Sunday, September 25, 2016

Sounds like chicken, tastes like a freight train

Along with the gunman who kept to himself and was a quiet little fella, several identity/occupation categories tend to always emerge at predictable places in crime stories: former Harvard student and crazed Vietnam veteran, for example. So it's nice to have a wild-caught example from overseas: here, the Torygraph.

Your next question might be: Hmm. Wonder how long that one's going to remain in place. Answer, not too long:
A second "a source," after all, is now in play:

A source claimed: “He’s not a brilliant student. One tutor described him as one of the most disorganised students he has had to teach.”

Though, since the link still says "2016/09/21/highly-intelligent-oxford-university-student-arrested-after-sexu/" and the raised quote is still on screen, despite no longer appearing in the text:

... you're entitled to wonder whether the tweak is a reflection of conscience or simple news routines. Or even if the Torygraph understands that, you know, other people besides the suspect might have a stake in how the story is reported.

(h/t Diego)

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Sunday, September 18, 2016

Fantastic beasts and where to find them

Leave the rooster, that's human interest! And thus do some stories (short answer: no, but thanks for asking) always find a home on the front page -- even, at the Fair 'n' Balanced Network, when the existential peril to the country is reaching peak Kenyan.

Fantastical creatures, in all fairness, are sort of a hereditary ailment of American journalism. Today's Freep, at least, has the excuse of bordering the same lakes:

But the party press has a particular fixation on certain moral fables made incarnate in the supernatural. Take it away, The Washington Examiner!

When Ben Carson, in his speech at the Republican National Convention, drew attention to Hillary Clinton's tribute to the radical community organizer Saul Alinsky (1909-72), no eyebrows ascended. But when Carson went on to invoke Alinsky's admiration of Lucifer, and tie Clinton to that community organizer, the guffaws began in earnest.

"So are we willing," Carson asked, "to elect someone as president who has as their role model somebody who acknowledges Lucifer?"

Anyone who has actually read Alinsky, I believe, would have to take the question seriously. 

Well, to be fair -- I'm still waiting for reports from some of you -- so would anyone who has actually read Milton (see, e.g., Jagger & Richards, 1968). But it's somehow reassuring to see the old guy keeping such august company.

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Thursday, September 15, 2016

War on Editing

Sigh. If the point of keeping an in-house copy desk is to generate captions about "Motown singer Chuck Berry" for a newspaper that says "Detroit" in the nameplate, we might as well go ahead and outsource now.

The reference (in the otherwise reasonably compelling story) is this: "A cherry red, made-in-Detroit 1973 Cadillac Eldorado owned by singer Chuck Berry." We should probably also try something other than a coin toss to determine how many words there are in "Eldorado." And one can be forgiven for wondering whether someone after the writer didn't understand that "chapter" in this sentence probably means something very much like "group":

“We have a group of at least 50 people from Delta Sigma Theta  age 62 years and older,” said Marion Binion of Detroit, 67, whose Detroit Chapter group scored tickets for Oct., 16.

Yes, insisting on irrelevant changes in other people's text is also a good way of overlooking extra, commas, in, dates.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The perfect page

Can you imagine the fun over at Fox when this one came together Monday evening?

1) Our Hero goes on the attack, heroically demanding a retraction.

2) It's true: voter fraud is EVERYWHERE! Good thing nobody reads the second paragraph, since the story does a pretty good job of demonstrating that double voting is a much less salient risk than, for example, having stupid relatives and ready access to firearms.

3) Iran, the existential threat of our time! Though you really, really need to not read beyond the second graf:

“We wanted to test the Iranian reaction,” one US official told Fox News when asked why the US jets were flying close to Iran.

My favorite, I think, is (4) "Blamed for Benghazi":

Four Americans died in the 2012 terror attack in Benghazi, and those who survived saw their stories of heroism told in a Hollywood movie, but the filmmaker whose work was wrongly blamed for touching off the event lives in obscurity, poverty and fear, has learned.

If you're a Fox regular, you don't need the active voice to know who did the blaming: it was the Obama-Clinton administration. Unless, you know, you were actually reading Fox on Sept. 12, 2012:
So, yes. Fox was quite happy to blame the video, as long as blaming the video fit with Fox's priorities. Your fault for reading the second paragraph.

In one of its occasional attempts to provide genuine political commentary along with Coyote v. Roadrunner-style election modeling, the FiveThirtyEight blog came up with a list of "10 questions as the stretch run begins." Here's the 10th:

10. What would keep me up late at night if I were Trump?
As the polls have ebbed and flowed, I’ve been 8 or 10 points behind Clinton at my worst moments, but only tied with her at my best moments. I’ve also never gotten much above 40 percent in national polls, at least not on a consistent basis, and I’ve alienated a lot of voters who would allow me to climb higher than that. In other words, maybe that dreaded Trump ceiling is there after all, in which case I’ll have to get awfully lucky to win the election, probably needing both a favorable flow of news in the weeks leading up to Nov. 8 and a large third-party vote that works against Clinton.

I prefer to see things differently. What should keep Mr. Trump awake at night is the thought that at some point, the grownup press will wake up and point out that any Clinton-Obama-Abedin "lies" about Benghazi were enthusiastically spread by Fox News itself. Imagine a world, for example, in which the Associated Press -- with all due credit to its watchdog instincts -- realizes that there's actually a difference between nonprofit charitable foundations and fake universities that stay open through the miracle of the well-greased palm?


Sunday, September 11, 2016

'Well within the margin of error'

In a routine-ish campaign tale, this line stood out:

The latest polls suggest a tight race in North Carolina. Real Clear Politics polling average gives Clinton a 1.2-point lead, well within the margin of error

Apparently it made quite an impression elsewhere, appearing in another story and a blog post (with a touch of editing) in the same day:

The latest polls suggest a tight race in North Carolina. Real Clear Politics polling average gives Clinton a 1.2-point lead, well within the margin of error.

The latest polls suggest a tight race in North Carolina. The Real Clear Politics polling average gives Clinton a 1.2-point lead, well within the margin of error.

Come to that, it's had a pretty good run since convention season:

Aug. 4: Polls show a tight race in North Carolina, a key battleground. An average of recent polls by Real Clear Politics shows Clinton with a half-point lead in the state, well within the margin of error

Aug. 3Polls indicate a tight race in the state. An average of recent polls by Real Clear Politics shows Clinton with a 2-point lead in the state, well within the margin of error.

July 25: The candidates are virtually tied in North Carolina, with Clinton enjoys a 2-point advantage in the state – well within the margin of error – according to Real Clear Politics’ polling average.

July 23: Despite the spending disparity, polls show the candidates virtually tied in North Carolina. Clinton enjoys a 2-point advantage in the state, well within the margin of error, according to Real Clear Politics’ polling average.

OK, spoiler alert. Whatever you think about the phrase "within the margin of error" (which is basically journalistic gear-grinding), it doesn't apply here, because the RCP "polling average" doesn't have one. No, really: Look at the top of the chart and you'll see that RCP doesn't even pretend that the average has a "margin of error." That doesn't cause the "average" to be a meaningless number, but it is a result of the "average" being a meaningless number. Hold those thoughts for a moment while we talk about the circumstances under which journalists use adverbs and other modifiers to indicate their evaluation of the events they present to the public.

Read more »

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The endless ride from Battery to holy Ork

What slipped past the best minds of the Travel section last week, Nation's Newspaper of Record?

A picture caption on Sept. 4 with an article about Boulder, Colo., described a house in the city incorrectly. The house was the setting of the “Mork and Mindy” TV show, not the residence of the poet Allen Ginsberg.

On the bright side, the "false titles" rule is clearly alive and well.

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Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Today in balance

Well, good to know how things look on the news pages of America's Dailies (here's the AP story that appeared under the Freep hed above). Wonder if it's any better over at a truly Fair 'n' Balanced outlet:
In what could be a "told you so" moment for Donald Trump, the U.K. on Tuesday announced plans to build a "big new wall" at a border port in France to prevent migrants in nearby camps from sneaking aboard vehicles heading to Britain.

So ... surely there's a plan to make the cheese-eating surrender monkeys pay for the construction costs, right?

... The proposal is far smaller in scope than the kind of U.S.-Mexico wall Trump is demanding.

A Home Office spokeswoman told the four-meter-high wall (about 13 feet) would be built along both sides of a one-kilometer (.6 mile) stretch of the main road into the Calais port. The office estimates it will be done by the end of the year.

At least it's vertical. But did you have to bring up the "far smaller" bit?

... Though the wall is significantly smaller than what Trump has proposed – and would protect a road rather than an entire border -- it weaves into Trump’s narrative that walls work and are a vital part of a comprehensive immigration policy.

Proponents of Trump’s plan have noted the success of other countries in building a border wall. The most commonly cited example is Israel, which built a wall along the West Bank that it says has been effective in reducing the threat of terrorism. Trump has cited Israel’s wall as justification for his own plan.

Having just heard a military expert on MSNBC note that General Lee won Gettysburg for Lincoln two days after being appointed, I'm not sure there's any context I could add.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

News values and news language

It takes a lot of the worry and frustration out of news judgment when you have a few simple rules to move things along:

Editor A: What's the lead story for tomorrow?
Editor B: Dunno. Who did the Big Man meet with?
Editor A: Sounds like a lead to me!

(As the examples at right suggest, some habits made the transition from print to online with few or no changes needed.)

When you can get three separate stories out of a single appearance by the Big Man's campaign manager on your Sunday talk program, there's even more Fox to go around! This charming eggmanteau in Sunday afternoon's top story, for example:

Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said Sunday that the Republican presidential nominee now plans to go directly into African-American communities to deliver his full-forced appeal to black voters, while also trying to explain Trump’s changing policies on illegal immigration.

I'd certainly agree that it's a forced appeal, but "full-forced" looks like it slept a little too close to "full-throated." Maybe we meant the NRC definition? (And yes, it's unusual not to have at least a tortured attempt to fit a first reference for a presidential candidate somewhere in the story.)

“These events are already being planned,” the newly-promoted Conway told “Fox News Sunday.” “We’re fighting for every single vote. He’s going to take [his message] to where people vote.”

To be sure, Trump over roughly the past two weeks has increased his efforts to appeal to black voters, arguing that the policies of Democratic rival Hillary Clinton and those of other Democratic lawmakers have failed residents in many U.S. cities, particularly African-Americans.

Hmm. I appreciate the effort to get back to J-school basics, but are you sure that's the right "to be sure" there? What about it, The Missouri Group?

The 'To Be Sure'
To maintain an evenhanded approach, writers must acknowledge that there are two or more sides to a story. We call this the "to be sure," as in "to be sure, there are other opinions."

So -- more like the third graf of what was to become the evening's top Big Man story?

Donald Trump’s campaign confirmed that the candidate is off the campaign trail Sunday to get ready for his first presidential debate with Democratic rival Hillary Clinton but was mum on preparation strategy or likely tactics.

“He's the unpredictable X factor,” campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said on “Fox News Sunday” about Trump and his unconventional debate style.

To be sure, Trump, despite being a first-time candidate, performed well enough in the primary debates -- which included seasoned debaters like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie -- to capture the GOP nomination.

Got it! And instead of binders full of women, we'll have -- women full of binders?

“He's an unconventional candidate,” Conway said. “And he's not going to prepare the way Hillary does, which is . . . locking her in a room and cramming her head with all those binders and getting the Hollywood types that she raised gazillions of dollars with in fundraisers.”

I think my favorite, though, is this policy transition from the mainbar:

Conway also attempted to clarify Trump’s immigration policy, which at the start of his campaign included plans to build a wall, paid for by Mexico, along the entire southern U.S. border to keep out illegal immigrants and have a deportation "force” to remove the estimated 11 people now living in the country illegally.

OK. It's not nice to pick on a single dropped word, because there but for the grace of God and all that. But come on, kids -- it's the Big Man's signature issue.

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