Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Today's Grammar Bit

When a sentence's subject is two things, its verb is plural. A reporter who writes about middle-school literacy should learn this. After all, your newspaper doesn't employ copy editors anymore and it is the story's first sentence.

"Literacy and the joy of recreational reading was a focus at Port Charlotte Middle School ... " **Were

Thursday, March 25, 2010

We'll Let You Know ...

Two pictures, one cutline: There was a three car pile-up, literally, on State Road 27 last Wednesday. However, due to computer problems and other difficulties, the Lake Placid Police Department has not yet issued an official report on the accident.

Now, Old Word Wolf has always believed that reporters were supposed to report. Here's a reporter with camera in hand on the scene -- and she/he can't figure out how to tell readers the most basic facts. For example, where on the 600-mile-long State Road 27 this happened, when last Wednesday (eight days ago) did this happen, and did rescue services show up at this unnamed intersection with a pedestrian crossing? Even with a trusty LPJ reporter with camera in hand -- and a publisher standing by ready to print the story -- readers can't be informed whether traffic was halted, if three drivers alone or passengers were involved -- not a single element that might consititute news rates one drop of ink.

All readers get is the pathetic, sad report that a reporter with camera in hand can't report what happened until the cops find a computer that works. OWW is dying to know what the part about "other difficulties" might be ...

OWW usually skips typos, common grammar trips and usage faults, but the editors at “Let’s Go,” the regional entertainment tab for Sun newspapers, have become so sloppy that they really ought to consider hiring an actual copy editor.

Kim Cool reports her visit to Morrocco, and Sharie Derrickson reports a local bistro owner “uses his refined pallet for wine to help accent each dish.” The same writer uses the power of the press to immortalize the observation that “We are from different countries; I am from Europe and he is from Brazil.” An alert, sensitive reporter would have paraphrased the information to avoid making a perfectly nice lady look really silly in print.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Yes, Copying Program Notes Counts as Plagiarism

“Correspondent” John Lawhorne reports a wonderful story in this week’s Arcadian about a family that hired musician Joel Raney to score an anthem in honor of their mother’s half century as a church musical director.

Lawhorne's page-10 opus lumbers along in his unmistakable style, freighted with passive voice (“... was taken up and promoted...,” “a fee was agreed on...,” “.... anthem was recorded...,” “anthem was presented...” “Raney was invited...” “March 21 was agreed ...” “the anthem will be heard...”) and regimented to insure almost every paragraph marches onstage to the uniform beat of article-noun, article-noun, article-noun (“The concert ...” , “The presentation ...” “The concert ...,” “The family...” “The project...,” “The score...,” “The family...,” “The idea...,” The anthem...” “The surprise,...” “The family...” “The anthem ...”).

And so when Lawhorne's flat-footed shuffle through the language suddenly bumps into a bright spot, the reader alerts: Whence cometh this refreshing, vigorous prose? And so suddenly, in the midst of the obligatory bio?

In Lawhorne’s case, the brightest prose seems to have come directly from a brochure that he copied -- not quite word for word, but almost -- almost enough to be charged with plagiarism.

Last August, a Pittsburgh, Pa., company called "Volkwein's Music" left a pretty green brochure lying around the Internet. Volkwein's brochure may not be the source of Lawhorne's plagiarism; more likely both Lawhorne and the nice folks at Volkwein had a bio sheet from Raney's publicist. Volkwein used the curriculum vitae to create a brochure; Lawhorne used it as his own by-lined work. One is publicity and promotion; the other is plagiarism.

Lawhorne: After receving his master of music degree in piano performance from The Julliard School in New York, Raney went on to work as a musical director and conductor for numerous Broadway and off-Broadway productions.

Volkwein: .... went on to receive his master of music degree in piano performance from the Julliard School in New York. After graduation, he worked as a musical director and conductor for numerous Broadway and Off-Broadway productions.

Lawhorne: He owns Catfish Music, a music production company in Chicago that produces music for televsion and radio commercials for major companies.

Volkwein: ... Joel currently owns a music production company in Chicago, Catfish Music, where he and a team of composers create music for televison and radio commercials.

Lawhorne: Raney is an editor for Hope Publishing Company in Carol Stream, Illinois.

Volkwein: Joel is an editor at Hope Publishing Company in Carol Stream, Illinois.

Lawhorne: He serves as artist-in residence at the first Presbyterian Church in River Forest, Illinois where he plays regularly for the services and composes for the choirs and ensembles.

Volkwein: He currently serves as artist-in-residence at the First Presbyterian Church in River Forest, Illinois, where he plays regularly for the services and composes for the choirs and ensembles.

The final give-away that Lawhorne copied someone else's paragraphs into the middle of his story is those ideas appear in exactly the same order as his source materials.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Kleinlein's Crimes Against Journalism: Plagiarism, Racism, Irrelevance

Enough of Ken Kleinlein's "Crime Scene" column. He has already been exposed for basing his last effort on fiction, urban myth and e-mails from friends of friends. Surely Gondo editors would simply give his silliness a quick tap with their delete key.

Not so. This week, he rates almost half the page 6 news hole. Here's what Venice subscribers had thrown on their porches yesterday morning:

A "story" with no source. An actual editor would ask Kleinlein what organization gathered the data showing “murders of police officers have increased dramatically.” Kleinlein didn't wake up yesterday morning knowing this. He read it somewhere. He took notes. He folded his source's information into his column under his by-line. He did not tell editors or readers where the information came from. That's stealing -- an ethical felony called plagiarism.

Kleinlein knows very well stealing stuff is wrong. When he uses information he got from sources that he does not acknowledge, his column becomes the crime scene. His editors know that. But they choose to overlook it for the boys in blue.

Readers also got a "story" with no time frame. An actual editor would ask Kleinlein what time periods his sources compared to arrive at his claim that numbers are “on the rise.” Every journalism 101 student knows how to compare this month’s numbers with the “same period last year,” or similar. Kleinlein doesn’t – and local readers deserve better.

Why 1971-1981? An actual editor would ask Kleinlein why he dredges up a decade that ended 30 years ago and uses it to claim “a number” of the period's LEO deaths are the work of “The Black Liberation Army.” Readers deserve better than Kleinlein's racism.

An actual editor would ask Kleinlein to identify the sources of the “answers” he concocts to the loaded, biased, straw man question he uses to frame the rest of his “story:” What contributes to “this senseless and psychotic behavior?” Readers deserve more than his senseless speculation.

An actual editor would ask Kleinlein why the anecdotal reports from New York, Pennsylvania, California? The closest he gets to his publisher’s circulation area is the Florida Panhandle – 400 miles north.

And, one last thing: What does John Wayne have to do with anything?

C’mon guys. If you need filler, surely there’s a nice press release from a hard-working organization or agency that might actually relate to your readership. Kleinlein’s ego-piece is clearly an embarrassment – he just hasn’t figured that out yet.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Your Turn ....


TOP OP ED FOR Friday, March 5:

Building and maintaining the road to success
By Robert T. Halfhill
Halfhill is director of the Charlotte County public works department.

xxxxxA road is an identifiable route or path that is typically smoothed, paved, or otherwise prepared to allow easy travel. Road building and maintenance is an area of economic activity that remains dominated by the public sector, though often through private contractors. Except for those on private property, roads are typically paid for by taxes which are often raised through levies on fuel. Some public roads, especially freeways, are funded by tolls.


xxxxxIn unincorporated Charlotte County, the interconnected roadway system is maintained by the public works department. The department concentrates on construction, maintenance, renovation and resurfacing. Maintenance crews work throughout Charlotte County maintaining public roads. Maintenance includes shoulder repair, pothole patching, sign and stripe renewal, signal repair, surveying, bridge repair and right of way trimming and mowing.
xxxxx Public works employees take road maintenance seriously. When you are traveling about Charlotte County and hit a bump in the road you usually dismiss it as simply a bump. When a public works employee hits a bump in the road the next thought is usually “I need to fix that.”


Top story on the local front:

Top story on the local front:

[... ] The remains of a second bomb were found inside the mailbox. Both apparently exploded while the man was inside.


The acid bomb was also filled with BB pellets. Kolba said he believed it was the first occurrence of metal fragments inside a homemade bomb.

And from the closing thoughts in today's editorial: "Just remember, the mythic Pony Express operated for only 18 months..."
MYTHIC: fictitious, imaginary, not historical.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Punta Gorda Preacher Plagiarizes Red Sox Pitcher

Peace River Baptist Church minister Jim Stultz preaches from a largely plagiarized column in the Charlotte Sun this morning: “Moment of Meditation: Playing hurt.”

Last October, Red Sox pitcher Curt Shilling produced a five-year anniversary memoir about a game in which he “played hurt.” And this week, Stultz – who titles himself “Reverend” – was hurting for a topic suitable for his weekly finger-wagger, a popular genre in these parts.

Schilling's editor wrote a headnote to the pitcher’s nostalgia piece as background. Reverend Stultz copied it word for word, then pasted the editor’s paragraph onto the top of his own “meditation.” Next, the Man of God sent his plagiarized “meditation” to local newspaper editors – who surely were trusting the preacher to write his own stuff – so they could publish the item with a photo and byline as if it were Stultz’s own work.

And, after blatantly stealing the editor’s carefully crafted introduction, Good Brother Stultz went on to steal key lines and phrases from Schilling’s memoir.

Although Jim Stultz is not the first Christian in these parts who has found it acceptable to steal the work and words of others, we hope he is the last to get published in the newspaper, where this sort of sectarian evangelizing ("...if Schilling was able to gut out that game ... shouldn't we be able to play hurt for our Lord...?")has absolutely no place in a newspaper.

Here's the play by play:

Rev Jim stultz: On Oct. 19, 2004, Major League pitcher Curt Schilling delivered one of the most amazing performances of his career. sports editor: On Oct. 19, 2004, Curt Schilling delivered one of the most memorable performances of his career.

Rev. Jim Stultz: He allowed one run in seven innings in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees. sports editor: He allowed one run in seven innings in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees after having a dislocated tendon in his right ankle sutured into place.

Rev. Jim Stultz: The Red Sox’s 4-2 Win positioned the team for a winner-take-all Game 7 in Yankee Stadium. sports editor: The Red Sox’ 4-2 win positioned the team for a winner-take-all game 7 in Yankee Stadium.

Rev. Jim Stultz: The Sox won that game, completing an unprecedented comeback from a 3-0 series deficit en route to the franchise’s first World Series title in 86 years. The amazing thing about his game was that he pitched after having a dislocated tendon in his right angle sutured into place the night before. sports editor: The Sox won that game, completing an unprecedented comeback from a 3-0 deficit en route to the franchise’s first World Series title in 86 years.
Rev. Jim Stultz: Shilling noticed in about the fifth or sixth inning, that the sole of his shoe and his sock were soaked with blood.
And, Curt Schilling, expressing his own memory of the game: "... I noticed, in about the fifth or sixth inning that the sole of my shoe and my sock were soaked with blood."

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Wouldn't You Prefer a Word Processor?

The lede: Because James Abraham wanted to demystify the process of writing and publishing a book, he decided to the first Dearborn Street Book Festival.

Can We Run a Correction?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Nothing to Report Except Plagiarism and a Misrepresented Source

The banner headline screams "Gang activity." The reporter inquires at local cop shops. The findings are prominently displayed in the last leg or two of type, deep in the page 4 jump.

"In Charlotte County, gang activity is not much of an issue," the spokesman says. OK, we'll go with that. This is good.

Over in DeSoto County, sheriff's deputies had a couple of training days and a database beeps when it finds a gang member's name. Good, good; no problem.

In North Port, more training. "They relay the information to fellow officers," the reporter manages to pry out of her source. Good; everyone is on the job.

Another officer says he keeps a list of names and addresses. North Port police report gang activity at a school "about five years ago," and they hopped right on it, The Sun's investigation-by-editor uncovers. We're glad for that.

So what's the news? Well, tucked at the end of the story's fourth graf -- pretty near the top of the story -- News Editor Elaine Allen-Emrich says Florida State Attorney General Bill McCollum announces southwest Florida houses "more than 50 gangs with more than 2,000 members."

Now we've got news! Well,not really. The news-editor-turned-investigative-reporter has dusted off a press release that's more than a year old. McCollum posted his shocker on a Web site in November 2008, back when the state was establishing a gang-reduction task force.

Despite shopworn information, no task force updates are forthcoming from Ms. Investigative-Editor-Turned-Reporter even though her headline bugles "Gang activity seeps into area."

If the story is there's no gang problem because everyone's on top of things, that headline can mean only one thing: The kids on the copy desk continue to make stuff up even though we've mentioned several times that this is a no-no.

Now, there may be a gang or two in Sarasota, but Officer Kim Swatts sidesteps the issue. Instead, she explains there are two types of gangs (Hmmm; didn't we read this on the Internet?), some traditional and some not (could swear we read this in one of those parents-be-warned brochures). But Swatt continues on and Investigative Reporter Tells It Like It Is: Some gangs are "like family;" some don't get along and others do. They tend to commit crimes against each other. (Sorry, Swatts, this is not news -- but not your fault. News is the reporter's job.)

Swatts goes on to list gang-related crime on her Sarasota beat: robberies, drive-bys, fights, gun and drug trafficking, homicide. "You name it, they do it," is her summary. (OK, I will: stock fraud, bank embezzlement, insider trading, orphan kidnapping. I can name lots of stuff so I guess that's included too, right? Now, if you've got some data? Can we get a report on whether the numbers of gang homicides are up or down from last year? Any data on whether gangs are seeping more but enjoying it less, maybe? )

So where's the data on these crimes? The reporter never asks. Is gang crime increasing or decreasing -- either of which would be a dandy reason for the morning paper's 65-incher. Maybe something has changed in the 15 months since Smiling Bill launched that gang-reduction program. Or, if nothing's changed, where'd all the funding go? For heaven's sake, tell us some real, genuine, actual news, Elaine!

Yes, yes: our headine promises a scoop on Allen-Emrich's plagiarism, but first things first. We mean that lede: "Selling drugs equals money. Money equals power and power is everything to gang members."

Very catchy. But not news because there's nary a word in the article (that's longer than I am tall) about who is formulating the kick-off equation. Readers are promised gangs, money and power -- and seeping, if one believes the headline. News Editor Allen-Emrich preps readers for news and abandons them (to their own private musings: "I spend 75 cents for this? Talk about a shakedown by the Dunn-Rankin gang!).

Time for one more failure to deliver? Instead of delivering news, she writes one more feature tease: "Surely there's no "Bloods" living in the area. Wrong answer." Again, no report ever materializes that Bloods live and walk among us.

OK, so we have pretty much the usual troika: A headline to sell papers out of the box but which has nothing to do with the story. It's made up. And, a story that uses ink and paper but generates no light. And finally, a "news editor" trying to get to the bottom of what could be a genuine story, but seems unable to marshal the basic skills of journalism: interviewing, researching, reporting and honest writing. By which, we mean:

The plagiarism. And, for extra measure, a dose of a mischaracterizing a source and misrepresenting its information:

Elaine Allen-Emrich writes at the top of page 4: Today’s definition of a youth gang is an anti-social, loosely organized group of three or more individuals between ages 11 and 24. They frequent a specific territory, have identifying colors, names, similar speech patterns, identifying marks or tattoos, hairstyles, wear the same clothing, use mannerisms or hand signs and engage in activity for money, respect, or to enhance their reputation.

The Web site Fit American MD writes: Today, gangs are described as “an anti-social, loosely organized group of two or more individuals, usually between the ages of eleven and twenty-four, who frequent a specific territory, adopt similar clothes, mannerisms and speech, and engage in delinquent or criminal activity for money, respect or reputation.”

The Web site uses quotation marks as if it has a source for the information, but does not provide it. A keyword search finds no other Web page using that wording in that order -- except Elaine Allen-Emirch and Fit America -- which is pretty much defunct except for this stray page.

The plagiarism is bad, but the news editor's misuse of a source and data is just plain sad.

Allen-Emrich reports a group called Fight Crime Invest in Kids is a nonprofit made up of "more than 5,000 police chiefs." No it isn't.

Fight Crime: Invest in Kids describes its membership as “made up of more than 5,000 police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors, other law enforcement leaders and violence survivors.” That’s a very different membership base than the news editor reports.

Emrich needs to mention the organization because she reports it's the source for the factoid that "preventing just one teen from adopting a life of crime could save the country between $1.7 million and $2.3 million."

Emrich can't say whether the millions would be saved in a day, week, month, year or over the lifetime of the saved child because the lobbying group she relied on for the info doesn't say either. In fact what the lobbying group does say is that its information is part of a research study, Meth Abuse Threatens More Crime in Rural Oregon.

Allen-Emrich couldn't find relevant numbers or data about gangs in our little town, so she inserts data from a white paper about meth in rural Oregon. No wonder we call this "sad." Yes, Something is seeping here, and it's not gangs.