Thursday, August 27, 2009

Stenography vs. journalism

I invite the reader to compare two stories, one in the Courier this afternoon and the other on eNews this morning. You'll notice that they are almost exactly the same.

Here's what's happening: both publications are reprinting press releases, in this case a police report, more or less unedited. This happens all the time, on everything from community events to City policy announcements to major crime stories.

Sometimes it's a good thing. In the past I've always preferred that the Courier just print my releases, because whenever the editors took an interest in them they'd come out all garbled.

But sometimes it's bad, like when officials do something stupid, dress it up as a good thing and knuckleball it to the voters.

For a good editor what's important is to read every release and sniff out whether there are questions that need asking. Then make sure they're asked, and put the answers in too. Oh, and check that the typist got the names spelled right and the dates and times are still correct.

A little while back an anonymous Courier employee commented here trying to defend the paper as being above reprinting press releases. Just sayin'.

There's no question about whether it's happening, at any publication. The question is whether you're doing it right.

Ailing nurses: Initiative seeks to reverse profession's decline

Yet another example of a face-plant by the headline writer. The nurses aren't "ailing," and the profession is booming, not declining. The local program just needs better funding so local people can participate in that boom. So: Foundation stumps for nursing-program funding.

Keep it simple, stupid.

Editorial: Kennedy's death ends a dynasty

Everyone in the media seems compelled to write their own obit on Ted Kennedy, even our little local paper, which has done nothing but spit on the principles the senator espoused and advanced. It's silly. But it's also revealing.

The unnamed Courier editor's key concept is dynasty. He relies entirely on the standard media mythos, writing a little paean to what can only be read as a dead king.

Authoritarians -- what this country calls 'conservatives' -- love kings. The editor is harking back to his ideological roots in the 18th-century Tories who would have happily continued to labor under the yoke of inbred European aristocrats. So it's no surprise that he focuses on the celebrity and makes only passing reference to what the man accomplished for his country.

What has made this man remarkable is not his tabloid life, but rather what he did and how he did it despite his wealthy, aristocratic background and his unassailable, arguably hereditary, seat in our own House of Lords. I appreciate that the editor is trying to say something nice. But what made the man great was his dedication to public service and his ability to bring people together for the good of all. That's the sort of work that makes this country great, and we need to teach our young people that anyone can do it.

I hear that Mitt Romney may make a run to replace Kennedy in the Senate. Could there be any doubt that the editor would jump up and salute another scion of political dynasty? Of course not. He just loves his kings.