Monday, February 4, 2008

His Paper, His Editors, but Not His Fault

Charlotte Sun's publisher runs a Sunday column,"Why does my newspaper do that?" In it, David Dunn-Rankin answers reader's questions and gives a weekly report on newspaper "improvements." (Most memorable: cleaning supplies have been reorganized from LIFO to FIFO.)

This week, a reader complains some police-blotter reports are too anatomically explicit when describing where people hide crack pipes, and letters to the editor regularly identify body parts in the course of political debates.

The explanation: "We take the information right out of the arrest report and print it [...] as it appears." (He doesn't discuss the letters to the editor.)

They are his paper, his staff, his writers, his editors. But it's not his fault! It's the source's fault.

From this, Old Word Wolf learns American's Best Community Daily, where the news hole is largely filled by volunteer "correspondents" reporting club activities, is overseen by a publisher who will not assume responsiblity for the quality or presentation of the news. What goes into the news hole is filler (pour and publish), propping up the ads.

Now, some lowly staffer -- most likely an ad designer -- will have to use company time to edit the police blotter. What an awful expense for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize Finalist.

Giant Killers ...

Last night there was a game between a team named the Giants and Somebody Else. The game is finally over and a sleepy sports editor (actually, about half a dozen of them across the nation) slaps the two-word cliche, "Giant Killers," over the story.

Ask a reader who won. Based on the headline, most would probably say Somebody Else.

"Giant Killer" is associated with several sources. The first that comes to mind David and Goliath. David becomes the giant killer for knocking off the big guy. A second allusion is to the fable of Jack and the Beanstalk; Jack kills the hulk and gets to be called a giant killer. There's also popular book out right now called Giantkillers, which describes whistleblowers knocking out giant corporations. The giant killers aren't the giants; they're the other guys.

Moral of the post: If you must use a cliche, at least get the reference right.

And speaking of cliches, Jon F. Sica, who never met one he couldn't use in his next story, finds a place for "wreaks havoc" twice in one report. Worse, he thinks a follow-up story of school vandalism won't survive on its own merit and succumbs to a compulsion to insert a shame-shame-finger-wag in the off-lead: "the chickens are coming home to roost." Unfortunately, Sica gives no evidence of any new roosting in the story. The story is a follow up (that omits reporting the date of the havoc wreaking -- remember your five W's, Jon?. The only news is the school board held a closed-door meeting to decide "no school district employee will be censured" for leaving the school unlocked. Some chickens. Some roosting.

The point of this post: Sica is a young reporter, writing for a newspaper. He is not a gonzo journalist, composing insightful, well-written big pictures for magazines. Newspaper readers are smart. They routinely digest real facts without gagging. They don't need cliches that are irrelevant (at best) and patronizing, especially when emerging from a 25-year-old's word processor.

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