Thursday, June 9, 2011

Questionable Queries

The best editors have a general aversion to headlines that ask questions. Their dislike stems from the interrogative mood's journalistic short comings: Question heds fail to inform, reflect story content, illuminate, account for answers that could go either way, or display the spirit of investigation that local reporters are famous for (OK, now I'm making stuff up).

Charlotte Sun Managing Editor John Hackworth doesn't actually use a question hed, but instead creates an entire column out of random questions. In doing this, he manages to mutate the ask from a journalistic tool into absurdity's stratosphere. He lines up 21 unrelated What's, How's and Did'ja's: "Did you know that even New Jersey is miles ahead of Florida when it comes to cultivating renewable energy?" That gem is 18th, coming half a dozen bullet points after "Have you heard Josh Blattner is back selling cars at Harbor Nissan?"

But those are goldfish in a teacup, shooting fish-wise. Old Word Wolf has time for only one -- Hackworth's leading question, so to speak: "How much power does state Sen. Mike Bennett have over how Florida redraws its congressional districts as he prepares a campaign to run for Congress?

Hackworth's question is vitally important, deeply condescending, and delivered with a fine touch of arrogance. His salvo ignores that most readers in these parts (the senator's district lies some miles north of this newspaper's circulation area) might require a cup of context in order to appreciate its complexities and potential array of reasonable answers. When a senior editor tosses a question like this on the table and then sprints away to ask readers if they've had a water massage at his advertiser's spa, the newsman is contributing to the confusion, not aiding a well-informed citizenry.

Most obvious at first glance ("Calling a copy editor!"), Hackworth withholds the basics every good reporter includes in a story's first or second mention of a pol: party affiliation, district, key legislative position (For Bennett, that would be Republican, District 21-Bradenton, Manatee County, Florida Senate president pro tempore). But worse, Hackworth's lofty query squints down his very long editorial nose at lowly readers -- we who have not been informed of Bennett's congressional aspiration or his role in redistricting** by merely reading the Charlotte Sun or the DeSoto Sun or The Lake Placid Journal -- or any other SCMG paper (assuming its search engine works. I could be wrong on this.)

Hackworth's question refers to (I think) the term-limited senator's recent admission to Herald-Tribune reporter Jeremy Wallace.

In order to have a shot at the federal house seat, Bennett said that if redistricting doesn't put his Bradenton home in the 11th, then he's moving. If he can run in the 11th, he would face U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa. That's likely to be easier than a fight on his current home turf, where the federal house key hangs around the neck of fellow Republican Vern Buchanan.

"If I have to relocate, then I will relocate," Bennett told the Sarasota paper's newsman. For all we know,the editor of the Charlotte Sun may also have been present when the senator said that. But Hackworth's not telling -- he's just asking. And, assuming -- the arrogance of knowing we all can infer "the right answer" as he sees it.


** Pray tell, John. Bennett's not listed as a member of the five-week series of statewide summer public meetings on redistricting, or a member of the key committees on the issue. We dearly want to know what you think you know about this. Bennett was a key player in Governor Scott's Spring Massacre. Is that the parlay?


  1. The DeSoto Sun has not existed for more than a year. It was replaced in Oct. 2009 by the weekly Arcadian.

  2. Anonymous is right, of course. For more than a year, SCMG gives its DeSoto County subscribers a dead-tree daily in their driveways that runs second-day Englewood, third-day North Port and a smattering of Charlotte news. However, when we log in for our "e-edition," the link clearly says "DeSoto Sun."