Thursday, February 25, 2010

"DeSoto Viewpoint" Identical to Philadelphia Inquirer's

This morning's local editorial, apparently written by Paul Hoover (based on the names at the top of the page), opines that the country needs a law to "make it easier to find out who is paying for political ads in federal elections."

We couldn't agree more.

We also think it should be easier to find out who writes the local editorials because it's pretty clear that neither Hoover nor anyone else listed as being in charge of the Arcadian's editorial page actually wrote this one. Someone at the Philadelphia Inquirer did and published it a week ago.

Aside from the plagiarism -- putting your name on stuff you did not write -- it's strange that the Charlotte Sun's weekly insert for DeSoto County is spending space on advocacy that has nothing to do with any local issue. The editorial presented as Hoover's work speaks solely to federal elections and legislation introduced by a New York senator and a Maryland congressman.

DeSoto residents would be better served by reading opinions what won't be covered anywhere else -- the pros and cons of charter schools, aging water plants, and after-hours clubs, to name just three local issues. Hoover has a wealth of choices available for a dozen inches of "Our View."

Except the Inquirer's editorial staff didn't write about any of those things.

Before sending our daily press to the recycle bin, we must add to this post's categories "really bad taste," "questionable professional ethics," and "invasion of privacy:"

The editor who brought Gondolier readers a front page photograph of dead dogs, has now invaded the hospital room and privacy of a woman who was survived a car accident earlier this week.

Brooky Brown, “project editor,” apparently received an e-mail from the victim's “friend.” The victim's “friend” apparently had been allowed into an intensive-care unit and was glad to share the experience. The victim's “friend” writes a bizarre e-mail to update the woman’s acquaintances – which turns out to be merely the next stage in this lengthening series of lapses in professional judgment.

So, Brooky get the e-mail, and what does Brooky do? Publish it.

“... [she] is seriously injured and in intensive care. Her left arm is broken and in a cast. Her nose and some facial bones are broken. Her eyes are black and blue but OK, though the left one was swollen shut at the time. She has several stitches in her face and much bruising. Extensive surgery was performed on [her] right leg and there will be several more surgeries to the leg in the future. In fact, they will be doing surgery on Wednesday and Thursday.”

Quoting from one “friend’s” graphic e-mail that has brazenly invaded an accident victim's privacy isn't sufficient. But Brown needs more, say an e-mail written to family by the victim’s daughters (whom Brown calls "girls") describing their mother's broken sternum, facial reconstruction and the insertion of a plate.

And yes, Brooky gets this e-mail, too. And what does Brooky do? Publish it. In the newspaper, front page and jump. In the newspaper that's archived on the World Wide Web -- forever. Nice work, Brooky.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Let Us Now Get Titles Right and the Sources that Begat Them

"Now Let Us Praise Famous men" is the title of a factual book ... intones the editor of the Lake Placid Journal on this cheerful morning.

Sorry, George, it's not.

... he took the quotation from Ecclesiastes.

Sorry, George, he didn't. And, it should be noted, the "factual book" has two authors.

The title has its roots in quite different soil. It's called "Ecclesiasticus," a book much like Proverbs but not included in the King James version. It's not "canonical" among the Protestants. But that's a different blog.

What George probably didn't pick up on is that the phrase is attributed to Chapter 44. Ecclesiastes has only 12 chapters. (The danger of writing from quote finders is relying on them... but that's another blog).

And once we get the title right and get the source right, let's remember why the phrase is so evocative. Anyone who reads beyond the first half dozen words is unlikely to mess up the poetry or the power of what was left unsaid: "Let us now praise famous men and the fathers who begat us." It is the unfinished, unspoken, part that lends its power to this title's call to meditate on the unsung tenet farm families and the nature of journalism that unfold in Jame Agee's prose and Walker Evan's photos (the "factual book" George is trying to describe).

George will be a better editor when he learns to put his literary pretensions aside and just get on with the news. Those he is trying to praise may be moved to clip this little piece for their scrapbooks. But before the children they beget get to the praise of the fathers before them, they will have to wade through George's errors and ego.

Let's not even go into the strange juxtapostion of calling on this proverbial meditation that evokes humility and grace to praise a well-armed posse for pumping 22 rounds into a guy they were chasing on foot.

While George was having his little troubles, the tussle with Our Native Language continued over in the Big House where someone on the makeup desk last night wrestled with a cutline and the language lost.

Port Charlotte has plenty of activities for seniors both outdoors and indoors,
with even more clubs full of other seniors to get to know and attend events with.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Ruppel Plagiarizes -- apparently it's Wikipedia this time

About three weeks ago, Gondolier columnist Mary Kay Ruppel was caught red handed plagiarizing from several sources (see OWW for January 17, below). This weekend, her very next appearance on the Gondolier's editorial pages, Ruppel plagiarizes again.

This time, the source appears to be Wikipedia. So much in Wikipedia is plagiarized that it's entirely possible Ruppel simply uses the same unnamed sources as the Wikipedians. And so many people plagiarize from Wikipedia, that it's also possible that she is simply plagiarizing a plagiarizer.

Whatever. Ruppel's words are the identical; "her" ideas march in perfect order with that good book. And Ruppel makes no attempt to identify the source as anything other than her own fond memories (the column set-up is an old Better Homes and Gardens that carried the story of Kati Marton and her family -- her parents were journalists in Budapest and arrested by the Soviets -- which Ruppel also fails to identify in her nostalgic narrative, but that's another sin for another day.)

Here's the duplicitous chunk of Ruppel's column compared to that font of all knowledge.

Ruppel: “The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 was a spontaneous national-wide revolt against the Community government of Hungary and its Soviet imposed policies.”
Wikipedia: “The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 was a spontaneous national-wide revolt against the Community government of Hungary and its Soviet imposed policies.”

Ruppel: When it ended, more than 2,500 Hungarians and 722 Soviet troops had been killed and thousands more wounded.
Wikipedia: Over 2,500 Hungarians and 722 Soviet troops had been killed and thousands more were wounded.

Ruppel: In the wake of the revolution of 1989, The soviet troops started leaving Hungary.
Wikipedia: In the wake of the Revolutions of 1989, the soviet troops ... started leaving Hungary.

And the strangest part of her cut-and-paste operations is....

What she plagiarizes is general, common knowledge. The Soviet occupation of Hungary and decimation of Budapest are widely known events; they are part of our cultural, political, and social history. We've heard these things from scores of sources, from eye-witnesses to chapters in our history books. So, when writers refer to the events in order to make a point, they don't have to cite the source for general knowledge that has been described, reported, analyzed and interpreted in scores of sources, unless the writer is debating one particular account or correcting a fact. Every element Ruppel plagiarizes is part of her own general history and common cultural knowledge. She's allowed to report it without having to say she turned to Wikipedia to refresh her memory and get the dates right.

The problem is, Ruppel doesn't get it: The "it" part is where honest writers express general knowledge in own words. Ruppel plagiarized not because she used Wikipedia to refresh her memory and pick up a couple of numbers. She cheated when she stole the wording -- phrase for phrase, clause for clause, in Wiki order. Educated writers learn the art of paraphrase; they learn how to tell the story of history accurately, in their own words.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


Sun-Herald publisher David Dunn-Rankin has spent a lot of ink lately explaining why his editors do not edit the newspaper's Letters to the Editor. Unfortunately, his hands-off policy applies to columnists, too.

Want to ask Stephen King a Question?

Have you ever wanted to ask Stephen King a question? What scares him? What author inspired him? What’s your favorite ice cream?

First, no, this reader has never wanted to ask King a question. The writing technique -- asking silly questions that most readers will answer quite differently than the writer counts on -- is called “losing the audience.” However, readers who manage to wade through the trite followed by the inane get a little surprise: this columnist believes King can answer questions about readers' ice cream preferences.

The columnist goes on to assert that King is a man who has “impacted society more than any other living writer.” Let’s skip debating whether “impacted” is best reserved for describing asteroids and rotten teeth. Let’s get right to the assessment of King’s stature. But, sorry, there’s no well-crafted assessment, just another in the series of poorly crafted questions:

Anyone else frightened/disturbed/moved by old Plymouths, crazy dogs, freaky twins girls, the sound of a Big-Wheel crossing over hard floors and carpets, leeches, Rita Hayworth keeping a secret, psycho fans, clowns, etc.?

Slashes as punctuation? Fear of carpets?

Well, the morning’s featured columnist may be frightened/disturbed/moved by these impacts of literary litter, but, no, we are not.

Worse than the silly question is the columnist's quite-serious proposition embedded in it.

What has truly frightened/disturbed/moved this reader is the only newspaper in town is publishing rough drafts. And apparently, editors are proud of it.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Lake Placid Prognosticator Reports Without Sources

The headline predicts “Ethanol Plant Will be South of Lake Placid.”

Readers are right to wonder if there had been a debate about location and if city fathers have now settled the matter: “That plant won’t be north of the lake, dang it, we promise!”

The story mentions neither debate nor decision, so readers now are right to question which reliable source knows the plant will be south of the lake. No source is given in the reporter's Prognosticator's lede, nor in the second graf, or jump. OK, so the guy just knows this. It's not journalism, but it's all we have, so we'll press on.

Prognosticator buffs his crystal ball: More than 200 permanent, full-time jobs, plus $1.6 million worth of road construction contracts, are coming to the southwest corner of Highlands County, by way of an Ethanol plant that will be located six miles south of Lake Placid.

Who said this? No report. When was this decided? No report. When does construction start? No report. Why capitalize “Ethanol?” No copy editor. Nearly all the commas in the sentence are incorrect. We take back the part about "writing." Press on.

Second sentence: Seventy of those jobs, in the state’s first cellulosic ethanol plant, will pay at least $70,000 per year and include first-rate benefits.

Said who? No report. What’s “first-rate?” No opinion maker. When do jobs materialize? No report. Is a factory involved? Cellulosic? Ye gads. This gets curiouser and curiouser.

Third sentence: Also local companies will have the chance to bid on, with the county’s “local preference” advantage, contracts for road work and traffic signal installation totaling more than $1.6 million.

OK, in a nutshell: Who, what, when, where, why and how? (And, please, a copy editor, but that's clearly asking too much.)

As it happens, this interesting and significant local story has been developing in bits and pieces and fits and starts over the last two years or so. This story has real news to report – that is, what has transpired since LPJ last published a week ago -- and it has history to report given that not a word about it has been in the paper in at least three months (maybe more -- the archives are constipated).

Let's guess that the actual news -- the new stuff -- is that a local-government roads engineer (the only one interviewed for the story) now has permission, money, men and whatever to start on his slice of the project, probably soliciting bids if we read between the lines. The engineer might have something helpful to say about bids, detours, construction or something -- right? Wrong.

There is more, but it's not about the engineer and his road building mandate. Instead, Prognosticator trots out information about hefty wages, numerous jobs, stunning factory capacity, ambitious building plans – just to rattle of a few issues – and attributes none of it.

It doesn't take long for the interested reader to locate a well-thumbed 93-page agenda item from the commissioner's meeting last week, including some planning proposals associated with the plant. It's filed in city hall and on the Web , but Prognosticator needn't read or attribute.

Even a cursory skim through the document finds not a single number or figure that Prognosticator reports matches what's published in the document. Discrepancies are sometimes small; sometimes not. Are the differences Prognosticator's errors, typos, "variations due to rounding," or new information from unidentified sources?

This reader likes to be clear when reports about wages, hiring, production and so on are estimates from a company management with a vested interest in selling its factory -- a cane-burning and processing plant that's more than a year away from its estimated first day of work.

Lake Placid deserves a reporter who “gets it:” The pitch is to investors, grant-givers (of which there are several) and local burghers. The big picture includes a several-hundred-thousand acre land-lease and sale transaction to one area farmer.

Old Word Wolf is not implying that building a local ethanol plant is a bad idea – it may well be the best thing to hit Highlands since the Presbyterians moved in.

But the reporter Prognosticator has failed local journalism and embarrassed himself in public.