Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Two of Five W's Laid Off: Cutback Attributed to Declining Staff

xxxxx CORTEZ, Fla.: In order to save money, a newspaper executive in central Florida has announced layoffs within the ranks of the profession’s revered Five W’s.
xxxxx “We’re starting by eliminating 'when,' which can often be ignored entirely without losing story value,” said the owner and publisher of Cortez Town Bugler.
xxxxx Publisher Katharine Beecher attributed the cutback to the high cost of ink, paper, and staff training.
xxxxx “Certainly by eliminating 'when,' we’ll use that much less ink and paper. Over the course of a year, it adds up,” she said. “It’s also a challenge to train everybody in these five things and get them to remember them all, all the time. We figure on halving our training expenses and moving deadlines up 15 minutes by not requiring all five W’s from reporters in the first place,” she said.
xxxxx “Yes, another great newspaper tradition, lost to the ages,” she said.
xxxxx Although the first to garner wide spread attention for the ink- and paper-saving move, she notes her paper is following an established business model.
xxxxx “Down there in DeSoto, John Lawhorne has been omitting 'when' for years and nobody complained. We figured since nobody noticed, cutting 'when' could be the first to go, with 'where' probably next on the list of things we'll have to do without,” she said.
xxxxx The remaining W’s, “who,” “what,” and “why,” will have to carry the story, she said. “In fact, 'why' is almost completely extinct in broadcast journalism. And nobody noticed that, either."

Friday update: I rest my case.

City balks at offer for abandoned stockyard
By JOHN LAWHORNE STAFF WRITER DESOTO COUNTY — The Arcadia City Council balked when a Canadian businessman offered to purchase the old Arcadia Stockyard property north of Arcadia off U.S. Highway 17. The defunct stockyard was owned and operated by the state until two years ago, when the state returned the property to the city. Businessman Roger Penner offered to buy the 7-acre property, which is being used for equipment storage, for $51,000. He said the property was assessed at $141,570. The rotting pens, he noted, were not worth much. “I don’t think we can do anything until we get an appraisal,” Mayor Dick Fazzone said. Jason Henbest, sitting in for City Attorney William Galvano, noted that any offer for the property would require the city to advertise. “Someone may make you a better offer,” he said. First to balk at a sale was Councilman Dr. Roosevelt Johnson. “Are we ready to sell that property?” he asked. “I don’t think that I am.” Johnson said he was not against renting the property out. “I don’t think it would be an advantage to us to sell it at this point, especially for $51,000.” Council member Lorenzo Dixon said he agreed with Johnson, noting that with the old buildings, the land was worth $415,000. He pointed out a nearby business had paid $725,000 for its property. “So we know that the stockyard land is worth more than $51,000.” The council declined to accept Penner’s offer. Interim City Administrator Joe Fink then asked the council to listen to Arcadia Realtor Mac Martin’s proposal for future development of the stockyard property. “Would the City Council consider the possibility of a joint effort with the city, county, school board(s) and the community to redevelop the old livestock property into a cultural center that will benefit the citizens of Arcadia and DeSoto County for generations to come?” Martin asked. Martin noted there is no public place in DeSoto County with the appropriate seating, lighting and acoustics for pageants, orchestral concerts or theatrical performances. “The schools’ ‘cafetoriums’ (combination cafeteria and auditorium) are functional,” he said. “The Turner Center is great for large gatherings, but they cannot provide the type of atmosphere that enhances these fine arts activities.” Before making a decision to turn the stockyard property over to private use, Martin asked the council to consider conducting a workshop with all the parties mentioned, to discuss the idea of building a cultural center on the site. No immediate action was taken by the council on Martin’s suggestion

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

When Was That?

Timeless news. This morning's police-beat roundup has fallen back into the timeless universe of the DeSoto Sun where tire rims are stolen, where someone trespasses, where someone steals a bicycle, where juveniles throw beer bottles. It has been three (even four, by one count) days since our last police beat. All this happened, you say when, John?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Hed: Happy Days are Here Again. Story: Fooled Ya

Apologies for going over old material, again, but the Sun's copy desk hasn't gotten the message yet: a hed is supposed to tell a bit about the story, like what it actually says. No making stuff up allowed.

And when a copy editor has two decks to work with, well, he/she can tell a whole lot about the story. Or, make it up twice, as happened during the Charlotte Sun's editing session last night.

Subscribers were delighted to turn to page 5 this morning and read the news: Stock surge, investors feeling comfort! Hallelujah! Oh, my dear! Oh, my 401(k)! We are delivered!

But, hold on one minute. Plunging into the story, readers can't help but realize they must be awaking from the copy editor's hallucination dream. No, stet that: hallucination.

The lede: "Investors shuttled between optimism and pessimism ..." No feeling of comfort here.

Next graf: The federal economic recovery plan "sent stocks moderately higher in a partial rebound from a plunge" the day before. No surge there.

Next: Stocks "meandered" for much of the day. No comfort. No surge.

Next, a real-person quote: "I think everybody is trying to get through all this news," the expert says. "Everybody has to digest all the tidbits of information. Everybody is looking for clarity, good, bad or indifferent." Hmmm. No surge mentioned, no word of comfort uttered.

Next: "Stocks had plummeted Tuesday ... on Wednesday the uncertainly continued." No comfort. No surge.

Next: "The Dow's 51-point rise is 'not a strong statement'" another expert opines. No surge. No comfort.

I know it gets old, but let's have the copy editors practice this until they get it right: The hed has to reflect what's actually in the story. No making it up up.

Running fantasy news is not going to return advertisers to the fold or make readers rush to sign up for year-long subscriptions. Fantasy news just makes editors and publishers look silly, unreliable, careless, clueless ...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Obit Feature Misspells Famous Name

That's Florence Nightingale, Laura, not Nightangle.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Dog Loose in a Parallel Universe

Compiling police-beat shorts must be viewed a punishment by DeSoto Sun's world-weary staff. It took Old Word Wolf years of goading to prod the grizzled John Lawhorne and his editor (a j-school product!) into including the third "W" (when) in police beat items. Until then, his typical entry read "Cows reported loose on Hanson."

Sure, it takes a bit more care to sort out when something occured. But then, that's what reporters do, no?

Alas, that little detail marking history's first draft has recently been folded into a subhed -- yielding this morning's gem:

Neighborhood Watch: These incidents were reported Saturday and Sunday.

Which means, of course, the car break-in happened Saturday and Sunday; the dog ran loose Saturday and Sunday, and the caller reporting a laser beam aimed at her house dialed 911 Saturday and Sunday. And all those arrests for probation violations and failure to pay child support and sale of controlled subtances happened on Saturday AND Sunday. What a busy little town we have.

Meanwhile, the Charlotte Sun today dedicates page 5 in all editions to its own used-car-lot-like promo, complete with a dialog balloon emerging from the ME's left ear. The barely disguised purpose is to dance on the grave of the New York Times's local.

The strangest part is the "let us know.." graf calling for our favorite cartoon! Cartoon! Chris, this is a newspaper that you are managing, not a comics sheet -- except that part called Letters to the Editor, but that's another posting.

In sort, if you don't know by now, Chris, give me a jingle and we'll talk.

Well, OK, Old Word Wolf will play along.
What I'd like to see in my paper is:
1. Actual copy editing; stories are read and edited with grace and intelligence.
2. Actual assignments that reflect a watchdog -- not a lapdog -- approach to local officials, issues, and events.
3. Actual reporting in some depth with intelligence, covering schools, government, and all the other little "quasi governmental" places where tax dollars are funneled.
4. Less Dr. Donohue in news hole and more coverage of significant events elsewhere on the planet; less reader-provided plagiarism, and the elimination of all Kid-Lit submissions. You can also make room for real news by eschewing the minutes of meetings for clubs that 14 women belong to and which record table decorations and luncheon menus, leading with the phrase "at the lovely home of our hostess ... "

That's something I'd like to see in "MY" newspaper.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Plagiarism Goes Viral

Is it plagiarism? Let’s see: Erin Hess Fitch, who is not a doctor, writes what is essentially a medical article for Sun newspapers. It's composed in a recognizable "corporate style:" not an adverb in sight, bland, soulless prose. It contains not a single line of attribution. Red-alert flag goes up.

It's on a topic few care about until the need strikes. It's on a topic that bears no relationship to news. It discusses watery diarrhea, for gawd's sake. More red-alerts.

It's clearly not journalism. But is it plagiarism?

Well, Fitch's article closely follows the wording -- to the point of being identical in many places -- of an article written for the Centers for Disease Control and posted at its Web site. Strike one.

Fitch evasively moves around a few words and does some light editing, but the order of ideas is identical to the text posted at the CDC Web site Strike two.

Fitch puts her by line on the article and presents the report to readers as her own work. Strike three. Yup. That's plagiarism.
Here's the detail.

Sun Hed: Dealing with the dreaded ‘stomach flu’
Erin Hess Fitch: Gastroenteritis, often called the “stomach flu,” is inflammation of the stomach, small and large intestines. It is caused by viruses. These viruses include rotavirus, norovirus and adenovirus. Gastroenteritis is not usually caused by bacteria, parasites, medications or other medical conditions. Symptoms, however, may be very similar to diseases caused by those sources.
CDC: What is viral gastroenteritis?
Gastroenteritis means inflammation of the stomach and small and large intestines. Viral gastroenteritis is an infection caused by a variety of viruses that results in vomiting or diarrhea. It is often called the "stomach flu," although it is not caused by the influenza viruses.
CDC: What causes viral gastroenteritis?
Many different viruses can cause gastroenteritis, including rotaviruses, noroviruses, adenoviruses,type 40 or 41, sapoviruses, and astroviruses. Viral gastroenteritis is not caused by bacteria (such as Salmonella or Escherichia coli) or parasites (such as Giardia), or by medications or other medical conditions, although the symptoms may be similar. Your doctor can determine if the diarrhea is caused by a virus or by something else.
Erin Hess Fitch: Primary symptoms are watery diarrhea and vomiting. You may also have headache, fever and cramps. Symptoms start one or two days following infection with the virus and may last for up to 10 days, depending on which virus caused the illness.
CDC: What are the symptoms of viral gastroenteritis?
The main symptoms of viral gastroenteritis are watery diarrhea and vomiting. The affected person may also have headache, fever, and abdominal cramps ("stomach ache"). In general, the symptoms begin 1 to 2 days following infection with a virus that causes gastroenteritis and may last for 1 to 10 days, depending on which virus causes the illness.
Erin Hess Fitch: For most healthy adults, gastroenteritis is not a serious illness. However, it can be very serious for infants, young children and people who are unable to care for themselves, such as the disabled or elderly, because they are at a greater risk for dehydration. Immunocompromised people are at risk for dehydration. They may get a more serious illness with greater vomiting or diarrhea and may need to be hospitalized.
CDC: Is viral gastroenteritis a serious illness?
For most people, it is not. People who get viral gastroenteritis almost always recover completely without any long-term problems. Gastroenteritis is a serious illness, however, for persons who are unable to drink enough fluids to replace what they lose through vomiting or diarrhea. Infants, young children, and persons who are unable to care for themselves, such as the disabled or elderly, are at risk for dehydration from loss of fluids. Immune compromised persons are at risk for dehydration because they may get a more serious illness, with greater vomiting or diarrhea. They may need to be hospitalized for treatment to correct or prevent dehydration.
Erin Hess Fitch: Viral gastroenteritis is very contagious and can be spread through close contact with sick people; sharing food, water and eating utensils; or by eating or drinking contaminated foods. Food can become contaminated by the people who prepare it or handle it if they do not wash their hands regularly after using the bathroom. Shellfish may be contaminated by sewage. Drinking water may become contaminated by sewage and be the source of the spread of these viruses.
CDC: Is the illness contagious? How are these viruses spread?
Yes, viral gastroenteritis is contagious. The viruses that cause gastroenteritis are spread through close contact with infected persons (for example, by sharing food, water, or eating utensils). Individuals may also become infected by eating or drinking contaminated foods or beverages.
Erin Hess Fitch: Viral gastroenteritis affects people worldwide, with each virus having its own seasonal activity. In the U.S., rotavirus and astrovirus infections occur in the cooler months of the year, October to April. Adenovirus infections can occur throughout the year. Norovirus outbreaks can occur in an institutional setting: schools, child-care facilities and nursing homes. It also is seen in other group settings such as banquet halls, cruise ships, dormitories and campgrounds.
CDC: Where and when does viral gastroenteritis occur?
Viral gastroenteritis affects people in all parts of the world. Each virus has its own seasonal activity. For example, in the United States, rotavirus and astrovirus infections occur during the cooler months of the year (October to April), whereas adenovirus infections occur throughout the year. Norovirus outbreaks can occur in institutional settings, such as schools, child care facilities, and nursing homes, and can occur in other group settings, such as banquet halls, cruise ships, dormitories, and campgrounds.
Erin Hess Fitch: People of all ages and backgrounds can get viral gastroenteritis. People in specific age groups are more susceptible to some viruses. Rotavirus and norovirus are most common in infants and young children under 5. Adenoviruses and astroviruses are most common in young children, but older children and adults can contract the illness. Noroviruses most commonly cause diarrhea in older children and adults.
CDC: Who gets viral gastroenteritis?
Anyone can get it. Viral gastroenteritis occurs in people of all ages and backgrounds. However, some viruses tend to cause diarrheal disease primarily among people in specific age groups. Rotavirus and norovirus infections are the most common cause of diarrhea in infants and young children under 5 years old. Adenoviruses and astroviruses cause diarrhea mostly in young children, but older children and adults can also be affected. Norwalk and Noroviruses are more likely to cause diarrhea in older children and adults.
Erin Hess Fitch: Viral gastroenteritis is generally diagnosed by a doctor on the basis of symptoms and an exam of the patient. Rotavirus can be diagnosed by lab testing of stool specimens.
CDC: How is viral gastroenteritis diagnosed?
Generally, viral gastroenteritis is diagnosed by a physician on the basis of the symptoms and medical examination of the patient. Rotavirus infection can be diagnosed by laboratory testing of a stool specimen. Tests to detect other viruses that cause gastroenteritis are not in routine use, but the viral gastroenteritis unit at CDC can assist with special analysis upon request.
Erin Hess Fitch: The most important component of treatment for viral gastroenteritis is to prevent dehydration. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that families with infants and young children keep a supply of oral rehydration solution (Pedialyte) at home at all times, and use it when the first diarrheal episode occurs. It is important to follow the written directions on the package and to use clean, bottled or boiled water. Antibiotics (which have no effect on viruses) and other treatments should be given only on recommendation from a doctor.
CDC: How is viral gastroenteritis treated?
The most important of treating viral gastroenteritis in children and adults is to prevent severe loss of fluids (dehydration). This treatment should begin at home. Your physician may give you specific instructions about what kinds of fluid to give. CDC recommends that families with infants and young children keep a supply of oral rehydration solution (ORS) at home at all times and use the solution when diarrhea first occurs in the child. ORS is available at pharmacies without a prescription. Follow the written directions on the ORS package, and use clean or boiled water. Medications, including antibiotics (which have no effect on viruses) and other treatments, should be avoided unless specifically recommended by a physician.
Erin Hess Fitch: Viral gastroenteritis infections can be reduced by frequent handwashing, prompt disinfection of contaminated surfaces with a household bleach solution (1 to 10 dilution) and prompt washing of soiled clothing in hot water. Food or water that is thought to be contaminated should be avoided.
CDC: Can viral gastroenteritis be prevented?
Persons can reduce their chance of getting infected by frequent handwashing, prompt disinfection of contaminated surfaces with household chlorine bleach-based cleaners, and prompt washing of soiled articles of clothing. If food or water is thought to be contaminated, it should be avoided.
Erin Hess Fitch: For more information about viral gastroenteritis, call your personal physician or the Hardee County Health Department at 863-773-4161. You may also visit the CDC Web site at

Friday, February 6, 2009

Strangest Feature of the Week

File this one in the folder tabbed Not News & Never Will Be. The Charlotte Sun plastered all its regional front pages Wednesday with this: Frugal nuptials. You be the judge:
...the bride and groom shopped locally, compared prices, and cut costs any way they could in order to cover their estimated $15,000 wedding budget [... and] used personal touches to decorate their reception, which was held at Hilton Longboat Key Beachfront Resort.

The rookie reporter is parsimonious with facts: she doesn't report how many people, exactly, the frugal bride wined and dined at the Hilton for a mere $15,000. The reporter is naive enough to forget that the major demographic feature of her paper's circulation area is us old folks -- for whom the typical Social Security annual income hovers around $13,000 a year. Frugal: neither bride nor reporter knows the meaning of the word.