Friday, November 23, 2007

Big scary world out there!

And one of the things a copydesk does to make it seem a fraction less weird and scary is, oh, to put matters into perspective. Here's just such a case, resulting in a blown save, reported by the alert St. Louis bureau:

Death is routine in Iraq. Not so here.

Death? Hmm. Quiet fella? Tall, black coat, carrying a scythe? Nope. Haven't seen him in these parts, stranger. You might try over to Belleville.

And this just in from the World's Most Bodacious J-School:

Christian groups bring the Bible
to thousands of countries
through unconventional means

Thousands, you say? Funny. Our own State Department is using all the fingers and toes it has and still comes up a little shy of 200. And -- funnier -- just such a reference in the text suggests that the article could have done with a harder eye at the Washington Post, whence it came:

David Hammond, who works in Nairobi for the British-based United Bible Societies, a network of agencies in 200 countries, said Bible formats are changing to suit a changing world.

Let's grant the writer a little casual rounding-up to the round 200. Even so, can these folks legitimately claim "agencies" in every country in the world? Seems a bit sweeping, even for a generally credulous fluff piece. Think we might have wanted to ask for some evidence? But stay tuned for a case of bad editing at the destination making things worse:

More than 9,000 miles away in Virginia, Christopher Deckert tracks where the Bible has gone — and where it has yet to travel. As children ride scooters and bicycles outside his single-family home in a leafy suburb of Richmond, Deckert works at his computer in his den. Paintings of people from around the globe surround him.

Makes you want to get out the old globe and see exactly how far it is from Nairobi to Richmond, doesn't it? It should. A whole section of the original feature, which took us back to Cambodia (from which the mileage sounds a bit more realistic), has been chopped out. Lesson: When you cut the patient apart, don't forget to put him/her/it/y'all/them back together.

Buzzers should have gone off on this one a lot earlier. Even so, it's a good reminder for the desk gang at the Missourian that articles from the wires aren't perfect. They're written and edited by actual human beings who, every now and then, bungle just like the rest of us. Treat wire copy like any other copy -- meaning, be suspicious about the same sorts of things you would in a staff-written story. Implausible claims don't become plausible just because they're made to the Post. Any article that tries three superlatives in five grafs:

Christian groups are spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year to make one of the world’s oldest books accessible in remote corners of the planet.

... An additional 1,600 translation projects are underway that will leave only about 3 to 5 percent of the world’s population without the best-selling book of all time available in their native language.

... Christian missionaries said new multimedia presentations in hundreds of languages are vastly expanding the Bible’s audience and spreading the influence of the world’s largest religion.

is probably up to something and should be pulled aside for further questioning. And whenever you see "saffron-robed monks":

Cambodia remains overwhelmingly Buddhist, with 4,000 gilded temples filled with saffron-robed monks.

... you should call and ask for photos just on general principles.


Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Do you suppose "saffron" now means "red" to these guys? Or maybe it means "long and draping"? Although in Cambodia I think they do wear saffron...

"Thousands of countries". Sheesh. Even if Belgium and Iraq split up, and Texas secedes, and the rest of the fragmented world makes it legal, "thousands"? As in at least two thousand? "I don't think so, Tim."

10:10 AM, November 24, 2007  

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