Thursday, July 24, 2008

Seventh-Paragraph Stretch

Most reporters (local exceptions exist) – especially ones who’ve earned the title “editor,” and certainly editors who handle our daily dose of cops and robbers – know readers expect four or five basic facts in a story’s first sentence or two: like who, what, when, where, and why. In some cops stories, readers can forgive the “why” part. After all, who really fathoms the motives of the most deeply depraved among us? But there’s no excuse for leaving out “where.”

In today’s lead blotter item, the reporter-editor doesn’t write a dateline and, while not technically omitting “where,” she withholds it until the seventh and last paragraph. Meany.

As a direct result of that omission, a simple story about burglars who tried to reduce a Sears store’s inventory Monday dissolves into a head-scratcher. The reporter ends up generating more questions than she answers.

Identified at the top as Bartow men, two big-screen TV fans executed their feloneous heist, it is implied, in that somewhat distant city, 35 miles up the road. But does tiny Bartow even have a Sears store? No, it doesn’t. Readers with local knowledge may grasp this, but the reporter doesn’t share that with the general population, so myriad possibilities arise. Englewood? Murdock? Lots of Sears stores around these parts.

It sort of sounds like, a reader might guess, that Bartow police are providing the information. The story says witnesses called police – but it’s a deputy (district unknown) who pulls over the getaway car. In these parts, deputies are affiliated with sheriff’s departments, not police forces, so who exactly did what?

The reporter writes with initial caps that the Department of Corrections had sent the men in the car out into the world as part of an early-release program. So which Department of Corrections with capitals – Florida, Georgia, New Jersey?

In the end – which coincides with the seventh paragraph – DeSoto County Sheriff’s deputies arrested the bad guys. In DeSoto County, there’s a small Sears store in the 1100 block of Vermont Avenue. Maybe that’s where this story happened. But the reporter doesn’t share.

Editor's Disease

Susan Hoffman, Assistant DeSoto Editor, entertains readers this morning with her olfactory nostalgia for the scents of her childhood home in Akron, Ohio. She has caught editor's disease, which is rampant in these parts. It's characterized by a journalist's delusion that readers need to know about her childhood 25 years ago in a city 1,500 miles away instead of what's going on in their own community. Editor's disease often results in a compulsion to write about one's own family and its charming foibles, pets, and personal vacations. In one notorious local case, a diseased editor produced a column about eyebrow waxing and another about 16 bags of laundry. Old Word Wolf hopes the new editor becomes innoculated as soon as possible.

The cops item as it ran ... :

Two Bartow men were arrested Monday after several witnesses allegedly saw them breaking into the Sears store.

According to the police report, witnesses called police Monday night after hearing what sounded like a gunshot. Several witnesses said they then saw two men breaking into the Sears store.

The witnesses described the vehicle the men were driving, and when a deputy passed a vehicle of that description, he made a routine traffic stop.

According to the police report, the deputy could see several flat-screen TVs, along with some gloves and what looked like a mask. When the deputy asked for ID, he learned the two were on early-release status from the Department of Corrections.

According to the police report, several witnesses positively identified the two men and the vehicle. The store owner identified the TVs in the car as having come from the store by matching up serial numbers. The TVs were valued at $5,000.

Police also discovered a camouflage jacket in the car, along with two pairs of gloves, a mask and a crow bar.

DeSoto County sheriff’s deputies arrested Marion Bruce Stewart, 29, and Christopher Lowell Wilson, 36, both of Bartow, on charges of grand theft ($5,000 to $10,000), burglary of a structure, criminal mischief and possession of burglary tools. Bond for each man was set at $13,250.

1 comment:

    That's nothing. Look at the e-edition of The Journal for this week. Is that top story on the front page a bank ad or news? Looks like an ad to me. Total sell out by the editor. I hope they collected a bunch of money for it.