Thursday, January 22, 2009

Dudes! Like, fess up!

Behold, an actual 1A reefer from the once-sober N&O. Those two wild and crazy guys! Fessing up to those wacky armed robberies!

Here's an idea: What if we paid some very literal-minded grownup to read behind all the heds and teasers on the front before they were typeset? We could call it -- "slotting"!

The story is not without Decline and Fall elements of its own:

Two Raleigh men admitted in a federal courtroom this week that they went on a July crime spree that led to four armed robberies in four days. (I doubt it -- I mean, I doubt that the crime spree was some sort of antecedent condition that "led to four armed robberies." Didn't the robberies themselves constitute the crime spree?)

Raphael Davonne Powell, 24, and David Michael Wesley Jr., 19, pleaded guilty to charges of robbery and using a firearm while committing a crime of violence at a hearing Tuesday in the federal courthouse in Wilmington, according to court documents. (In the Good Old Days,* newspapers covered legal proceedings by -- well, going to the court building. Which meant they could write about them the next day, rather than two days later, and they could write about something they saw, rather than something they had to learn at second hand.)

... During the robberies, Wesley would carry a .38-caliber handgun while Kerr took cash from the stores' registers, according to a news release issued by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina. A spokeswoman couldn't provide details late Wednesday about Powell's role in the robberies. (What's worse than covering a court proceeding from "court documents," which at least are privileged? Covering court proceedings by rewriting press releases from the DA's office! And "couldn't provide details late Wednesday" strongly suggests that the paper didn't just decide to preserve its travel money and cover the thing long distance; it sounds as if nobody in the newsroom had any idea that something was happening in this case until the DA's office was kind enough to send a fax the day after the plea.)

OK, granted. In the political-economy sense, the whole idea of "beats" is an artifact of the industrialization of journalism. But as artifacts go, it isn't a bad one. Covering a beat entails some hanging around, which doesn't always look all that productive but is in the main a pretty good way of finding out what's going on without having to wait on the powers-that-be to tell you. And who knows? If you actually go to court, you might get to talk with the side of a legal proceeding that doesn't have the wherewithal to send out press releases.

None of those, of course, are decisions the copydesk can affect. But we can do our part by not putting "2 guys fess up" on stories about that perennial knee-slapper we know as armed robbery. (One is tempted to wonder if it would have been so funny if it hadn't happened at places like the Tienda Todo Guerrerense.) And we could remind the powers-that-beancount that the slot isn't just an ornament on a copydesk. It's essential.

*You kids get off the lawn! Right now!

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7 Comments:

Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Hey - they changed it!

2 more guilty in robberies
In federal court, they admit to 4 holdups in 4 days

Take all the credit, Fred!

8:35 AM, January 23, 2009  
Anonymous rayb said...

The paper was just saving money by doing stories by press release; either that or layoffs? I got a question: did Wesley carry the gun after Kerr finished getting the cash or just while he was doing it?

8:52 AM, January 23, 2009  
Blogger Strayhorn said...

"2 more guilty"?

Are they more guilty because they fessed? Would they be lesser guilty if copping a plea?

I'm so confused.

Meanwhile, I've noticed more typos in the WSJ since Murdoch bought it. Now that Carlos Slim has bought the NYT, I wonder what changes will be wrought.

More coverage of wrestling?

9:18 AM, January 23, 2009  
Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

It's actually "two more" who are "guilty", not "two" who are "more guilty", but you have to either know what's happening already or read the story to get that.

10:36 AM, January 23, 2009  
Blogger fev said...

And everyone in front of the bar pleads twice as guiltier'n I will (chorus).

Wish I could claim credit, but it looks from Lexis as if '2 more guilty' was the original hed on the story inside. The 1A tease, though, was immortalized in print as what you see. Or did the N&O manage to make it over for a later edn?

11:44 AM, January 23, 2009  
Anonymous Andy Bechtel said...

It was the same for the final edition.

9:12 AM, January 24, 2009  
Blogger fev said...

Sigh. I'm pained. I'm on the brink of being the sort of reader who begins letters to the editor by asking if the newspaper knows how long I've been reading it. (In the N&O's case, a very, very long time.)

11:31 PM, January 24, 2009  

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