonsense, which no amount of Java-scripted pyrotechnics can cure.

ARCADIA – Builders rejoice and mark your calendars – Christmas has come early. Starting Jan. 1, DeSoto County will not collect any impact fees on new construction for six months.

Let’s ignore the punctuation, grammar and style faults in the first clause, and let’s overlook the trite and incorrect assertion in the second one. Instead, let’s ask writer Jon Sica why he thinks an ordinance that goes into effect eight days after Christmas is Christmas come early.

Oops; there's no one to ask him. No one’s left on the copydesk who has the time to read critically or question silliness. Spellcheck and publish. It’s the Web way.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

If You Allude to a Book, Read it First

Tossing references to literature, history or pop culture into a news story is dangerous and unnecessary. For one thing, it’s the writer’s opinion that a connection exists between the news and some book she read or song she heard. In many cases, there’s no connection at all and the reference makes the writer look foolish, or worse, ignorant.

Alas, such is the case today in a little local story about a grief support group. The DeSoto Editor writes a long, three-sentence lead that has nothing to do with the news. To make things worse, she mixes her metaphors. Somehow, "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland" becomes something like a safety net.

In the end, Laura Schmid's Alice allusion ends up informing readers that it’s been a long, long time since she read Lewis Carroll’s "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland," and she couldn’t be bothered to pull the book off the shelf to check the facts before going to press.

ARCADIA – Sometimes you just need someone else to talk to who understands what you’re going through.

After the death of a loved one, having a safety net to catch you when you’re overwhelmed with grief and feeling like you’re falling down Alice in Wonderland’s proverbial dark hole can help you make it through another day.
“Proverbial” is an adjective and indicates the word following it appears in a proverb. "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland" is a fantasy, not a proverb.

Alice doesn’t fall down “her” hole; it’s the White Rabbit’s hole. As she descends, it isn’t the least bit dark – she examines shelves on the walls that hold many curious items.

The reporter gets the title of the famous book wrong. Many people do, but that’s no excuse for someone whose job is accuracy.

In the end, the reporter leaves readers wondering what she’s talking about. Alice’s adventures on the other side of the rabbit hole are crazy delights and serendipitous encounters – situations completely unrelated to grief over the death of a loved one.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Teaching Plagiarism Early: A Lesson Plan

Today, I’m going to pick on a sixth grader for plagiarism. Actually, I’m going to pick on her parents, teachers and school principal for teaching her that plagiarism is okay. Here’s how they did it..

This morning’s Our Town front page is anchored with little news story that's a "letter" from a local sixth-grader who wants to raise money to attend something called Junior National Young Leaders Conference.

After reading the organization’s Web site, I think it sounds like a class trip to Washington, D.C., styled as a “learning opportunity” – not bad, but clearly smelling of someone’s tour-operation. But that’s not today's lesson.

The organization charges students almost $2,000 in “tuition” and fees and requires payment in advance. To help kids cut the check, the organization hands potential participants an 11-page Fund Raising Guide. Page seven is titled "Sample Fundraising Letter."

Our local Young Leader filled in the blanks of this pre-written letter and her teacher, principal and parents sent it to the newspaper. The newspaper editors put a “byline” and photo at the top of the story – based, I’m sure, on the letter’s signature.

Every one of this Young Leader’s teachers and parents missed the teaching moment.

The lesson they might have taught is the sample letter is just that, a sample, a model for the child’s own composition. The sample shows what information might be appropriate to include in a letter begging money from strangers. It’s a good place to discuss what the child might like to put in her own letter – in her own words. But no one in this child's life did that with her.

Instead, her teachers and parents taught this future leader that it's okay to copy instead of doing her own work. Teachers and parents taught their star pupil that it’s better to reproduce a grown-up’s letter than find her own voice. Teachers and parents showed the youngster how to put her own name to words and sentences that she copied from a prepared document.

Every one of her role models did a perfect job of teaching the child they are raising about effective plagiarism in one easy lesson that will surely stay with her for the rest of her life -- particularly if she manages to raise $2000 in the process.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Errors and Omissions Mar a Feature on a Local Facial Salon

The editor of “Feeling Fit” this week featured a brother-sister duo who own a skin-care parlor; they have created a marketing niche for their products and services, trading on Indian philosophy and the brother’s newly-minted medical degree. It’s an interesting local story and one worth reporting. However, the editor-reporter makes several glaring errors and goes to press with obvious omissions that undermine what could have been sound local journalism.

The shop owners are Manoj and Bina Dhariwal. The reporter writes that Manoj “currently works at Easton Hospital in Easton, Pa., as a general surgeon.”

In fact, Manoj Dhariwal is a Florida-licensed pharmacist who recently (2006) earned a medical degree at Saba Medical College, a Dutch-Caribbean school whose credentials do not meet U.S. standards. Its students are often admitted to state-side teaching hospitals with a provisional license to pursue further training. Manoj Dhariwal currently holds a “medical trainee” license in Pennsylvania, which his training hospital notes is associated with the unaccredited status of his medical schooling. He’s a student, studying in a general-surgery training program at Easton Hospital.

By reporting that Dhariwal works as a general surgeon, the writer misleads readers and allows Dhariwal, perhaps unintentionally, to create an impression that his sister’s facial services are medically supervised. Indeed, one paragraph in the story says the proprietors “take a medical history” from clients, giving readers the impression that the facials are somehow medically supervised. Neither Dhariwal nor his sister is licensed to practice medicine in Florida, according to state records available on-line.

Does this make them bad beauty-shop owners? Of course not. But the reporter has not done her job when she reports on credentials in a way that seems calculated to mislead.

Manoj’s sister, Bina, is licensed in Florida to give facials, a very restricted license that the editor-reporter fails to mention. Instead, the reporter goes straight to the big stuff: Bina “is proud” to be an Aveda-certified esthetician. “Her training is in Ayurvedic science, which is broken down to mean “science of life and longevity,” the reporter writes.

Two problems here. One, if the reporter had checked with anyone other than the nice shop owner, she would learn no one regards Ayurveda as science. It’s a belief system pertaining to folk medicine that originated on the Indian subcontinent in pre-literate times. The word is most often translated as “life principle” or “life knowledge,” not “science of life and longevity,” as the reporter naively parrots.

(Bear with me for a review lesson of what English majors learn in undergraduate world-lit classes: Ayurveda folk beliefs incorporate spiritual, physical, social and personal “harmonies” that are said to have begun as divine revelation from Brahma the Creator, which he then communicated to various deities and eventually to mankind as a song. Modern Hinduism has sorted these ancient folk beliefs into eight branches of well-being corresponding roughly to psychiatry, longevity, sexual purification, ENT, surgery, toxicology, and internal medicine.

The association of Indian folk medicine to modern fields of study, however, does not mean its beliefs are scientific, tested, uniform, or its ritual nostrums actually work. In fact, a Journal of the American Medical Association article back in 2004 reported many of herbal medicine products used in Ayurvedic treatments were laced with lead, mercury, and arsenic.)

And second, that Bina Dhariwal is a graduate of Aveda Institute in Minneapolis, as the reporter reports, simply means she completed a certificate program in specific beauty treatments that was organized and promoted by a beauty products manufacturer, a manufacturer owned by Estee Lauder Corp. One pays a fee, attends a week of classes, takes a test, and bingo, certification!Further, according to Aveda's school Web page, graduates promise to promote only its brands lotions and potions.

These journalistic errors are compounded when the reporter naively writes that Bina uses her client’s medical history to promote a gluten-free power-bar food product that she says her brother invented. “We would like to see people get on a more gluten-free lifestyle,” Bina is quoted as saying.

Let’s ignore the illogic of the sentence. (If something free of gluten, that’s an absolute condition for which there is no “more” or “less.”) Instead, let’s jump right to the quasi-medical diagnosis she proffers: What’s the benefit of avoiding this a basic protein? Is avoiding gluten a healthy strategy for the general population? It’s common knowledge that persons who suffer from an intestinal disorder called celiac disease are unable to process the gluten protein, but other than this population (which is usually diagnosed in early childhood), what’s the relationship between gluten and skin health? I’ve been to a medical dermatologist on several occasions and never once has the good doctor or his nice nurse practitioner mentioned gluten as a cause for my less-than-perfect skin.

In the end, I’m not saying Bina and her brother aren’t giving nice facials in a clean, well-tended shop with pleasant-smelling lotions. All I’m saying is that the reporter has an obligation to check out their assertions and keep the story in perspective. It’s in no one’s interest to create false impressions.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Gratuitous Allusions and Made-Up Quotes

Construction crews are busy installing huge, pre-fab concrete walls that will eventually enclose a new event center downtown. Everyone at the raising of the first slab Wednesday was wowed by the industrial-scale ballet of placing the first of five 50-foot tall slabs into place. Unfortunately, the local reporter couldn’t just be impressed; he felt the need to impress.

PUNTA GORDA – In 1987, standing at the Brandenburg Gate at the Berlin Wall, President Ronald Reagan called for Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.”
XXIn Punta Gorda Wednesday, for many, the call was, “stand that wall up.”
Not one (nor many) of the observers interviewed for the story is reported as saying “stand that wall up.” So, our trusty reporter -- in addition to selecting a presidential speech about razing a wall as his lead for a local story about workmen raising a building -- felt the need to fabricate. What real people really said just wasn’t good enough.

Saddest School News of the Week

A local vollyball star signed a contract to play in exchange for a scholarship at a 650-student school about an hour northeast of here named Webber International University. Her photo leads newspaper's local front, showing her posed over the contract, pen in hand, surrounded by seven mentors, including parents, coaches and the school principal. Here's what she has to say about her choice:

"It's small like Arcadia, but the whole entire school is all athletes, and I'll be able to know everyone. [...] The coach is really nice, and it's small and it's right next to the lake -- it's perfect."

So much for college as an opportunity to broaden one's horizons.

And the next story down the page announces the opening next week of a new Italian restaurant in town.

The owner-chef's self review seems ominous: "The food is to die for," Hoover said.

Don't make any reservations for me!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Big News! Read 5th Graf!

The headline doesn’t tell the story, but why should it? The lead doesn’t either. Readers who make it all the way to the seventh sentence in a story that’s only a dozen sentences long will learn thieves took eight high-powered rifles from a pawn shop last night. Lest there be real concern, however, DeSoto Sun ’s Ace Reporter eases readers into the story.
ARCADIA – The yellow tape surrounding Arcadia Pawn was upside down outside, but its message to the curious public was loud and clear Tuesday: Police line, do not cross.
The message the curious public might want to hear is that burglars stole eight high-powered rifles and fled, but Ace isn't ready to share. Instead, he uses the second graf to develop the drama of the yellow tape with speculation about destructive appetites.
Arcadia Pawn was violently burglarized early Tuesday morning. Its metal-bar reinforced-glass doors were torn apart by burglars with a stolen pickup, a chain and an apparent appetite for destruction – and loot.
Again, the news is an unreported number men who stole eight high-powered rifles remain at large, but readers don’t know that yet. Ace continues to describe the scene for us:
The pawn shop is filled with a veritable pirate’s bounty: Guns, gold, diamonds; not to mention power tools and myriad electronics.
The curious public might pause to consider the bounty of editing errors in the sentence or wonder about pirates who treasure power tools, but there’s a third graf coming up that will surely alert Our Town to the news that men with high-powered rifles remain at large.
But thankfully for Arcadia Pawn owner Martin Reback, the burglars did not have much time for their raid. As soon as the doors were yanked off, Reback said his alarm system alerted police, who arrived in a matter of minutes – but the burglars were already gone.
Whew. The curious public is relieved that nothing much happened; it’s time for Ace to get a quote from the distressed pawnshop owner. Fourth graf:
“I would have given them a generator or whatever they wanted – they didn’t have to rip the doors off,” Reback said.
Yes, let’s make a deal. If burglars knock nicely, they get a generator. Meanwhile, an unspecified number of violent burglars with an appetite for destruction are on the loose with eight high-powered rifles. How does the curious public know this? Well, actually, they don’t. At least not until they read the fifth graf, which is coming up any minute now.
Later, an inventory revealed eight high-powered rifles were taken in the raid, Arcadia Police Capt. Matt Anderson said.
Finally, the news! But editors will notice Ace's soft prepositional pillow muffling the news and his passive voice, both devices that cushion the blow for the curious public. But never mind the writing. Ace is ready to follow up this all-important fifth-paragraph lead with some hard facts.
The pickup used to rip the doors off was stolen Friday in Palm Beach county then left behind the shop after the burglary. Investigators are not sure if the burglars used a getaway vehicle or made a run for it.
Well, facts mitigated by speculation. Next graf:
Anderson said police were “dusting everything that can be dusted” and have accumulated plenty of evidence, including videotape of the burglary, which shows the burglars were wearing masks.
Ace forgets to report how many masked men, which would properly alert the curious public to the number of criminals who are running around Our Town armed with eight-high powered rifles. Ace neglects to tell readers that “dusting everything” doesn’t mean the cops are using Lemon Pledge. But he doesn't leave out the shame-on-you finger-wagging at the bad guys.
Police have not identified any suspects yet, but Anderson said whoever is caught in connection with this burglary could face armed burglary and grand theft charges, just to name a few.

Some weeks back, someone asked Old Word Wolf to remember the Sun’s staff is “a bunch of hard-working folks, trying to do their jobs.” Old Word Wolf regrets those jobs don't require knowing how to write or edit a basic crime story.

In fact, being cranky about a poorly reported story is being charitable. The uncharitable explanation is the police chief said something like, "Now son, let's not alarm the folks; don't make a big deal of the fact that high-powered rifles are missing, truck thieves from the east coast have come to town, and we don't know where these guys are." And our Ace Reporter agreed to play it softly

Died and Gone to ...

If you're indigent and need hospice care in Arcadia, nice folks will do their best to cheer you up. They send in Tillie the Hospice Clown riding an electric golf cart striped in green lettering: "Vernon L. Keen Sheriff."

It's a cardiac arrest and the poor patient is supposed to die laughing.

Queen of the News Release Rewrite

Old Word Wolf has made a difference in local journalism. DeSoto Sun readers now generally get a phrase or two of attribution when a staff writer copies from a press release. This is an improvement over the old days, when re-typing a news release to make it look like local enterprise reporting was standard in these parts.

Attributing gives readers a chance to evaluate the quality of the reporter’s sources. Here’s a good example. In the fifth paragraph announcing a meeting next week at the ag extension office about a crop disease, the “editor” reports a statement made by “Cindy Heflin of the DeSoto extension office in the press release.”

Readers now have a chance to evaluate the authority and stature this reporter’s source, and quick trip to the extension office Web site finds Ms. Heflin is the office receptionist.

We thank the reporter for her enterprise in making the news release sit still long enough for a rewrite, and we admire her for getting as far as the receptionist in digging for the story.

Meanwhile, back at the head shop, they're still smoking:


The First Annual

And finally, it's not a big deal except it's one of those little things. For years and years, editors across the nation have been asking reporters not to write about "the first annual" anything. There's a logic to it. Annual means something happens yearly. If something is happening for the first time, it's not annual, yet. Write "first of what organzers hope will be an annual event," or something like that.

Newspaper writers who don't bother to fix this sloppy-writing/careless-thinking indicator reveal three things:

1. They don't care (about their busy editors who are very tired of correcting this childish oversight).
2. They don't care (about their readers who are very tired of reading sloppy-brained sentences).
3. They don't care (about the quality of their own writing because they are too tired to practice the basic standards of their chosen profession).

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Why Letters to the Editor Should Be Fact Checked

The Charlotte Sun is having a hard time keeping its sex offenders straight. Some weeks back, the Sun published a letter from a man complaining it was unfair that he, a registered sex offender, had to pay for the administrative process associated with his registration as a sex offender. Shortly thereafter, a man who lives in a nearby city with a similar name (same first and last, different middle name), wrote in to say he's not the sex offender. The paper ran a long story to set the record straight.

On Dec. 1, this letter leads the reader's letters section of the Viewpoint page:
I’m sure you have had to be very selective with which letters you print in reference to the letter from this pervert Vincent Lalicata. Mr. Lalicata should be very grateful that he has only to register. In third world countries, his crime would be considered capital punishment. In some circles here in the offenders are still considered mentally ill and professional therapists are making a killing off them. It’s just my opinion, Vincent Lalicata, but you should feel fortunate that the friends and family members of your victims haven’t assisted you to meet your maker by now. Can’t say what I would do if you had committed your illness against one of mine, the rage boggles the imagination.
Jim L. Kendrick
Port Charlotte
The problem is, Mr. Lalicata is a respected local businessman and has not committed any crime. He merely wrote a letter to the Charlotte Sun responding to the self-admitted, registered sex-offender’s objection to having to pay for registration. Here’s Mr. Lalicata's signed letter, published Saturday, Nov. 26.

In response to Richard (Earl) Rankin's letter, you sir are right. You should not have to pay for sex offender registration. You should have to pay for a 10-by-10-foot sign to be placed in front of your house, warning people that you are a sex offender. You should also have sex offender tattooed across your forehead, so everyone knows what you are, a creep.
Vincent Lalicata
Port Charlotte

Footnote to history: The Charlotte Sun has removed Mr. Kendrick's letter from its electronic archives. I do, however, have a paper copy in mine.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Dear Associated Press Editors: Cats Aren't News

Please do not send any more cat stories to your wire subscribers. In particular, please do not send any more cat stories to the Charlotte Sun newspaper here in Port Charlotte, Fla.

I’m making this request because the kids down here who design the daily pages have a hard time figuring out that a cat story rarely, if ever, is news. This morning, your squib from Bartlett, Tenn., leads the National Briefs in four editions of the paper:

BARTLETT, Tenn – Tabitha Cain has fed a feral cat she calls Wild Oats for several years, but now she’s thinking of changing the feline’s name to Survivor. That’s because she says the cat survived for 19 days with a peanut butter jar stuck on its head.

"We tried to get her, but being the type of cat you can’t catch, she kept running and hiding,” said Doretha Cain, Tabitha’s mother.

The family saw the cat several times with the jar on its head and tried in vain to catch it. But after not seeing the cat for a week, the Cains feared the worst. They found the once-chubby cat on Wednesday, too thin and weak to flee. They caught her with a fishing net and used some oil to get the jar off her head.

As you can see, Charlotte Sun’s National Desk has a hard time recognizing that just because something happened outside of Florida, doesn’t mean it’s national news. And, just because an AP reporter was in the vicinity of the nice Cain family when they rescued the cat, doesn’t make it news, either.

However, if I am missing something here, please send me the name of your local stringer so I can call him/her when my very own Miss Kitty gets good and ready to get down out of the tree.

Old Word Wolf
P.S. Scroll down to October 29, 2007: If a Reporter is Present, It Must Be News