Thursday, August 17, 2006

Still love journalism?

Sure. Don't we all? But there are days when it seems as if the next logical step is going to be sitting in a brightly lit room explaining to the detectives why you hit journalism upside the head with a tire iron if you love it so much.

This is such a day, and the reason is the return of the most preposterous overplayed train wreck of a story of the late 20th century. The one next to which the OJ case looks like Camp David. That'll be the mysterious death of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey.

There's probably no stopping the papers that claim this as a local story (note the End Of World plays at right). But for the rest of us ... you'd sort of hope there was a voice or two out there wondering what it was we were thinking back in 1996 and seeing this arrest as a chance to start ignoring or underplaying the tale. As we should have done in the first place.

What we seem to get instead, alas, is a national chorus of STOP THE PRESS! So here are a few awards and some simple content analysis, in case anybody thinks we need a baseline to compare this against in the future.

First, the Moronic Hed Awards:

In the Guilty, Guilty, Guilty category:
New York Daily News

JonBenet suspect confesses
Bakersfield Californian (and everybody who ran a variant; he hasn't "confessed" until his "confession" is admitted in court)

In the Innocent, Innocent, Innocent category:
Key arrest vindicates family of JonBenet
Arizona Republic

Arrest absolves JonBenet's family
Fort Myers News-Press

In the Who Knows? We Don't! category:
Justice for JonBenet?
Chicago Sun-Times

Solved? JonBenet case has suspect
Charlotte Observer

Arrest in case could vindicate Ramseys
Columbus Dispatch
The judges are especially impressed with the Dispatch's inability to make up its mind about anything today, citing the lede hed ("Can we trust the voting results?") and the centerpiece ("Is it fair?")

Now, the coveted Moronic Writing Awards.

In news reporting, the prize goes to the hometown Rocky:

The decade-long search for JonBenet Ramsey's killer came to a startling end in Thailand on Wednesday.
Guys? Editors? Writers? Anybody? Thanks for sparing us the expense of the trial. Hard to see how you're going to make up for a decade of declaring the family Guilty Until Proven Innocent by doing the same thing for the suspect.

And in feature writing, step forward the New York Daily News:
The day after Christmas is usually a slow news day, and I was thinking about slipping out of the newsroom early to join my buddy Jerry down at the Terminal Bar. But the police radio on the city desk started squawking and the city editor was jumping around in his chair like somebody had thrown a snake in his lap. A big story was breaking.

Oh, for God's sake. If I wanted hard-boiled, there's a Spillane threefer hardback sitting in the window down at Acorn even as we speak. But we're just getting started:

I have covered many murders in my years as a reporter, but I had never covered one like this. When the Crips kill a Blood, no explanation is needed. But what possible reason could somebody give for beating, strangling and sexually assaulting a 6-year-old girl?

Crips and Bloods? Ah, sweet value of human life. HEADSUP-L knows an editor (cynical even by copydesk standards) who attributes the drastic differences in play certain murders get to what he calls the "White Man With Job Dies" effect. Nice of our NYDN scribe to come out and admit it, eh? Remember, eyeholes in the front of the pillowcase, big guy.

UPDATE: And the category of Irrelevant Detail, this just in from the Associated Press:
"There's no way I could be brief about it. It's a very involved series of events," said Karr, who speaks with a thick Southern accent. "It's very painful for me to talk about."

Unfortunately, pending clue arrival here, we're temporarily unable to post the full tabular set of papers and where they played the tale. Stay tuned for updates.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a sign of the times that this happens shortly after Richard Jewell of Olympics bombing infamy got an award for actually saving people sted setting off the bomb. A guy gets convicted in ink just after another washes "guilty" off his back.

Not only has this second grade teacher been convicted of this, but he's also been tarred as a sex tourist. Not that he's pure as the driven snow. But didn't anybody learn anything from Richard Jewell's tribulations?

6:08 PM, August 17, 2006  
Blogger fev said...

Someday, originating desks are going to cop to the idea that the Big Story is time to pay attention to standard news procedures, not throw 'em out the window.

11:26 PM, August 17, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dude ... I think I have it figgered out. If it happens in another country, it is *OK* to convict the people before a trial. I say this because I see that a notorious murderous Mexican drug kingpin also has been arrested this week.

11:38 PM, August 17, 2006  
Blogger fev said...

Yeah, I bet the said Murderous Kingpin speaks with, erm, a "thick Southern accent" too.

3:39 PM, August 18, 2006  

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