Sunday, January 20, 2008

Unique It's Not

This week’s travesty of medical “journalism” is written by public-relations person Michelle Ritter, who receives pay and benefits for saying nice things about her employer. And Charlotte Sun's publisher provides the newsprint for its regular advertiser.

Ritter's news is her employer is “celebrating” (yuck) a new unit at Fawcett Memorial Hospital. After making like she’s actually interviewed a couple of doctors about their “dreams” and “excitement,” she reports her employer provides “state-of-the-art” equipment where patients are treated “like family.” All those clichés are common among second-rate public relations writers. But most flacks -- and newspaper copydesk editors -- are bright enough to avoid the most sophomoric adjectives of all:

Another unique and very important feature of the program is its staff of dedicated nurses.

Tell us, please, what hospital-written news release has not mentioned its dedicated nurses? None of this is unique, Michelle.

The nurses that work in the Spine and Orthopedic Center are specially trained ...

Patients expect the staff to have special training. Otherwise, why go to a specialist?

...and uniquely skilled to treat this type of patient.

Does Ritter expect readers to believe no other orthopedic service in the country trains its orthopedic nurses?

They work only with patients who have had spine or orthopedic procedures ....

And yet at various points in the rest of the story, Ritter claims the staff works with families, doctors, the concierge on call, visitors, and the rest of the hospital’s staff as needed. There’s no “only” about it. these patients receive the maximum attention that they need to heal quickly and effectively

Umm, attention doesn't promote healing, Doctor Ritter. Faulty cause and effect.

Ritter concludes in a tone of breathless amazement, calling even the nurse’s uniforms unique. The photo shows blue golf shirts and beige jackets and vests. Unique they are not.

And unfortunately, neither is this tired and windy piece of free, unedited copy provided by a regular advertiser and positioned as both the cover and "double truck" centerpiece in the Sunday tab.

For the weekly plagiarism discussion ...

Come On, Chip -- You Know You Should Cite a Source or Two

Local colorist Chip Ballard is a citizen journalist. He's also a teacher and, as such, knows quite well that if we don't cite our sources, we're plagiarizing.

Ballard teaches children, and he regularly publishes his own works. Yet, this morning, he and Charlotte Sun editors found it acceptable to run a long paen to American writer John O'Hara without one word of attribution. It seems Ballard woke up one sunny morning knowing exactly what Dorothy Parker said to John O'Hara and what O'Hara said to John Steinbeck and what New York hotels John O'Hara drank at, and when and with whom.

Chip, you don't have to steal something word-for-word to plagiarize. If you rewrite the research, ideas, and information of O'Hara's biographers and present without acknowledging their efforts under your byline, you are a plagiarist.

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