Thursday, February 21, 2019

Do you speak American?

Like it or not, the local treasure that is the Duke-Carolina rivalry* has gone national on us (which is one reason it's so often afflicted with Dick Vitale). But one doesn't have to speak a particular regional American dialect to wonder where CNN is phoning this one in from. The online hed might have been a giveaway, had you stumbled there first:
Amazon pirates are ruthless and all that, but I don't recall much transitive scuppering from my years of reading American sports pages. On to the text:

A star-studded crowd including former US President Barack Obama had gathered to watch hotly tipped college basketball player Zion Williamson, but the 18-year-old's night unraveled after just 33 seconds when his Nike shoe fell apart. 

Likewise "hotly tipped." You could at this point also wonder how the "star-studded crowd" of the lede became the "star-studded match" of the hed, but that risks taking our eye off a different ball. Do you suppose some of the star-studded crowd (Obama, for example) might have actually been there to, you know, watch Carolina and Duke play? But onward:

... Tickets for the local derby were reportedly available for over $3,000 and freshman forward Williamson -- described by double NBA champion Kevin Durant as a "once-in-a-generation athlete" -- was a big reason for the inflated prices.

Williamson's top-ranked Duke side was on a nine-match winning streak, but without their 285-pound 6 feet 8 inch star player the Blue Devils fell to a 88-72 defeat Wednesday.

No, no and no. "Derby" for "any kind of important sporting contest" (as the OED tells it) appears to be exclusively British. We can do "our side" or "their side," but the definite "side" -- as in "Group F's top and bottom sides" is also "chiefly Brit." And those things with 20 minutes to the half are games, not matches. (And if you can hyphenate one number compound, you can hyphenate another, and let's not forget the delightfully blown participle in the second graf: "Williamson ... went down hard when his shoe split in half while planting his foot.")

We should expect things to be different in different Englishes, and toy departments everywhere will always provide their own delights. (I affirm that my life is richer for the British sports phrase "banana skin," but I wouldn't bet on me to use it correctly in a headline.) But could we at least raise the possibility that CNN misunderstood both its audience and its story here?

I raise the latter point because of this follow-up, which suggests why news organizations tend to be easy prey for practitioners of fake news:
Nike is playing damage control after Duke basketball phenom Zion Williamson tore his sneaker in a game Wednesday evening.

Nike's (NKE) stock was down more than 1% on Thursday. Nike builds its reputation around creating premier shoes and clothes for athletes, but that image took a hit with Williamson's sneaker snafu. 

That's the sort of combination of evidence and guesswork that leaves you open to claims that we have the Greatest. Economy. Evar. And indeed, if you overlook the baseline and increments on the Y-axis, it looks like a case for damage control:
One of the nice things about the CNN site, though: it provides the context that the reporters don't seem interested in: whether Thursday's decline (1.05%) is a lot, a little, or sort of in-between. Here's Nike for the past month:
We don't seem to be seeing much hair-pulling over a similar one-day decline at Raytheon:
... or Martin Marietta:

"True" is a necessary condition of news, but it's not always a sufficient one. If a change of 1% in a stock price isn't a story most times it happens, why are we sure it's a story just because we can run a picture that -- curse the phrase -- "went viral"?

* How old is Your Editor? "Drop-add means standing in line for 80-column punch cards in the Tin Can in August" years old.

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