Friday, May 9, 2008

Skeptical Copy Editors Overlooked This One

Does the lead on yesterday's Big Story sound strange to anyone but me?

PUNTA GORDA--Hundreds of freshmen students sitting in the Center for Performing Arts &Education at Charlotte High School Wednesday fell silent as they listened to the painful words of a 19-year-old girl named Alicia, who at 13 became the first known victim of a child predator.
The reporter is telling readers that before six years ago, or sometime in 2002, there were no known victims of child predators. Could this possibly be true?

Of course not. Any moderately experienced copy editor would have raised this obvious question with the reporter. It would take an alert, motivated copy editor about 30 seconds to "Google" an FBI site or two and locate something like this -- if only to narrow the topic to cyber-predators, which was the topic of Pamela Staik's feature story:

In May 1993, FBI agents identified two suspects who had sexually exploited numerous juveniles over a 25-year period ... [and the use of] computer telecommunications was rapidly becoming one of the most prevalent techniques by which some sex offenders recruited children [...].

Predators and victims didn't suddenly materialize in 2002.

To read more ...

The Sun Coast Media Group gives DeSoto e-edition subscribers an extra bonus -- a weekly peek at the Lake Placid Journal. It's a nice little tab, but sorely in need of copy editors. For example, today's front page story carried the headline over a story about South Florida Community College's Class of 2008: "SFCC Grads Honored Commencement Monday." No, the graduates did not honor the commencement. They may have honored their mothers and their fathers and their professors and deans, but chances are the grads were honored AT commencement.

Farther down in the story, the writer reports students waving diplomas, "happily signifying that they had earned the right to call themselves high school graduates."


  1. I have to admit, the coffee group got a good chuckle at your point of view on this one. It was certainly a stretch of the imagination to go off on this tagent.
    The writer obviously meant that the speaker was the first know victim of a particular sexual predator. A sexual predator who probably was later caught and found to have several victims, of which this speaker was the first.
    Your point is well made that some clarification was needed, but your follow-up paragrahs derailed any credibility you might have had in this argument.

  2. Good journalism requires accuracy and clarity. The highlighted sentence and its information is neither accurate nor clear. The information is not amplified anywhere in the story. How is the reader to “assume” anything about her being the first of a particular child predator when the information – that it’s a particular creep – is not reported? There are numerous other assumptions that might also be read into the story. The reporter’s job is to report clearly, not force the reader to assume anything.

    And by the way, I’ll be happy to post your anonymous comments whenever they focus on the material – journalism’s standards and practices – instead of the messenger. Your numerous ad hominem attacks recently from "the coffee group" have not been the professional way to discuss something as important as the quality of professional journalism and the fundamentals of community reporting.

    I'm sure you and I both can agree that we wish to see quality reporting on the real issues that affect our community.

    Hope you will continue to stop by often.

  3. It's not a stretch at all. That's exactly what this lede says: That this woman is the first victim of a child predator. That's ludicrous, of course, just as OWW points out.

    How simple would it have been to have simply stated she was a victim of a predator in this sentence? Even a mediocre copy editor would have caught this.

  4. It's not a stretch at all. This sentence states very plainly that this girl was the first known victim of a sexual predator. It would have been simple to avoid this glaring factual error by saying that this girl was the victim of a sexual predator at age 13. Even a mediocre copy editor would have caught this.

  5. I agree that you went off track on this one, too. Since I don't agree with you does that mean I am attacking the messenger? Do you only post comments that attack the Sun? And when are you going to admit that you once worked for Sun Coast Media. Isn't that just factual and your readers should know? That fact does not appear on your website anywhere that I could find.

  6. You are welcome to disagree with my journalistic standards. What I don't appreciate is being called a disgruntled employee.

    I free-lanced some editing for Harbor Style for several months last year; free lancers are not employees. The magazine, when I submitted edited articles, kindly posted me in the masthead as executive editor, but I assure you, I had no duties other than sorting out commas and fact checking specific articles. Actually, I did have an informal in-house assignment: to mentor a young writer/editor who is an employee.

    As a free lancer, I received no benefits, worked from home on my own computer using my own software and Internet connection; I set my own hours and declined jobs when I got too busy with other things -- like chemotherapy and radiation.

    Starting last December, I took my 60-plus-year-old bod out of the rat race for health reasons -- hardly a disgruntled employee. My income for several years has been a nice pension from a real employer plus a max-amount Social Security check -- hardly the stipend of a disgruntled employee.

    So, please, let's not make assumptions about why I critique. Art critics help artists, dance critics help dancers. Wouldn't you want to hear if your doctor were practicing unprofessionally? If a teacher or coach were being less than professional? Likewise, I hope you don't rely on a newspaper's "rah rah" journalism and sloppy reporting. Those standards, by the way, are never going to win it that Pulitizer it brags every day on page two about nearly missing.