Friday, February 29, 2008

M.J. Frog Resurrected

Today’s Charlotte Sun front carries an image apparently drawn by the late Chuck Jones and a “Leap year observation” by his character, M.J. Frog. Frog is a Warner Brothers product, licensed and copyrighted. Perhaps the Dunn-Rankins received permission to reprint the character, but there’s no indication of this in the box. Given the paper’s on-going reliance on plagiarism and fake journalism, Old Word Wolf is justifiably suspicious about the paper’s legal right to use the image in its commercial enterprise.

Today Comes Only Once
There’s a long-standing tradition in English (where sense is largely based on word order) that adverbs go next to the verb or adjective they modify. Charlotte Sun headline writers show they don’t get it when they write "Today only happens once very four years."

A careful writer would have written "Today happens only once every four years." The quality of “only” is ascribed to “once,” not “happens.”

But the genuinely careful writer would have turned on her logic detector and realized the whole sentence is bogus. Today happens only today. In four years, there will be another today, but it won’t be today’s today.

Lawhorne's Law: Only Fools Know Just One Way to Spell a Word ...

A local housing complex is named Wood Park Pointe. Lawhorne likes the superfluous "e" so much he renames the complex Wood Parke Pointe in this morning's story -- but not until the second graf. In the lede, he retains the preferred spelling. And the headline writer can't be bothered to remember that he wrote a headline last week, spelling the name one way then and another way now. Silly man. He thinks Lawhorne knows whereof he writes.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

If It Happened in Cleveland, It's Not Local

After deep-sixing "Arcadian" in favor of generic "Our Town" banners for the various local fronts of America's Best Community Daily, the old name is suddenly resurrected this morning.

Old Word Wolf rattled the pages in delicious anticipation of real, local news. She snapped the crease out of the fold and ... gasp! ... the top local news is Clinton and Obama had a debate -- in Cleveland.

Oh, well. OWW challenged the cubs to a breakfast debate about "local" and heard a quick consensus: If it has a Cleveland dateline, it isn't.

Those Pesky Five W's, Again ...

Ever the optimists, the folks in charge have handed "Police Beat" to John Lawhorne. Not one of our ace reporter's entries in this much-read section includes mention of "when" except one. It's the fifth item in Neighborhood Watch: "A caller reported his boat had been tied to the docks and it was gone this morning." Now that's timely news.

Why is OWW so grumpy about this? Here's why: One of this morning's timeless items reports "a truck was reported to have hit a pole with wires fallen onto the road."

Ignoring the awful grammar, readers legitimately wonder if that happened yesterday, the same day most of south Florida suffered a power outage. Folks south of Arcadia endured a three-hour blackout -- but they have no news about whether this was the result of the truck hitting the pole down the road or was part of the regional news story. The Five W's help readers make sense of their little corners of the world. OWW will continue being grumpy until Lawhorne learns this little bit of journalism.

In the Zone ...
Charlotte Deputies set speed, light-running zones Let's see: a 55 mph zone is where we travel 55 miles an hour; a pedestrian zone is where we walk; a school zone is near a school. The cereal set can be forgiven for giggling at the sleepy, careless copy editors who repeatedly (as in every single week) post headlines that says exactly the opposite of the facts. Accuracy anyone?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Common Source, Common Plagiarist

I don't know who Barden Winstead of Rocky Mount, N.C., or Chris Barone of Coeur D'Alene, Idaho, are, but they both write a lot like Scott Wadsworth of Port Charlotte. Word-for-word alike, in fact.

Wadsworth is a financial consultant in the Port Charlotte office of A.G. Edwards. He's too busy to write his own financial advice column. The trusted advisor, however, is not too busy to use a column someone else wrote and tell Charlotte Sun editors to put his by-line and photograph on it. At least the guy in North Carolina had the class to attribute his column to "A.G. Edwards." Wadsworth didn't bother with this nice detail. And, for his hubris, he loses all credibility. I mean, if one steals copy ...

The fine print at the end of Wadsworth's column doesn't say "this column was originally written by so and so," or "this column originally appeared in such and such." It urges readers to contact Wadsworth by phone or mail -- for honest advice, one presumes.

At the very least, alert newspaper editors should have but a big black box around the copy and clearly labled it "advertisement."

Sunday, February 24, 2008

No Editors Were Awakened in the Writing of These Gems

No one saved John Haughey from himself today: "Albert Joerger hopes to wade into the surf before taking the cold, brisk plunge into regional water issues Tuesday ... But it's unlikely he'll have much of an apprenticeship before he must sink or swim."

And no editor bothered to clarify this mystery meat: "Girle, Harris rally for FLW victory." The story is about a fishing tournament. The letters FLW are never explained. Who Girle and Harris are remains a mystery. They get first names and cities in the second graf but really, nothing more than fish, fish and more fish -- nothing that says they're famous enough to get their names in headlines, much less the front page banner.

A Florida college graduate in the employ of a daily newspaper describes the action in a front-page photo today: Braves' first-baseman Tyler King stand his ground to stop a infield grounder from the Marlin's from getting on base Saturday during the DeSoto County Youth Athletic Association baseball opening day jamboree at the Brewer Sports Complex in Arcadia.

And that cutline appears on the Web as well, so two editors dropped the grammatical ball.

And when school-board elections roll around, two who need to be shown the door: "My personal belief is creationism and I believe it should be taught along with evolution because our students should have a choice," said DeSotoCounty School Board member Karen Chancey. And fellow board member Deborah Snyder "shares Chancey's beliefs," according to a Wednesday story in the DeSoto Sun.

Children should have a choice. Hmmm. Let's teach astrology along with astronomy. Let the kids choose. Let's teach alchemy along with chemistry. Let the kids choose.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Writer's Purgatory

Local writer Jon Sica, who hasn't yet met a cliché he couldn't work into his next story, keeps all who follow the local comprehensive land plan apprised of its status. Factually stated, the plan is on the desk of a review committee within the Florida Department of Community Affairs up in Tallahassee. It's being examined for compliance with state growth-management regulations.

But Sica has a better description -- and it's such a good cliche he can't stop using it. As of Feb. 1, the plan was in "bureaucratic limbo." The next day, Sica upgraded it to "bureaucratic purgatory," where it it has remained ever since: Feb. 13 status: still in "bureaucratic purgatory;" Feb. 17 status: "bureaucratic purgatory;" Feb. 22 status: "bureaucratic purgatory."

If Sica did little Googling he'd find the phrase on more than 6,000 pages found by that one search engine alone. It's not original; it's not informative after (perhaps) the first use. And, by the fifth trot around the track, the writer is simply telling readers he's too lazy to actually write this story.

Web Hed Gem O' the Day:

Officer Tasers pit bull answering knife-throwing call

Some dog.

OWW doesn't usually do typos; it's hard putting out a newspaper every day and no one's perfect. But this one is in the banner, in red, and no one noticed it right over the brag.

And finally, we saved the best worst for last.
Business editor Bob Fliss has been hanging around Tallahassee and sending local news home. Problem is, he didn't hear about the reporter's rule that the writer is not the news, should stay in the background, and never, never comments on the daily events in the course of basic reporting. But, Bob's got a different style.

The story on Friday was a lawmaking committee is weighing a bill that would punish drivers who read, type or send messages on a "wireless communication device" while operating a vehicle. Fliss wraps up the newsy tidbit thus: "From personal experience, I know that even trying to read newspaper headlines during a red light doesn't work. Trying to do so while actually driving is madness. Holder's bill may be a small step toward getting folks to calm down and pay attention to their driving."

Fliss should calm down and pay attention to the basics of journalism. Save personal anecdotes for a blog and leave them out of the news columns.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Which is it, III?

Old Word Wolf made fun of a little story on the Sun's Web page yesterday about the petty thief who left her image in computer memory even as she walked out of a pharmacy photo shop without paying her bill. We questioned whether the story had a "when." Evidently it did, because the Sun rewrote the story, adding that it happened Sunday. Over at the Herald Tribune, however, it happened Saturday. Don't click to read below the fold, because this is all I'm going to say about it.

Second Verse Same as First

"Change is in the air with the city government as two of the City Council's key staff members have announced their resignations. At the Feb. 5 council meeting, City Attorney David Holloman tendered his resignation effective Feb. 29. At Tuesday night's meeting, Ed Strube gave his notice to resign effective Jan. 2, 2009."

That was John Lawhorne's front-page lead this morning, complete with its mixed-up tenses. Maybe Lawhorne forgot, but everyone in town read his story carrying the identical information yesterday on the local front:

"City Administrator Ed Strube Tuesday night offered to retire effective Jan. 1, 2009. ... City Attorney David Holloman has already announced that he would be retiring ..."

News is suppposed to tell readers today what's different from yesterday. It's not news when the reporter simply moves around a few sentences. Lawhorne may have missed the week in journalism school when they teach how to write second-day stories. It's a sub-genre for adding salient, developmental information to a story that broke yesterday but which remained unfinished in some key point. Typical cases are accident stories in which the identities of victims are added the next day and government-action pieces in which reactions from folks around town are reported once the news sinks in.

When the topic is local resignations by two long-time administrators, readers might reasonably expect the reporter to have used the intervening 24-48 hours to interview the officials who resigned (he didn't), locate background about their years of service (he didn't), and gather reactions from people affected (he didn't). Both stories use quotes from the same city councilman made at the same meeting, saying essentially the same thing but in different words (did the councilman call and complain about being misquoted? No reference is made about correcting the record; merely a few words, not the substance, changed -- which brings up the ugly situation of reporters who polish quotes, but that's another blog day.)

Today: (And by the way, it's not a "shake-up" when someone resigns, effective nine months from now because he will have reached retirement age.)


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke Arrested?

The standing rule is to avoid using names in headlines unless they're very, very recognizable as "famous people." Today's Charlotte Sun Web page headline, Clarke arrested, crack and cash confiscated, puts local readers immediately in mind of a prominent local business owner with a small fleet of trucks bearing his name, at least three teachers, and 30 other of our neighbors. Everyone of them is about to enjoy a major embarrassment because a Sun Web editor skipped class during headline writing week.

To make matters worse, the story reports the bad guy is Emmanuel Tyrone Clarke in the first graf, but the second graf says someone name Taylor was booked on the charges.

No editors were awakened or disturbed in the production of this Web page or the next one...
...Did you know computer memories keep photographic images? The headline doesn't tell a story, but stops to ask readers a question. Interrogating readers is not the headline's job.

The story lacks a full complement of Five W's. Give us a "when!" as in when did this incident take place? Enquiring readers want to know.

There are Five W's ...

...But DeSoto News Editor Jon Sica, a university journalism-school graduate, hasn’t mastered the concept. This morning, he publishes a story that fails to tell readers when or where an important utility-rate discussion was held. Since he quotes only a consultant and a couple of commissioners, Sica makes it sound like a closed-door meeting. He doesn’t mention a published agenda, public input, or hint that the meeting occurred at a scheduled or unscheduled time yesterday or last month at city hall or anywhere else within or without our county borders. Here’s the badly punctuated lead:
ARCADIA – The county’s hired consultant said it’s imperative DeSoto County commissioners raise the county’s water and wastewater utility service charges as soon as possible, and discontinue its current practice of keeping utility rates artificially low by draining the county’s general fund.

The story continues for 19 paragraphs, ending with a puzzling, awkwardly worded report that “as of 5 p.m.Tuesday there was no word yet on if there would be anything on next week’s commission agenda concerning utility rates.”

In fact, this was an open meeting with a published agenda. There's no hugger mugger, only careless writing by someone whose vocational education doesn’t seem to have stuck.

Why is Old Word Wolf so mean? Well, we've been through this before. It's who, what, when, where and why. Make a little sticky note for the "editor's" computer screen.

Which is it? Someone else who waded in over his head wrote a staff report describing the lunar eclipse that will be visible from our area tonight. He or she helpfully explains: “If only part of the moon passes through the umbra, there is a partial eclipse. If it passes through the umbra, there is a total eclipse.”

The Accidental Columnist. And finally, local columnist Luke Wilson uses his 20 inches to describe his weak directional sense, which I suppose has some bearing on the community although the specific relationship is left unstated. Unfortunately, no one edits Wilson’s work and today he publishes this nonsense: “I once saw a movie called “The Accidental Tourist” about a whole family like me, who couldn’t go anywhere without getting lost. I’m probably the only one in the world who thought it was intended to be a scary movie.”

A good editor might have saved Wilson the embarrassment of this pseudo reference...........

“The Accidental Tourist” is a 1988 domestic-crisis movie, adapted from an Anne Tyler novel. It’s a rather slow-moving, character-driven plot about Macon Leary, a travel writer who dislikes travel and pursues it only in the most fastidious fashion. When his son is killed in a shoot-out at a fast-food restaurant, Macon retreats even further from the messy real world. His wife gets fed up and moves out. Living alone, he breaks his leg and has to move in with his sister and brothers while he recuperates. But the dog he brings along has behavior problems, and so he hires Muriel, an unconventional dog trainer, played by Geena Davis. Muriel loosens up Macon a bit, but his absent wife becomes jealous. The rivalry forces our hero to make a difficult decision about his life.

The only person lost in “The Accidental Tourist” is Macon and then only in a metaphorical sense. The DeSoto Sun lost – its credibility. Again.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

It's Just the Web; No Copy Editing Needed
Sarasota woman foils cop impersonator

(Last updated: February 19, 2008 6:18 PM)

Sarasota woman was pulled over by an unmarked cars displaying flashing lights. She was able to call 911 and the cop impersonator left her, unharmed. Two seeks ago in Collier County, a cop impersonator drove a woman around for an hour

By SUSAN E. HOFFMAN North Port Assistant Editor

SARASOTA -- The Sarasota County Sheriff's Office is investigating a case in which someone impersonating a police officer tried to get a woman to get into his car.

Lazy News Part II

Over on the local front, two school district employees visited a Web page written by Great Schools dot net (not dot com as they reported) long enough to cut and paste five bullet points into the body of a news release they complied about next month's FCAT test schedule at local schools.

DeSoto County residents' tax dollars are paying the salary of two grown-up, professional women to visit the Internet and copy generic, pre-fabricated test advice for local reproduction. It wouldn't cost the district a single penny more to have the same educators write a piece with a local flavor, with advice, perhaps, from a school counselor or principal.

A sample of the cut-and-paste advice: "Keep your cool. While tests have increasing importance, they are just one measure of student learning, so try to keep the process in perspective. If you remain calm, chances are your child will probably feel calmer, too."

Old Word Wolf is envisioning two educators deciding parental hysteria needs addressing. If it does, this seems like a strange way to do it. Ladies, you've got a good thing going in the lazy-news department; sorry to rain on your parade.

If there's any hysteria, it should be at DeSoto High School, where the state awarded low marks for its ability to teach the children. The institution earned a D last year from the state for student achievement on the FCAT. Only 28 percent of 10th graders read well enough to meet the test's high standard; 27 percent grasped basic science concepts well enough to meet the test's high standard. Slightly better achievement in math (59 percent), writing (66 percent), and improvement for those re-taking the reading part of the test (46 perecent) fell below state-wide averages.

Readers would like to know what DeSoto High is doing to improve these dismal grades. And that doesn't mean puff pieces about rolling up construction paper to make fake binoculars in order to "focus on FCAT." Unfortunately, there's no reporter around to do the job.

Stoopid News; Lazy News

The top brief on DeSoto Sun's national news page this morning describes a steer with a brown spot on its hide. The spot is shaped like Michigan. The news behind the news is a real editor must have had the day off and left the kids in charge, again. Even if the brown spot on the beast's hide were the shape of the face of Jesus, it wouldn't be news. See "Cats Aren't News," below

Closer to home, John Lawhorne had an easy day yesterday. Someone e-mailed him a city council agenda. He spliced in a few verbs and word-processed it into a front-page banner over his by-line.

The big news is a request a disabled-children's group plans to make for a place to build an "inclusive playground" that would accommodate wheelchairs and such.

This seems like a wonderful idea. Any reporter with a nose for community news would stop rewriting the city clerk's memo for two minutes, just long enough to find out any or all of the following (every one of which could be discovered over the telephone, so the nice newsman wouldn't even have to leave the office):

--Who or what is Hand of Angels and how long has it been in "business?" Is it a local group or regional? Have members done similar projects or is this the first?
--How many children does the organization plan to serve with the facility?
--What does a special-needs playground cost? How are funds to be raised? Are grants or major donors involved?
--What kind of space and how much area does the group want the city to donate?
--How much construction is involved? Parking? Bathrooms? Pathways?
--What are the features of a special-needs playground? Is there an equipment manufacturer the group has in mind, perhaps one with a Web page and a picture so the nice newsman doesn't have to leave the newsroom to locate art?
-- Does the group provide maintenance and insurance for the facility?
--Several special-needs playgrounds in nearby areas have been in the news (no, not the Sun) ; how are these projects coming?
-- Could this project be carried out at the largely unused city park on the south side of town, which already has parking, bathrooms and other infrastructure?

Being a reporter is fun and a great way to earn pin money. And, it doesn't cost any more to write a good story than a bad one. Instead of just slapping your name on work already largely performed by the lovely city clerk, readers would appreciate reporters who know how to pick up the telephone, make a few calls and dig a little. Readers will be better served and the newspaper staff won't look quite so lazy.

Why does Old Word Wolf sound so mean today? Well, for one thing, she's been discussing how to use the telephone to ask people Five-W Questions for about four years now. It doesn't cost a penny more in mileage, benefits, salary or utilities to write something worthwhile.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Hospital Staff Performs Cut-and-Paste Operation

This morning, “Feeling Fit” presents its weekly dose of plagiarism. The by-line is Danielle Dreher's. She's Charlotte Regional Medical's marketing director. The subject is Dr. Mark Davis’s partial-knee replacement services. The editor is Dawn Krebs, who has abdicated any responsibility for monitoring her patient.

What none of these professionals seem to understand about cut-and-paste journalism is that readers, upon discovering the cheat, will question the good doctor’s qualifications and the reliability of their news sources.

One hallmark of professionals is their ability to write and speak fluently about complex endeavors in their fields. Copying from other writers without attribution tells readers these people cannot, for whatever reason, articulate basic information about their professions. It also says they don't know how to acknowledge other's contributions to their efforts.

Readers, upon perceiving the plagiarism, have a right to question the ethics of everyone involved. Plagiarism is a form of lying and cheating. When healthcare associates and journalists conspire to cheat on a 700-word puff piece, will they also cheat when providing other services and then lie about those as well?

Readers cannot be properly skeptical of newspaper reports when the real source is hidden behind a professional’s byline. If medical information is honestly sourced, readers can better gauge the information’s veracity and quality.

Here are the side-by-side comparison Web pages – which Editor Krebs could have found with a 60-second Google search.

My Rapid Recovery dot com [...] Unlike total knee replacement involving removal of all the knee joint surfaces, a partial knee replacement replaces only one side of the knee joint. Knee osteoarthritis usually occurs first in the medial (inside) compartment as this side of the knee bears most of the weight. In knees that are otherwise healthy, a partial approach allows the outer compartment and all ligaments to remain intact. By retaining all of the undamaged parts, the joint may bend better and function more naturally.

In a healthy knee, the meniscus serves as a shock absorber between the ends of the bones. The Oxford® Knee is the first partial implant with an artificial meniscal bearing designed to glide freely throughout the knee's range of motion, more closely replicating normal movement. The free floating nature of the device also improves durability of the implant.

Danielle Dreher for Dr. Mark Davis: Unlike total knee replacement involving removal of all the knee joint surfaces, a partial knee replacement replaces only one side of the knee joint. Knee osteoarthritis usually occurs first in the medial (inside) compartment, as this side of the knee bears most of the weight. In knees that are otherwise healthy, a partial approach allows the outer compartment and all the ligaments to remain intact.

By retaining all of the healthy parts, the joint may function more naturally. In a healthy knee, the meniscal cartileage serves as a shock absorber between the ends of the bones. This impant has an artificial meniscal bearing designed to glide freely throughout the knee’s range of motion to more closely replicate normal movement. The free floating nature of the device also greatly improves durability of the impant.

Mon Vally Hospital dot com The Oxford® Uni Partial Knee is the first partial implant with an artificial meniscal bearing insert, designed to glide freely throughout the knee’s range of motion to more closely replicate normal knee mechanics.

In a healthy knee, the meniscus (cartilage) serves as a shock absorber between the ends of the bones. Dr. Brockmeyer said, “The Oxford® Uni Partial Knee provides the patient with a more natural feeling and if it is properly implanted, the patient could have 15-20 years of good quality function. Wear and tear of this specially designed cobalt chromium molybdemum alloy is relatively low. The free floating nature of the device also improves durability of the implant.”

Biomet In a healthy knee, the meniscus serves as a shock absorber between the ends of the bones. The Oxford® Partial knee is the first partial implant with an artificial meniscal bearing designed to glide freely throughout the knee's range of motion, more closely replicating normal movement. The free floating nature of the device potentially provides for a more natural feeling knee.

The evidence that at least three (Old World Wolf actually found seven sites with nearly identical language)Web sites used such similar wording suggests that all have a common source -- most likely a product-information sheet or patient-information brochure from the manufacturer. And yes indeed, that manufacturer supplied the information and is delighted to have it reproduced and distributed by any means possible. But the manufacturer's agenda does not make plagiarism right.

What's the solution? Attribution, quote marks or paraphrases. It's so simple to do it right.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

How Does He Know This?

LAKELAND -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is sending an investigator to Polk County to retrieve lollipops found with metal fragments buried inside. The importer of the Valentine's Day lollipops pulled them from shelves nationwide Thursday after metal fragments were found baked into at least two of the lollipops. Those candies were sold at different Dollar General stores in central Florida. The Polk County sheriff's Office says an FDA investigator is arrving on Tuesday to pick up the candy so it can be analyzed.

The story says, twice, metal fragments were found in the candy. The Charlotte Sun headline writer's take: FDA to invesigate blades found in candy.

It's on the FCAT

Arcadia's intrepid newspaper editor, Laura Schmid, churns out her weekly good-news only column this morning, offering readers a review of re-hashed material that ran in her pages four times this week. Her column offers, as she styles it, a "sneak peak" at another warmed-over item, upcoming showings of a charming local movie about Florida cowboys.

Dear Editor: If something has already appeared several times in the newspaper and multiple times around town, you cannot promise readers a sneak peek. And, please learn the difference between a furtive glance and a furtive mountain top. It's on the FCAT.

The same editor attended a play and alerted her readers to the sad situation that she, the college graduate, with a master's degree in a liberal arts discipline, was "not sure what to expect" at the one-act showcase. The tyro reviewer calls the show "lighthearted" in quotes -- even though she's not quoting anyone. Her major critical judgment: the actors "concluded after one-and-a-half hours, just the right amount of time." Readers are happy the play did not strain Schmid's attention span.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Story Marred by Tainted Source

Three reporters were recently freed from their desks to investigate how accessible porn sites are to county library patrons in DeSoto, Charlotte and Hardee. The result is Tom Staik's splashy feature on this morning’s front page describing systems that restrict children’s Internet access while allowing unfiltered access to adults. It’s an interesting story that found some local glitches. While OWW has many thoughts about how censorship is carried out, she’s more interested in the quality and accuracy of news reporting. In this respect, the article falls short of the mark because the reporters hype a rather bland story (there's no news hook*), chock full of fuzzy numbers aggregated by a Web-based product sales site instead of going to the trouble to locate reliable data from more objective, less biased sources.

The newspaper’s “investigation” leads with supposedly national figures to create a proper level of hysteria: There’s a $100-billion porn industry out there and an “average child” will have an “Internet porn experience” by age 11. “More than” $180,000 is spent on erotica every minute (in the world? In the U.S? in New Jersey?). In any given second, some 30,000 computer users are allegedly accessing adult content on the Internet, and 372 Internet users are typing “adult search terms” into search engines (breast feeding? Gonad development in asexual fruit flies?). None of this leading information carries any attribution -- and none of it is made relevant to the local findings.

More than 60 inches and some 45 paragraphs later, three investigative reporters invoke a single Web site just before unfolding more statistics. The Web site is “Family Safe Media,” www. A visit to Family Safe’s site finds not a thoughtful think tank funding well-designed studies and surveys. It’s a sales site, promoting a score of Internet blocking devices. This is the Web site’s description of itself: “Our web site is organized by media type. Browse through each section and find the tools your family needs to reduce influences that are not in line with your beliefs. Most likely, you will find products that you didn't even know where available. Also, let us know what type of product you need. We are dedicated to developing products and services that help parents control the content in their home.”

In the service of its sales pitch, the Web page reproduces cartoonish graphs that purport to illustrate pornography’s reach and range. The writers boast their data sources are “sited” at the bottom of the page. The citations turn out to be an alphabetical compilation of 46 sources (separated from any one data set) that include Yahoo, Associated Press, Miami Herald, something called the U.S. Central Bureau (I think they mean the U.S. Census Bureau), China Daily and others that you can evaluate for yourself.

This is an example of 10th-grade-level research OWW used to endure: “Hey, I found the perfect source -- an article that says exactly everything I need!” That’s not so bad for 10th graders; it’s a shame for grown-up journalists who, in theory at least, have been trained to evaluate sources and exercise skepticism about using ones tainted by a sales agenda and profit motive.

And, in a final non sequitur that has me wondering, the local feature wraps up not with insight or inspiration from a librarian, libertarian or even a mom, but with an examination of women's porn-viewing habits – all copied directly from Family Safe’s sales page. What’s the relevance of “Thirteen percent of women are estimated to visit pornography Web sites at work” to a story about access and filterning in county libraries?

And one last thing:
"The fact that a Sun staffer was unable to access pornography at Arcadia's DeSoto County Library may be a fluke, library officals noted." Huh?

*It lacks a news hook because there's no new study just released, no one is picketing local libraries, no letters to the editor have complained about the current system, no policies have changed or are being considered for revision. The whole thing is a made up feature, good practice for journalism's sandbox set, but really, of little or no news value.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

New Job Title: Staff Plagiarist

The News Release: Sarasota, FL – January 10, 2008 – Former star of the Metropolitan Opera, Sherrill Milnes will share a lifetime of memories in Sherill [sic] Milnes, American Aria: Encore at the Historic Asolo Theater at The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art on Wednesday, Feb. 13 at 5:30 p.m.
Sun Staff Plagiarist: Sherrill Milnes, former star of the Metropolitan Opera, will share a lifetime of memories in “Sherill [sic] Milnes, American Aria: Encore at the Historic Asolo Theater in the Visitor Center at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art on Wednesday, Feb. 13 at 5:30 p.m.
OWW's comment: "Let's Go" Features Editor Kim Cool moves around a few words, but doesn’t examine her copy closely enough to catch the (somewhat common) misspelling of the famous opera singer’s first name. It has two “r’s,” but Cool can’t be bothered to check or correct her source material. In fact, for the rest of the story, she can barely be bothered to move around a word or two.

News release: Sherill [sic] Milnes, American Aria: Encore is the first of a new series this winter titled Conversations With the Legendary Artists of the Stage. This series will feature three legendary artists each with fascinating story of a distinguished career in the performing arts and an inspiring vision and commitment to share their legacy with the next generation. The series includes Sherill Milnes, American Aria: Encore, Marilyn Horne: The Song Continues and Jacques d’Amboise: He Makes Me Feel Like Dancing.
Sun Staff Plagairst: Milnes’s presentation is the first of a new series, Conversations with the Lengendary Artists of the Stage. The series will feature three artists who will share their personal stories about their careers in the performing arts. The other featured artists are Marilyn Horne and Jacques D’Amboise.

The news release: “Milnes is one of the most talented opera talents to grace the stage in decades” said Dwight Currie, Curator of Theater Programming at the Ringling. “The opportunity to peak into his life and hear the stories behind his success will inspire opera-goers and aspiring stars alike.”
Sun Staff Plagiarist: “Milnes is one of the most talented opera talents to grace the stage in decades” said Dwight Currie, Curator of Theater Programming at the Ringling. “The opportunity to peak into his life and hear the stories behind his success will inspire opera-goers and aspiring stars alike.”

News release: Milnes is internationally recognized as one of the greatest Verdian baritones of his generation. Shortly after a serious, but non-career-ending ailment, he retired from the stage and has become a highly sought-after vocal teacher and trainer.
Sun Staff Plagiarist: Milnes is internationally recognized as one of the greatest Verdian baritones of his generation. Shortly after a serious, but non-career-ending ailment, he retired from the stage and has become a highly sought-after vocal teacher and trainer.

News Release: Milnes was attracted to music at a young age while living on a farm in Illinois. After college he pursued a career in opera. Accepted into the Boris Goldovsky Opera Company Milnes debuted at the New York City Opera as Valentin in Gounod’s Faust four years later. In Europe he became an international star as Miller in Verdi's Louisa Miller. Upon returning to America he quickly became a favorite in New York’s opera scene performing almost exclusively at the Metropolitan Opera.
Sun Staff Plagiarist: Milnes was attracted to music at a young age while living on a farm in Illinois. After college he pursued a career in opera. Accepted into the Boris Goldovsky Opera Company Milnes debuted at the New York City Opera as Valentin in Gounod’s Faust four years later. In Europe he became an international star as Miller in Verdi's Louisa Miller. Upon returning to America he quickly became a favorite in New York’s opera scene performing almost exclusively at the Met until his retirement.

News release: Today, Milnes is dedicated to preparing future generations for careers in opera through V.O.I.C.E. (Vocal and Operatic Intensive Creative Experience), which he founded in 2001 with his current wife, mezzo-soprano Maria Zouves.
Sun Staff Plagiarist: In 2001, Milnes founded V.O.I.C.E. (Vocal and Operatic Intensive Creative Experience). Working with his current wife, mezzo-sporano Maria Zouves, he works to prepare singers for careers in opera.

This is called junk, not journalism.

Bad Desk -- Politicking on the Job

The local headline says one thing: Everybody's Going Obama. The AP story says quite another. The story is a five-paragraph report of Ohio delegate David Wilhelm’s decision to endorse Barack Obama's presidential campaign. No other endorsement is mentioned, and the concluding paragraph says Hillary Clinton has 1,198 committed delegates. No, not everybody's "going Obama."

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Being Son of the Owner Means Never Having to Say You're Wrong

Yesterday, publisher David Dunn-Rankin wrote an error-riddled editorial in which he reported the state has approved the local comprehensive land plan. Today, reporter Jon Sica reports the comp plan "needs to be publically advertised and debated before it gest submitted [to the state] for approval." The publisher/editorial writer did not correct his error or any of the other mistakes he introduced regarding utility bond issues. Being son of the newspaper's owner means never having to say you made a mistake.

Filling a Much Needed Gap:
Club news is of interest to club members. No one else cares. For example, this morning's 20-incher, not counting a three-column wide color photo of an out-of-focus orchid, tells DeSoto County residents the garden club ladies held a luncheon on some unreported day. Its tablecloths were red and "adorned" with Valentine's Day candy. The minutes of the last meeting and the treasurer's report "were read and approved."

Dear Nice Newspaper Man: The next time someone sends you "club notes," tell them to get a newsletter. Your readers at large don't care who ate lemon bars for dessert. For example, this club note might go in birth announcements, but as news, it benefits no one who is interested in taxes, utility rates, local government, school board antics, police tactics and other vital issues of the day: "In December, I mentioned my 10th great grand child was to be born in January, around the time of my birthday. Would you believe she was born on the day of my birthday, which is Jan. 13, and also was given my middle name."

A good newsman fills the community news hole with interesting local stories. If all his reporters are on vacation, he culls from the regional Florida wire -- any little thing that might encourage DeSoto Countians to look beyond holiday china and heavenly hash.

This is Not Poetry. Believe Me, I'm an English Major.

Along the same lines, the DeSoto Sun took a giant step backwards a few months ago when it started publishing "poetry." As far as I can tell, no other edition's readers are forced to endure this embarrassment:

"I brushed the sleep from my eyes
at 5 o'clock this morning
And rose from the eternal supine
position to walk on the beach.
The sand was damp from the
ocean tickling it with wet fingers
Then sliding mysteriously off to the other side of the world."

I am not making this up. The woman who wrote this is old enough to know better: Get a diary, a blog, anything. Pen the lines and send them to your loving family. But this bizarre pastiche of the trite and the ridiculous has no place in a newspaper -- not even if all the reporters are on vacation.

And, just to show this is not a fluke, here's poetry Selection II:

Hair of gold crystal blue eyes
Sparkling like stars in the sky,
Lips formed into wonderful smile,
A joyful smile, for here was a
Young woman in her fifties,
Overwhelmed by the news.
She was to become Grandma
In the near future.

Old Word Wolf was to become nauseated
In the near future.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Which is it?

Today's editorial: "The state has approved DeSoto's comprehensive plan ..."

Feb. 2 version: "Under fire since its conception, DeSoto’s proposed comp plan has been in bureaucratic purgatory since it was adopted by the County Commission in August 2007; it won’t take effect until the department gives the plan its seal of approval."

Which is it II?

This is today's news:
By LAURA A. SCHMID DeSoto Editor
ARCADIA – Two days after a massive manhunt for an escaped sexual offender was undertaken in DeSoto County, the wanted man essentially strolled into the hands of local police two blocks from the county jail early Sunday morning.

Here's last Saturday's version:
Young, 59, was still at large Friday afternoon as deputies scaled back search efforts. "We never did get a track; nothing gave us any direction, besides that he possibly left through the south side of the compound. ... The dogs never did pick up a track. Early morning rains may have hampered search efforts. ... "

Everytime a reporter tosses in a gratuitous adjective like "massive," she signals to readers that she's more into sounding like a reporter like than actually being one. Or maybe -- worse -- she thinks readers won't remember the details, so she can make them up as she goes along.

Over where there's no news -- the good news only column -- readers learn Laura did laundry!

DeSoto County residents now may count themselves well-informed, ready to face another day of local government, regional law enforcement, school district shennanigans, and comp plan planning, knowing Laura did 16 loads when she realized that she had run out of bed sheets. (Laura, this falls into the category of "more than we needed to know.")

Alice's Adventures in Copy Editing

Becky Bovell claims to be able to prove pigs have wings. But it was her imagination that took flight when she gave Lewis Carroll a middle initial ("G") in her business column this morning. She is probably thinking of Leo G. Carroll, a character actor from the 1940's and 1950's. But there was no one at the newspaper who could fact check.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Post Traumatic Newspaper Prose

The sheriff is wrapping up a five-day search for a missing man, a former marine who was evidently in the throes of a post-traumatic war flashback. Charlotte Sun staff writer Carolyn Quinn's lead this morning:
HARBOUR HEIGHTS -- Around 3:30 Friday afternoon, a slight grayness had begun to blunt the once-harsh sunlight. Charlotte County Sheriff's Lt. Rickey Hobbs stood behind a strip of yellow police tape, talking to Becky Hall, her sister, Marge Baker, and ther mother, Melba Baker.
Quinn forgets she writes not for magazine audience but for newspaper readers -- readers who expect good old fashioned journalism. Old Word Wolf is sure all the Sun editors really, really liked her atmospheric weather report, but the grayness blunting the afternoon has apparently dulled their sense of purpose, as well. Everyone is following this story and there's no need to sex it up with lines better suited to a workshop over at the Peace River Writers forum.

Maybe the writer's forum could help Quinn understand restrictive and non-restrictive commas, but that's probably too much grammar for the purple prosarians.

Instead, we'll take a stroll over to the cliché department, where there's always a shelf of literary soft pitches, no editing necessary, ready to type and send. (Normally, I wouln't bother with the sports guys -- a league of their own, journalism-wise -- but this one ended up on the front page of the DeSoto Sun, waaaay out of its field.)

The news is a baseball team intends to move operations sometime next year into a local stadium, which is undergoing a $27-million renovation. Executive Sports Editor John Fineran's lead (count the slow, low, inside balls):

The marriage between the Tampa Bay Rays and Charlotte County was celebrated everywhere you looked Friday morning, afternoon and evening in our little corner of paradise.

Two of the clichés were so compelling the headline writer couldn't resist the echo:
Rays, Charlotte County celebrate happy union

Come on, guys; this deal has been in the works long enough for an executive sport editor to write a big day lead that's more than a triple snooze.

And what about readers who don't see celebration everywhere in their little corners of paradise? There's not one single celebratory vision of this event visible anywhere in DeSoto County, Arcadia, or even in key corners of Port Charlotte and downtown Punta Gorda, all of which I visited before lunch today. "Everywhere you look" must have been restricted to everywhere YOU looked, John.
OWW's advice is same as above: Know thy audience. Don't be lazy. Stick to the news.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Handing Over the Mike, II

My friends in television news taught me a handy phrase decades ago: when a reporter abdicates all responsiblity as a journalist by letting a source hijack the interview in order to further an agenda, and that clip airs unedited, they called it handing over the mike. That goes on a lot in my little town. And, it happened again yesterday, this time in an editorial.

Our DeSoto Sun opinion maker leads by cheering the good things the county fair does for young and future farmers, and moves on to bemoaning declining fair attendance. But:
[...]there is a larger issue that now needs addressing. According to Vernon Keen, president elect of the DeSoto County Fair Association and DeSoto sheriff, fair attendance dropped, with ticket sales off roughly five percent and the midway sales off about 20 percent. While part of that might have been due to rain and cool weather, there seems to be a pattern of declining attendance. With the changing landscape of Florida and the shifting population demographics, county fairs are not as well-supported in many Florida communities. Given the lower attendance at this year's DeSoto fair, there is cause for conern that the 55-year old county event might be in peril without some foresight and initiative to change things.
Now, OWW allowed her investigative-reporter's association membership to lapse some time ago, but recently became reacquainted with a reliable local source. And, that source has been kind enough to point out how many microphones are being turned over to the suits. We'll start with this one.

Sheriff Keen, several days before the county fair, conducted a sweeping sting (at the height of citrus harvest and unreported in the main sheet) that netted an estimated 250 undocumented workers, according to our source's phone call to the department. Source says the message, "of course," went out in the Mexican community: don't go to the fair; the sheriff will be checking green cards and visas at the gate.

So, attendance wasn't down because of the cool weather -- which was reported at the time as a welcome relief -- or spotty rain -- which, according to the day's newspaper reports "couldn't dampen spirits" that weekend. But, that was the sheriff's spin.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

More Evidence Reading, Style Knowledge Not Required

The ability to copy a person's name accurately from story to headline is not a required job skill for Web news editors at The Charlotte Sun. Brittany's father gains financial control until Valentine's Day. The story's first word "Britney." The "editor" manages to introduce three errors -- count 'em -- into a name that has been in the news since the late 20th century. Update: The editor writes me that he's fixed it.

Further, the story uses the appropriate AP style, referring to the entertainer by her last name. The Charlotte Sun "editor" takes it upon himself to infantalize a woman by using her first name in the headline.

"Feeling Fit" Tab Features Dr. Beth Quack:
"Dr. Beth" Claims Acupuncture Works Better Than Diets for Weight Loss

Charlotte Sun tab Editor Dawn Krebs has cultivated a reputation for knowing less than most about general science, general personal health and general critical thinking. So it’s no surprise to find she lets Elizabeth Adams style herself as “Dr.” and “Dr. Beth” in the pages of her publication. She even tucks “Dr. Beth’s” item under the headline: Ask the Experts: Local medical professionals answer health-related questions in last Sunday's edition. If I were a real doctor buying ads in Kreb’s paper, I’d vigorously protest classifying “Dr. Beth” as a medical professional.

Elizabeth “Beth” Adams has a Florida acupuncture license. Not content with a semi-legitimate credential, she claims to be a “doctor of oriental medicine” and a "physician." There’s no national standard, school or certifying agency for what probably amounts to a proprietary review of herbals, aromas and the ground horns of endangered species. This “doctor” is, essentially, prescribing without a license. Here’s her description of weight loss:

“Acupuncture for weight loss is a very different approach from the modern American diet. It is about balancing the body’s energy. A body that is in balance is well and does not crave or store foods it does not need. With acupuncture, the body stops fighting itself, and you will no longer need “will power” to not overeat or eat the wrong foods. Your body simply begins to crave only what is best for you, and only what you need. It becomes very easy not to eat, for example, the chocolate cake if you simply do not want the chocolate cake. Results are slower with acupuncture than with the crash or starvation diets, but the shift in energy is often permanent, so the weight taken off never returns.”

Adams' first, ungrammatical sentence establishes a non-sequitur as her opening pitch. Yes, acupuncture is “different” than the “modern American diet.” One is needles and the other is food. But more critically, what is this “modern American diet?” Surely it’s the one my family (we’re pretty darn modern and 100 percent American) eats: lots of leafy veggies, fruits, nuts and fish. Surely no other civilization in the history of the world has had access to the extensive, fresh, healthy varieties of the modern American diet that are offered in every grocery in every town.

Her second sentence blasts off from the launch pad of illogic into the rarified air of quackery. What kind of body energy requires balancing? Is this electrical, solar or nuclear energy? Perhaps a magnetic force of some kind? How does one balance energy? By standing on one foot or by hovering on a balance scale? The good “doctor” doesn’t say.

What evidence does “Dr. Beth” have for claiming this mysteriously balanced body won’t crave or store foods “it does not need?” Surely “Dr. Beth” and Editor Krebs learned about human metabolism in high school biology, or if not there, surely their grown-up reading and interest in the field would yield some basic, evidence-based understanding of the process. The body, “balanced energy” or not, is quite efficient at storing fats for future use, from everything I’ve read.

So, what is the acupuncture’s mechanism that makes the body “stop fighting” itself? What’s the definition of “fighting itself?” Cause and effect, doctor; show us the cause and effect you claim.

I’m willing to swallow that “results are slower with acupuncture,” because (a) there’s no demonstrable effect from acupuncture at all on anyone’s weight and (b) it will take a long time and many $essions with the Doctor of Oriental Medicine before the naïve client figures that out.

Shame on you, Editor Krebs and your tacit endorsement of this phony “acupuncture physician.”

Monday, February 4, 2008

Another Headline No One Edited

Headlines are condensed versions of standard English. They follow the same rules of usage, agreement, subordination and coordination as the fully expanded version. Some conventions have developed over the years for those times when editors must fit long words into narrow columns. But on a newspaper's Internet site, even monster constructions ("California's Schwarzenegger") have room to breathe. You kids have it soo easy.

So, please, why would anyone write -- much less publish this embarrassment -- at three o'clock in the afternoon? Even old-school editors are still sober at that hour.
Bush budget congressional bound with big defense and big deficits

Please don't tell your Journalism or English profs where you're working.

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.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Never Liked My Ex-Nephew Much; Mom Said His Women Were All Psycho

Quite a pile of papers has stacked up since I've been gone, so it’s hard to know where to begin.

Last Tuesday, Charlotte Sun editors ran what's essentially a one-source story, offered up by two men claiming to be uncle and cousin to a man whom local cops have charged with kidnapping and killing a young mom. The writer, a city editor, gives no explanation for why one of the men calls the suspect his “ex-nephew,” so the reader is left to guess from the very start about blended and broken family ties and the hard feelings that almost always fester from family splits.

The uncle (ex-uncle, I guess) said he had not seen the suspect in more than a year and had a vague idea that, prior to the homicide, he might have been living somewhere in Michigan or a small Florida town about an hour’s drive north of here. Despite these tenuous and distant connections, the reporter gives uncle (ex-uncle) center stage. Uncle's soliloquy is a catalog of family innuendo and a litany of what should be instantly recognized as libel – probably overlooked because the suspect has already been convicted in a two-week trial held in the newspaper’s pages.

NORTH PORT – Harold Muxlow Sr. says he hopes he’s wrong, but he fears ex-nephew Michael King, who has been charged with the murder of Denise Amber Lee, may have harmed other women.
...“I pray my gut instinct is wrong,” he said. But I’ve told police to check in Michigan and Homasassa ... for missing persons.”

A couple of paragraphs later, ex-uncle’s son says the suspect came by the house to borrow digging equipment. He could see a woman in the car’s back seat; he heard her yell “Call the cops.” But he didn’t.

“I was used to my cousin having wacky girlfriends and telling tall tales, so at the time I thought this was a spat between the two. My mother had told me things his mom said about him and his psycho girlfriends. He was just a bad judge of women he dated.”
None of the story's information, assembled by North Port City Editor Elaine Allen-Emrich, seems to have been verified. Family agendas are aired without question, accusations and libel go in a juicy headline, and professional standards lie in a shallow grave, along with the victim.

Editorial Reading-Attention Span ...

... should span, oh, say, at least two sentences. Here's a fire-in-the-diner story:

No damage was reported [... the restaurant] was closed Thursday for repairs.

The cutline reads: A DeSoto County Homeless Coalition census team [...] tries to make contact Wednesday with the residents of a structure that could qualify as homeless under federal standards.
Dear Jon: Structures aren't homeless; people are. Grammar is your friend, but you must learn how to aim those relative clauses.