Monday, January 31, 2011

All Children are Male

The Charlotte Sun's executive editor reports that he dropped by a local elementary school to read to the kids. Apparently all the children he met were boys. Here's the editor's summation:

If a child doesn't get interested in reading at an early age, it becomes more difficult as he get's older. ... the trick is finding something that will spark his interest. ... take him to the library ... let him pick out some books ... find magazines he may like ....

The saddest part about Chris Porter's clueless sexism and offensive stereotyping is no one on the copy desk dared to correct a senior editor. Male privilege, perhaps. No, the really saddest part is Porter himself couldn't be bothered to revise and polish. Simply couching the passage in the plural ("... if children aren't interested ... spark their interest ..." etc.) wouldn't leave out half the school's pupils.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Correspondent Gets it Wrong

A lot has gone wrong with the "science" and "medicine" that Liliane Parbot-Johnson gushes in today's "Feeling Fit" feature about North Port's Warm Mineral Springs.

Parbot-Johnson's reporting for the Charlotte Sun newspaper flies the usual red flags, but one of its larger alerts stems from the writer's careless use of superlatives, her naïve acceptance of what someone says, her failure to attribute, and her decision to not check claims. Parbot-Johnson's "stoopid science" begins with the headline that picks up her essay's flawed, main theme: swimming in mineral water cures what ails you. But there's more than a Lourdes mentality working here. She rewrites history without so much as a nod to a credible source.

During the 1970s', the mineral springs, she reports, became the site of archaeological research:

During that decade, archeological research done by the state of Florida resulted in making Florida the oldest area inhabited by human beings in the Western Hemisphere. Previously, the title had been held by Mexico, but at Warm Mineral Springs, human remains were recovered from an underwater shelf.

Ignoring the illogical last clause, we ran an Internet search, turning up several reports of the area's archaeology, centered at nearby Little Salt Spring. George Wisner writing for "Mammoth Trumpet" reports scientists believe a Stone Age hunter enjoyed a meal of turtle at this site about 12,000 years ago. Other artifacts at the spring include a 7,000-year old greenstone pendant, and a carved spear handle believed to be between 8,000 and 9,000 years old.

Impressive -- but hardly the oldest artifacts in the Western Hemisphere that Parbot-Johnson claims, all on her own without attribution. Here are just a couple of recent reports:

One of the oldest radiocarbon-dated sites in North America is along the Savannah River, Allendale County, S.C. Albert Goodyear, a University of South Carolina professor, says findings suggest this site, called Topper, "is the oldest radiocarbon dated site in North America. However, other early sites in Brazil and Chile, as well as a site in Oklahoma also suggest that human were in the Western Hemisphere as early as 30,000 years ago ..."

In 2009, University of Colorado anthropologist Douglas Bamforth, identified 83 artifacts that have been dated to "nearly 13,000 years ago" found by a Boulder, Colo., landscaping crew under a customer's front lawn.

It's hard to tell from her sloppy reporting, but OWW believes Parbot-Johnson has confused the country of Mexico with the state of New Mexico. The prevailing theory that the first humans arrived in the Americas about 12,000 years ago is based on a famous archaeological dig near Clovis, New Mexico.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Columnist Burns Newspaper's Credibility

Steve Sachkar, a newspaper general manager and sometime biz-column compiler, seems to think that embedding "... he said" into a wildly improbable -- and false -- claim is sufficient and responsible reporting. It's not.

Sachkar is promoting a man who cleans clothes dryer vents. He writes: "Roger Frechette Sr. .... states that dryer vent fires are the No. 1 cause of fire in the country." No, they aren't.

Sachkar's photo invites OWW's estimate of his age at somewhere near the mid-century point: old enough to know better. Working in a news environment, he surely has heard phrases such as "fact check" and "verify," or perhaps "biased, unreliable source." It seems almost willful for him to ignore such a fishy sounding claim from a man whose livlihood depends on frightening the bejezus out of people.

So, what are the leading causes of fire in the country? According to the Quincy, Mass.,-based National Fire Protection Association, in the five-year period ended in 2007, cooking fires accounted for 40 percent of home fires followed by heating equipment (18 percent), intentional fires (8 percent), electrical equipment (6 percent), and smoking (5 percent). The association lumps washers and dryers together to arrive at a figure of 4 percent -- sixth ranked, at best. Other fire-data collection sources provide similar information. None rank dryer-vent fires as a "leading cause," much less the No. 1 cause.

Sachkar's credibility has gone up in smoke. We suggest the general manager remove "reporting" from his list of things to do.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Almost the Same Isn't the Same

Vencie Gondolier's features page today is largely "correspondent" Francine Milford's piece describing a local marathon runner as a "retired New York policeman." In fact, there's no such thing as a New York policeman, retired or otherwise. Police are municipal employees. Milford apparently doesn't know that New York is a state, not a municipality.

Her subject is a retired Colonie, N.Y., policeman. Colonie is a municipality -- a town. Does it matter? Only to those who care about accuracy in journalism. Milford doesn't. Her editors didn't. Well, we do.

We also care about a well-written sentence, so it's always amusing -- in a painful kind of way -- to turn to Lake Placid's Journal Editor, George Duncan, for his unique syntax, spelling and punctuation. When Duncan writes about literacy, his typos, errors, and fundamental mistakes add an amusing layer of irony:

Literacy Week will continue until Jan. 28 and to celebrate students at the Lake Placid High School are being challenged to read one (or more) out of five books offered in this pro-reading week. ...

"October Sky” is the true story of a West Virginia boy who grew up to become NASA scientist and has been made into a movie. ...

In “Generation Dead,” high school students die but come back to life and become a unique branch of humanity, and is meant as a take of tolerance. ...

" ... Domino’s have been gracious enough to donate the pizzas ..."

" ... Teaching a work of literatrue ..."

" ... the revision of Mark Twain classic book "Huckleberry Finn."

George, "Huckleberry Finn" is not the book's correct title! Elsewhere in the story you refer to a football as "oval shaped." No, not so.)

The headline says that students will participate in literacy week. We hope the newspaper editors consider participating, as well.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Keyboards Have " Keys; Real Journalists Use Them

People who fail to use quotation marks around the words of others are plagiarists. Roger Button fails to put quotation marks around the words of others. Roger Button is a plagiarist.

Button, a business columnist for the Venice Gondolier, writes as if journalism's rules for quoting sources do not apply to him.

Plagiarism is just one of Button's problems. The front-page, copy-desk written headline says "Economist sees recovery in 2011." The story says 2012.

But the rest of the story isn't very accurate, either.

Accuracy: The document Button copies from says Florida's economy is measured at "three-quarters of a trillion dollars." Button rounds that up to $1 trillion -- a $250 million error.

Accuracy: The document Button copies from says 2011 housing starts "will waver between 44,000 and 50,000." Button changes that to "between 40,000 and 50,000."

Accuracy: The report author's title -- according to Button -- is "director of economic competitiveness." Button leaves out the keyword "Institute" and fails to correctly capitalize the organization's proper name.

Transparency: Button quotes the dean of the institution as if there had been an interview. The quote is a direct lift from the report's foreward.

Back to Button's plagiarism: : The highlights in the screen shot are the unattributed sentences and phrases Button culls from the original report and offers up to Gondolier's readers as his own work.

Real journalists know where the quote-mark key is on their keyboards.