Thursday, August 2, 2012

No, It Doesn't

Charlotte Sun editors over at the weekly tab continue to print articles that they don't fact check -- but that's not news.  The news is that local lawyer Paul Bennet Seusy is rewriting the U.S. Constitution.  Seusy, who claims to have graduated from an actual law school, places quotation marks around language that he attributes directly to the14th Amendment.  His advice to grandparents seeking visitation and custody is that the the U.S. Constitution bars states from passing laws that interfere with the fundamental right of individuals to "establish a home and bring up their children."

 Arcadian editors apparently have not bothered to read any of the 14th Amendment's seven sentences (about 425 words). The words "home," and the phrase 'bring up their children" do not appear.

Here's a digest: The 14th amendment's first section explains who is a citizen (anyone born in the United States, with a couple of exceptions), and  includes the due-process clause, which says that persons cannot be deprived "life, liberty or property" without it.  Section 2 explains who is counted when deciding how many representatives a state can send to Congress (whole persons, not 3/5ths of anyone).  Section 3 bars persons who give "aid or comfort" to the nation's enemies from being elected a to the Senate or House of Representatives (although it says Congress can "remove such disability" with an appropriate vote).  Section 4 says it's OK to pay and pension persons who put down rebellions, but adds that states are not obligated to pay for "any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave."  And finally, section 5 simply says that the Congress shall enforce the provisions in this amendment.

Grandparents?  No mention.
Establishing a home? No mention.
Bringing up baby? No mention.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

"Businews" Writer Roger Button Plagiarizes News Release, Makes Up Other Stuff

The long-standing business columnist at the Venice Gondolier put his byline on a news release earlier this week -- a word-for-word copy of substantial paragraphs that appear on an advertising company's website -- and then ran it on the newspaper's Wednesday business page under a headline and byline that were clearly intended to represent the purloined work as his own.  And, the part that the ethically challenged "newsman" didn't plagiarize appears to be a fiction that he created without source or substance.

Roger Button, who has been writing for the Sun Coast Media Group paper for decades, joins a long list of that publishing group's plagiarists -- reporters, editors and contributors who tell themselves it's OK to copy what others have written, omit standard acknowledgement in the form of quotation marks and attribution, and then pass the mess along to readers as their own work.

copied from the company news release:

We build marketing campaigns that connect with consumers and generate out of this world attention for businesses. If you have a company or know someone that has one, spread the word .... we're game changers. CLICK HERE to see how we can make a big impact.
We're looking for houses to paint. In fact, paint is an understatement. We're looking for homes to turn into billboards. In exchange, we'll pay your mortgage every month for as long as your house remains painted. 
Here are a few things we're looking for. You must own your home. It cannot be rented or leased. We'll paint the entire outside of the house, minus the roof, the windows and any awnings. Painting will take approximately 3 - 5 days. Your house must remain painted for at least one month and may be extended up to a year. If, for any reason, you decide to cancel after one month or if we cancel the agreement with you, we'll repaint your house back to the original colors.
If you're prepared to splash ads on your home just submit the application form below. You can post home photos on our Facebook page. We review every application. If your home has the 'it' factor a team member will reach out to you.
The only part of the article that didn't come from the news release or website is Button's unsubstantiated claim that the advertising tactic is creating "headaches" for "local governments."  Button does not identify which local governments he is referring to.  Neither does he verify the headache he reports.  In addition to plagiarism, Button seems comfortable with fiction -- making stuff up.  

Monday, April 16, 2012

Patrick Farino Plagiarizes the Same Letter as Agnes Howard

Today's bizarro is the same as Agnes Howard's plagiarism a few months ago.  Patrick J. Farino of Punta Gorda appears to have plagiarized the bulk of his libel from "Craig Daily Press," a right wing nut diatribe that sullied the 'Net back in January.  What is it about this letter that's so alluring to Punta Gorda's tea baggers that they want to plagiarize it twice?

More importantly, why isn't the Charlotte Sun letters-page editor recognizing that Patrick Farino's plagiarism is not the writer's own twisted fantasy?  I mean, how often does a reference to Nikita Krushchev come up these days?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Editor's Judgment: Cat Rates Lede and 6-Col Hed on National Page

Charlotte Sun editors didn't get the memo:  The Internet was invented to publish cat stories so newspapers wouldn't have to.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Remember When News Wasn't All About the Reporter?

Once upon a time, reporters weren't the news. Long ago, reporters told readers about community and world events. Reporter Brenda Barbosa's dislike of Ferris wheels and tall ladders wouldn't have qualified for either category.  But that was then, and now the headline is "Nervous Sun reporter tries hand at flying."  Barbosa's conversion from "scaredy-cat" to "wanna go 'Top Gun'" warrants front page play, with art, with a jump, and six more pix, most of which feature -- the reporter!

But in case readers missed that the story is bereft of news and all about the reporter, Sun page designers ran the same picture of the pretty young woman twice.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

If You Didn't Write it, Don't Put Your Byline on It

It's that simple: If you didn't write it, don't put your byline on it.  Even if you changed a couple of words, you still didn't write it, so don't put your byline on it. For example, don't put your byline on a news release that the sheriff's department sends to television stations, a half-dozen newspapers in the region and its own website  --  it's going to become evident to everyone in town that you put your byline on stuff you didn't write. The lede, "The Highlands County Sheriff's Office is requesting the public's assistance in locating three missing, endangered juveniles" brings up 39 results in Google.  After OWW does her thing, that'll be 40.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

One-Source Reporting: Massage Therapist Speaks for World Health Organization

Barbara Bean Mellinger’s “Feeling Fit” reporting this week stumbled into the one-source trap.  Mellinger also tripped over the biased narrator trap.  Then she fell into the lazy trap.   All this happened the moment Mellinger told herself, in her role as reporter, that she can best serve Sun Coast Media Group subscribers by relying on a massage therapist to report what World Health Organization says about acupuncture.

That massage therapist told Mellenger that WHO  recognizes acupuncture as a treatment for 43 conditions. No, it doesn’t.

WHO asked acupuncturists who attended a 1979 conference in Bejing to list conditions they treated with the method. That's where the 43-disease list comes from.  That list -- now more than 30 years old -- has nothing to do with WHO endorsing or recommending these treatments.  It has everything to do with what motivated a particular group of belief-based, spiritual and shamanistic “healers” to stick needles a third-of-a-century ago  into people, hoping to make them feel better (and when the placebo effect kicked in, it probably did -- the epitome of treating a symptom instead of a cause).  And the list itself should give anyone pause simply because it ranges from cancer to psychiatric illnesses – disorders that have such widely varying mechanisms and triggers that it’s beyond credulity that one treatment would address them all.
When Mellinger fails to confirm the local businesswoman's claims by visiting the WHO website herself, she misses the organization’s August 2010 bulletin:  "Acupuncture-related adverse reactions" include collapsed lung, cardiac irregularity, spinal cord injury, and viral hepatitis, local pain from needling, bleeding, hematoma, death, organ trauma, hospital admission.   The bulletin noted that the adverse events occurring in 6.7 percent to 15 percent of patients.
  Nothing replaces going to the source in good reporting.  But there is a well-vetted, generalist's website that explains all this in layman’s terms,  "Science Based Medicine."   Anyone writing for a health publication would do well to understand what the phrase "science based" means.
“The consensus of the best clinical studies on acupuncture show that there is no specific effect of sticking needles into acupuncture points. Choosing random points works just as well, as does poking the skin with toothpicks rather than penetrating the skin with a needle to elicit the alleged “de qi”. The most parsimonious interpretation of the evidence is that the needles (i.e. acupuncture itself) are superfluous — any perceived benefit comes from the therapeutic interaction. This has been directly studied, and the evidence suggests that the way to maximize the subjective effects from the ritual of acupuncture is to enhance the interaction with the practitioner, and has nothing to do with the acupuncture itself. Acupuncture is a clear example of selling a specific procedure based entirely on non-specific effects from the therapeutic interaction — a good bedside manner and some hopeful encouragement.
And, to make the "Feeling Fit" tab look particularly stoopid this week, the issue includes Laura Korman, a chiropractor, selling spinal adjustments for "subluxations"  that cure deafness and scoliosis -- to name only a few of the disorders she identifies as treatable with chiro-quackery.  Among those who monitor healthfraud, this is called the "woo factor:" patients pay for the undivided attention of a white lab coat, get a nice massage, and maybe a couple of quasi-magical instruments to tap, tap, tap over a back ache, and viola! They feel better! Science calls it the placebo effect.  Placebo effects are good for woo-miesters because it makes it easy to persuade folks to sign up for a series of treatments.

Need evidence? Ask a chiropractor to show you a "subluxation" on an x-ray.  Real doctors have their x-rays read by a skilled radiologist (M.D.), but not chiros.  That's because only chiros can "see" a subluxation. You gotta beeeeelieve!

You Gotta Get it Right

Monday, March 5, 2012

Why Does the Newspaper Spell Like That?

1. Because it can.

  2. Why write  "excited for" when the rest of the English speaking world writes "excited about ...?" Two reasons:  The writer attended the "Write Like You Speak" School of Journalism and the newspaper fired all the copy editors. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Dodgy, Dodgy, Dodgy

PhotoShopping a huge blot of empty white space around the figures -- to the point of erasing an otherwise well-defined horizon and washing away the Gulf's golden reflections --  makes Charlotte Sun's Feb. 14 front page photo look more like a Viagra ad than journalism. Dodgy, dodgy, dodgy.

Plagiarism in the News

"Live from Venice" blogger Mary Kay Ruppel recently posted a comment to this blog that, in between calling Old Word Wolf nasty names, picks a quarrel with our use of the term "plagiarism." She calls it "very broad and incorrect."  We are sorry to say Ruppel is not only wrong about this, but also sorry to see that she continues to demonstrate in her own blog that she does not know when she plagiarizes.  As it turned out, her nasty-gram and her partially plagiarized Feb. 10 blog post foreshadowed this morning mail's notice of a relevant article posted at The Poynter Institute's website by Craig Silverman (founder of "Regret the Error").  Silverman comments on the news  that a Connecticut newspaper group, The Journal Register Company, now requires reporters to take a plagiarism knowledge test.  The relevance is that Ruppel's post demonstrates most of the errors that the test focuses on.

Here's the evidence. Ruppel's Feb. 10 post, headlined  “The Degredation [sic] of the Election Process," contains some distinctive phrasing:  a super PAC operator is a wealthy donor to conservative causes.  That’s followed by a quote attributed to a man Ruppel did not interview.  Ruppel says the donor’s strategy is a plan to play in the contests ahead in order to escalate the battle among a few dozen wealthy Republicans to influence their party’s choice of a presidential nominee. Near the bottom of her post, she says his “money played a pivotal part in Santorum’s unexpected wins in three states last week.”

Two days before Ruppel’s post, New York Times writers Jim Rutenberg and Nicholas Confessore published a story under the headline “A Wealthy Backer Likes the Odds on Santorum.”

Here’s how the professionals describe the super-PAC man:  “Foster Friess, a wealthy donor to conservative causes...” In the same story, they identify an interview that yielded a quote from Friess that Ruppel copies without acknowledging who held the interview, when it was conducted, or – particularly relevant to this plagiarism discussion -- how she comes to know that Friess claims he "couldn't figure out why Santorum was even bothering to go through the effort."  We're pretty sure Ruppel knows what he says because Rutenberg and Confessore published their hard work in the New York Times. Plagiarism happens whenever a writer reports a source's quote as if she has has first-hand access when she hasn't, and then fails to include the honest acknowledgment that she's lifted the quotate from a newspaper article that someone else reported.

By this point, it appears that Ruppel has failed the Journal Register's plagiarism quiz questions 1 and 2.

She plagiarizes again when she copies, and does not say from where, the conclusion that the millionaire intends to ‘play’ the contests ahead in order to escalate the battle among a few dozen wealthy Republicans to influence their part’s choice of a presidential nominee.

Ruppel's blog post provides two additional examples relevant to this explication -- on "the other side" of the ledger.

When Ruppel writes that the super-PAC operator played a “pivotal part” in Santorum’s “unexpected wins,” she synonym swaps (the NYT guys wrote “pivotal role”), suggesting that she's trying to avoid a charge of copying word for word. Ironically, she really didn’t have to worry about that because a phrase such as “pivotal role” is a cliché that appears thousands of times a day in printed matter across the land – it’s nearly an idiomatic expression in the language.  On the other hand, her studied process of changing out a word or two here and in other places in the blog post might suggest the covering of tracks -- which the honest attributor doesn’t have to do.

And finally, in all fairness, we are happy to point out that deep in the heart of Ruppel’s post, she nearly gets it right and should get an E for effort if not actual achievement.  Ruppel writes: "Yesterday I read a column in our liberal newspaper about the poor job Romney had done as Governor of Massachusetts. A year into Romney's term, Massachusetts began to stop losing jobs.  The state added jobs every year until Romney stepped down in 2007. Even so,according to Jia Lynn Yang, The Washington Post, he did a poor job."

We added the italics to highlight Yang's sentences -- complete and word for word. The rules of avoiding plagiarism require that any exact wording requires the display of quotation marks.  A reference in the next sentence, which takes up a different part of the discussion, is inadequate to honestly point Ruppel's readers to the sentences she copied.

So, what's Ruppel's quiz grade?  We calculate 2 out of 5 plagiarism standards were not violated in the writing of Ruppel's Feb. 10 column, making her score a dismal 40 percent by default (no press releases or blogs, the topics of questions 3 and 4, were involved).

As for Ruppel's charge that we don't know the definition of plagiarism, here's a close paraphrase of one that's widely circulated and which I use as the guideline for all the college-level writing classes that I teach: Plagiarism means: using another writer's words or ideas without honest attribution.

Do I have to cite my source for this definition? No, not really.  It's common knowledge -- which means that everyone knows this. Everyone except ....

Monday, February 13, 2012

Hospital Getting Diverted into Gulf of Mexico

There's no journalistic reason to run a photograph 40 degrees off its normal orientation, except maybe to make an uninformative, boring, or poorly composed picture more ...  tilted?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

" ... in Miami on Tuesday."

"Hey! The story has art!" 
"And the art has a cutline!"
"Breaking news!"

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Letter Writer Agnes Howard Plagiarizes Her Obama Libel

Agnes Howard of Port Charlotte, Fla., wrote a recent letter to the Charlotte Sun in which she seemed more unoriginal* and irrational than most, even considering the local  "tea party" blow-hards that the editors like to encourage (by publishing).  And she was.  
Agnes Howard is not just nasty with her words and wrong in her out-of-context "facts," but it looks like she might be a plagiarist as well. The letter that Port Charlotte's own Agnes Howard signed and sent to the editors as her composition has appeared in half a dozen other newspapers across the land since last December, has been reprinted under another name at an AOL news digest and other sites, as well.  It's impossible to tell, at this point, who the originator might be, but it's obvious who at least one of the plagiarists is.

Isn't the Web wonderful?  It's not necessary to work at being ignorant any more; the Internet can do it for you. Just sign here.
*Nikita Khrushchev of Russia ....? Yes, Agnes not only says this, she leads with it.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Plagiarism Infects Medical Tab's Web Edition

Sun Coast Media Group plagiarism has migrated from its print edition to contaminate its Web spawn. Feeling Fit, the Charlotte Sun’s weekly tab conceived to attract pricey ads from doctors and hospitals, was once confined to print. Now, anyone can see it at (no www).

Filling whatever space the ad people didn’t sell, both web and print editions feature local copy. Unfortunately, local copy is frequently plagiarized, and often in some pretty sneaky ways. But that’s not today.

Today’s Sun Coast Media Group plagiarism – Web style – starts with old fashioned cut-and-paste and finishes with a couple of “edits,” which turn out to be about as effective at covering the writer’s plagiarism as shuffling in the sand is at covering a beachcomber’s tracks.

Carren Bersch, “Feeling Fit Correspondent,” is the by-line at the top of the Website article, “Early Detection Key to Treating Peripheral Artery Disease.” For Bersch's benefit, we’ll review two basic concepts.

First, a by-line means the named writer actually wrote everything that doesn’t appear between quotation marks. And, at real newspapers, reporters (or “correspondents”) are obligated (except in extraordinary circumstances) to tell readers exactly where the information comes from, whether it’s a direct quote or a paraphrased summary.(Unless, of course, Bersch is a qualified authority whose training, background and experience people can count on when she claims that peripheral artery disease “can lead to strokes and transient ischemic attacks.” However, absent the letters M.D. after her name, I think we can rule out her actual qualifications to make medical pronouncements.)*

And finally, let’s review the definition of plagiarism. Plagiarism, in fact, does not always have to be the slavish, word-for-word theft of another writer’s copy in order to present it as one’s own, which is the plagiarism method that Carren Bersch uses in the first two paragraphs of the story that she claims to have written. Plagiarism also happens when someone like Bersch copies the order of ideas that another writer uses to organize the original copy. Bersch does this as well. And, finally, plagiarism happens even when the word-idea-and-outline-thief changes a couple of words, creates some elisions, or flips a few expressions. In fact, this latter step is pretty much de facto evidence that the plagiarist was engaged in a willful cover-up of her nasty habit.
*Based on Carren Bersch's performance as a “correspondent,” readers can also rule out her qualification as an honest writer with ethical standards that preclude stealing the work of others and presenting it as her own (and the moxy to take a paycheck for it?)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Cute Goes Creepy

"There are those in our community who exemplify the true mean of the season."

"questionable..." "... creeping..," "invading..,"  "... living among us."

The Arcadian's effort at wit this morning comes off as a somewhat creepy, 50-word lead with no news in sight, proving the value of the J-school lesson:  Tell it straight. Don't go for cute, coy, funny, ironic, subtle. You probably won't pull it off. You're a journalist, not O. Henry. And the typo didn't help.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Raw Bits

Bit Nos. 1 and 2: The Missing Copy Editor. A small regional airline "plans to add 737 planes to its arsenal." The writer thinks the word for a building that houses explosives is a synonym for "fleet."

Bit No. 3: Wrong Picture. "...chatting it up" is British for "staring at the camera."

Bit No. 4:  Percent vs. Percentage Point. The Journal over in Lake Placid continues Sun Coast Media Group's willful disregard for numeracy.  Editors wrongly inform readers that the state graduation rate has increased 10 percent since 2006, when in fact it has increased 10 percentage points since that time. We'll explain (again).

In 2006, Florida's graduation rate (the state Department of Education says), was calculated as 70.3 percent of students counted.  This year it was calculated as 80.1 percent of students counted.  If the number had increased by 10 percent from a base of 70, the new figure would be about 77 (70 x 0.01 = 0.7). That's good news for high school students. For newspaper editors, not so much.

Bit No. 5: The lazy economic indicator. "... it is reported ..." Yes, it was reported. But the editorialist doesn't say it was reported three years ago in a study run by a civic group in Grand Rapids, Mich., based on its  2007 survey of 19 Grand Rapids businesses. And, there's that pesky percentage vs. percentage point error again. The study used its data to deduce that if $100 is spent at locally owned businesses, $64 hangs around town. That's not the same as 60 percent more than the paltry $43 that hangs around when $100 is spent with those evil out of towners.

Bit No. 6: Amateur Photoshopping: We intended  asking when "stately" became a synonym for "portly" but were distracted by Santa's helping hands: 


Monday, December 12, 2011

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Editorial's "American Century" Reference Misses the Point

Yesterday's Charlotte Sun-Herald editorial, "Day of Infamy Followed by Greatest Resolve," praises veterans who responded to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  About halfway into the editorial, the writer calls Dec. 7, 1941  the "trigger"  that began the era called "The American Century."

No it didn't. The allusion is to "The American Century," Henry R. Luce's five-page editorial in Life m magazine that ran Feb. 17, 1941 -- ten months before Pearl Harbor.

Furthermore, if the editor were to actually read the article from which he takes his praise, he might recognize its profound naivete and thinly veiled jingoism.  Under a subheading worthy of Genesis, Luce describes "America's Vision of Our World ... How it shall be created." He identifies American "prestige" as the light emanating from Hollywood, jazz, slang and "patented products."  American artifacts are "the only things that every community in the world ... recognizes in common," Luce claims as if this is a good thing.

Luce's shaping thesis is the United States had entered a war (on the European front -- Pearl Harbor had not happened yet) that has the potential of bringing into focus an era of achievement.  "The American Century" is not Luce's reference specifically to war, but to "four propositions."  Luce's propositions are that the world is indivisible; the war has the potential to destroy humankind; the world can now produce "all the material needs of the entire human family;" and "the world of the 20th Century, if it is to come to life with any nobility of health and vigor, must be to a significant degree an American Century."

From that point, Luce goes on to lay out an American-centric view of the near future: America will deploy "engineers, scientists, doctors," as well as people he calls "movie men, makers of entertainment, developers of airlines."  He rounds out the list with teachers and educators.  His vision is that this American horde will be "eagerly welcomed" because they have "underake[n] to be the Good Samaritan of the entire world."  Luce proclaims "the manifest duty of this country to undertake to feed all the people of the world... a humanitarian army of Americans..."

The tenor and content of Luce's "The American Century" ring hollow. Sun editors have the benefit of having studied half century of history since. Surely they see the havoc we wreak every time we try to remake one part of the globe or another in our own image. Too bad no one at the Charlotte Sun took the time to check out the history and context of the infamous phrase.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Rip Van Winkle Named Charlotte-Sun Political Cartoon Editor

The Charlotte Sun editorial page cartoon this morning shows Herman Cain thinking "It ain't over till it's over," as he keeps his campaign afloat.  Problem is, Cain announced four days ago that he had suspended his campaign -- and the Charlotte Sun ran that story three days ago, on Sunday.

Speaking of Sunday, that was the day the same page editor ran a cartoon of a man on a bicycle, delivering an Omaha, Neb., newspaper with the headline  "Local Boy Keeps Newspaper Local."  If the only newspaper readers here in  southwest Florida see is the Charlotte Sun-Herald, then there is no way they could know that Warren Buffett announced plans on Nov. 30 to buy his hometown newspaper. The Sun-Herald didn't carry that story.

And, according to Sun editorial page editors, columnist Kathleen Parker seems to have found a new home in central Florida at a newspaper owned by the Chicago-based Tribune Cos., but likes to get her e-mail at the Washington Post.

Would someone please wake up Rip?