Sunday, October 21, 2018

How news puts a thumb on the scales

I'm not complaining about the headline, which I think is one of those cases in which "objective" journalism works perfectly well. A straight-faced rendition in big type of a bullshit claim* allows the bullshit to shine through without putting the news outlet on one side or the other. My concern is with the lede,** in which a commonplace bit of news practice -- trying to get back on-cycle by emphasizing what was "confirmed," rather than what happened -- actually does put the agency on the side of the bad guys and con artists:

Jamal Khashoggi died during a fight inside Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul, Saudi authorities confirmed late Friday. The announcement, made on state TV and also released via the official Saudi Press Agency, comes more than two weeks after the missing journalist disappeared after entering the diplomatic compound in Turkey.

Like it or not, one basic definition of "news" is something that happened since the last edition (or broadcast, or "time you updated the homepage" for you kids). That's what enabled urchins to hawk tabloids through the teeming streets a century ago, and it's why "confirming" a story on which you were beaten is a standard tactic: you can reclaim the element of what-happened-today without having to credit the outfit that hosed you.

Here, though, USA Today grabbed the wrong verb -- or, at least, ignored the scope of the verb it did grab. It's news that the Saudis have acknowledged Khashoggi's death, but that's not the same as acknowledging -- or "confirming" -- the purported circumstances of his death. As a consequence, USAT (and any other paper for which the assorted Gannett hubs nodded and yawned and waved this through) looks like a tool of the administration and its friends du jour.

Note, on the other hand, the indications of apparent skepticism in this graf: 

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Monday, October 15, 2018

Two first-class seats ...

... on the unheated cattle car to Siberia for the bold but rash Fox journalist who pointed out in the morning's top story that the Dear Leader lied in his comments today:

Trump, though, brushed off Warren's DNA test when asked about it Monday morning, while claiming he never made the million-dollar offer (he did, at a rally over the summer).

Let's be kind to Fox and assume this was intentional. Well done, and sorry about the lack of heat.

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Sunday, October 07, 2018

Pronouns: You had ONE job

... and that one job was to look at the illustration before writing the blurb, and today is the debut of the 13th Doctor, and you still write "a time-traveling alien called 'The Doctor' and his human companions"?

People! Embrace singular "they"! If you don't have a clue (and even in some cases if you do), it's here to help! Don't make us upgrade you.

All right, if you insist, here's another should-be-they pronoun from earlier in the week:
No, you haven't. You wouldn't burst into the room shouting that you just saw beer chugged through a nose, because you innately understand that noses are inalienably possessed, and you just wouldn't. What the hed means, of course, is "Hey, have you ever seen a frattybagger from ECU* chug beer through his nose?" But since that's inappropriately specific, we probably want an indefinite antecedent, and those go very well with "they": Have you ever seen someone chug beer through their nose?

If singular "they" is a bridge too far for you here, you might instead put your energy into wondering why grownup newspapers are running stories about beer-nose-chugging in the first place.

* Calm down, kids. I'm from Greenville.

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Whose snare of cold command

When everybody uses the same story and no one edits it, this is the result in the local fishwrap. Would you be talking about the sphinx at Giza?

From "Ask Amy" in the same edition:
OK, we had a reformed Episcopalian at ours, but are you sure you don't mean a Reform rabbi?

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Sunday, September 30, 2018

Give them hell, Harrison

No, they don't. OK, they do plump pretty well, but that's not how the slogan goes. If you remember something more in line with what the company says:
... or the ad at Wikipedia:
... you too might wonder what's going through the minds down at the remaining Sunday fishwrap that says "Detroit" in the nameplate.*

This is not a call for carefree g-droppin', but surely some balance of attention to what's said and what's being represented is in order. Here's a coincidental example from a midweek piece on the centenary of the Rouge River plant:
Bet he didn't. Like many of us, he probably contracted "must have," with the writer -- and any remaining editors -- never having heard the explanation that you're not "changing" a quote when you assume that the speaker got it right before the contraction. (Since this is an academic the paper quotes regularly on labor issues, it doesn't look like a class thing.) 

The AP, as is often the case, combines a good basic rule ("do not use substandard spellings such as 'gonna' or 'wanna' in attempts to convey regional dialects or substandard pronunciations") with just enough leeway to let writers trip themselves (" ... except to help a desired touch or to convey an emphasis by the speaker"; it's not the AP's fault if the "desired touch" is desired more often among people who don't look or talk like reporters). There's nothing substandard about "must've," though. And if the "emphasis of the speaker" is borne out by written practice -- well, give them hell, Harrison.

* Having a native speaker of Detroitish in the next room, I did ask. "Plump when you cook 'em" was what she remembered as well.

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Monday, September 24, 2018

If it's the first thing that comes to mind ...

Let me be the first to admit a little get-off-my-lawnism here: I like headlines that tell you what happened, and I'm thoroughly conditioned to prefer them in the present tense to signal the since-our-last-bulletin timeliness of news. At the same time, I realize that I'm not anyone's target demographic anymore (except maybe Fox's, and one or the other of us is making a pretty drastic mistake in that case). Still, isn't there a case to be made for holding the "just got" construction to, maybe, one of the three display headlines here? The general principle being that if it's the first thing that comes to mind, the editor should lie down and wait for a second thing to come to mind.

Just to be even-handed here, a few more illustrations of the principle:
What's more Fox than sparking a backlash? Actually several things, which we'll try to get to in a bit, but meanwhile, here's another case (slightly down the page) of falling for the first thing that comes to mind:
Please stop. Think of the children.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Wet, from a water standpoint

My not-yet-scientific impression is that it's (ahem) unusual for Fox News to quote the dear leader verbatim when he, you know, starts to ramble a little bit:

Later Tuesday, he tweeted another video, thanking the "incredible men and women who have done such a great job in helping with Florence."

"This is a tough hurricane. One of the wettest we've ever seen from the standpoint of water," Trump said in the video. "Rarely have we had an experience like it. And it certainly is not good."

For some reason, a quote from the Thacker-Packer era has stuck with me all these decades. The reference is to Glenn Sudhop, then playing center for N.C. State: "Without Sudhop, State's the shortest team in the conference, from a height standpoint."



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Thursday, September 06, 2018

Waiting for the correction

Sure, everybody types on autopilot sometimes, and step forward the lucky soul who's never entered "D-N.C." after a Republican's name,* and obviously this is the sort of thing that slipped through in the days of fully staffed desks, but still -- do they REALLY all look alike to the copydesk these days?

This appears to be the AP's wording; I saw it in the local Gannett fishwrap, which promises on page 2A every day to correct "all errors of fact." I'm not holding out a lot of hope on this one, but there was a day when even something so incredibly trivial as confusing the leader of one Korea with the other would have merited a correction in a metro daily.

* Or vice versa; the force of habit knows no party

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