about this sitesee Meranda's resumesee clips and work sampleskeep in touch

Archive for the 'WTF' Category

“Make me sound smart”

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

Every reporter has gotten to the point in a conversation with a source, usually as your interview is wrapping up, where the person makes the cringe-worthy comment: “Make me sound smart.”

How do you reply to that?

“Well, sir, I was going to make you sound like an idiot. But since you insist, I’ll rework it instead.”

Usually I simply reply, “You haven’t said anything stupid, so I wouldn’t be concerned.” If it’s been a lengthy interview or a particularly touchy subject, I offer to call back with any concerns or double-check quotes. [Side note: The few times I’ve actually been outright asked to see advanced copies of the stories and I’ve offered to double-check quotes, those sources after the story ran have actually commended me. One told me I “restored (his) faith in journalists.”]

Along similar lines, I’ve actually had people say this to me, “Well, you know what I mean, just re-work it so it makes sense.”

Um. You can re-state it. I might paraphrase if your wording is too convoluted, but I’m not going to reword your quote. Sorry?

But here’s a new one that actually caught me off guard. Yesterday, as I was finishing a conversation with someone I’d never spoken with before he made this disclaimer:

“What I always tell reporters when I talk to them is, I don’t care if you get it right or wrong, but make me sound smart.”

I didn’t know how to respond. I mean, “WHAT?”

So I simply and truthfully replied, “Well, I care if it’s wrong.”

What else do you say to that?

Is a database of graduate names really necessary?

Sunday, June 8th, 2008

Databases are great tools. They make complex information easy to understand. The proliferation of them on news Web sites is also a positive development. Reporters request, compile and uncover mountains of data doing their jobs. Put the data in the hands of the readers.

There are hundreds of useful databases on news Web sites today. But what’s increasingly sad — almost as sad as the tendency to create and dump unrelated databases without any context into data ghettos — is the increasing tendency to create databases of information that, really, a database isn’t useful in helping to understand. In the worst instances, it really just complicates the information for the sake of saying, “Look at all the databases we’re giving you!”

Let’s check some information a database is good for:

  • Crime statistics that allow me to sort by location, type of crime, etc.? Check.
  • Salary information for publicly paid employees, broken down by job title, salary, department, name, etc.? Check.
  • Property tax assessments that show me how much my — or my neighbors — home has gone up or down? Check.
  • Restaurant health inspection results, especially violations? Check.
  • Summer camps sorted by location, length, type and date? Check.

But does the world really need a database to search the name of high school graduates at a particular school? Apparently, Brevard & Lee Counties in Florida do. Des Moines, Iowa, thinks so, too.

Many papers, including my own, run graduation lists at the end of the year. I don’t personally get anything out of this (and thankfully, though I did penance as an intern in college typing these up for weeks, the data desk handles typing them here). But I see the utility to a community, especially a small one, in being able to see that “Jeff’s daughter graduated,” or “Betsy from church was valedictorian.” Plus, it might be nice as the student to have and clip your graduation list for your scrapbook.

I could even see the paper keeping these lists in an internal database. It could be useful down the road to have the names handy of the graduates of a class if someone goes on to do something famous, or if you want to find students who were under a certain teacher or administrator when that person reaches a milestone or dies. Or if something happens to someone and you want to go back and check they were indeed a graduate of City High School in 2005. I could see that.

I can also see, to some extent, the IndyStar’s database with profiles of valedictorians and salutatorians in the counties it covers. They used some of that information to compile a story that ran last weekend looking at the trends in colleges and majors, etc. of the best of class. It was actually a pretty interesting story, and at least it gives that database context.

What I don’t understand is why you would take something that is most digestible as a simple list and put it into columns and rows? What’s the reason — because you can? Chances are if I have an interest in it — enough that I would actually know the name of the graduate, as each of the databases asks for — I already know he or she graduated. The only purpose I see it serving then is double-checking, such as, “Wasn’t Molly supposed to graduate this year? Uh oh, maybe she didn’t pass Algebra after all.” About the only useful idea I’ve come up with of interest to even a narrow margin of the public is being able to do some type of data analysis to see how common your name is. For example, in Des Moines, there are three pages worth of people graduating with “Smith” as or in their last name.

It just seems there are better uses of your time and resources, other data that would be useful to compile and host. Not only that, but frivolous databases get dumped into those data ghettos, creating an overwhelming list that further waters down the useful ones.

What do you think? Does a graduation list need a database or does it just complicate it? Also, share the most unnecessary use of database you’ve come across. Sadly, I have a feeling this isn’t the silliest.

LOL @ nothired.com

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

If you’re a Twitter follower, you likely already know I discovered a new site about an hour ago.

It made me actually “LOL” several times, so I thought I’d pass along the joy of NotHired.com. Here are a couple of the journalism/writing related postings you may find as amusing as I did:


Here are a few typos from one applicant’s cover letter:

“I also teach an SAT prep course—the students their love me!”

. . .and. . .

“I can speak without thinking and right even better.”

Saving the best for last.

I’ll take “What not to call your potential employers?” for $1,000. Note the last graf:

It reminds me partly of Joe Grimm’s News Recruiter blog (the less formal journalism asides to his Ask the Recruiter column). In particular his Friday postings amuse me.

My two personal favorite lines from cover letters I proofread in college:

• Opening line of a cover letter from a photographer at my college paper in Kent, Ohio, to the Cleveland (Ohio) Plain Dealer: “Greetings from Ohio!”

• In a cover letter from a designer to the Gannett recruiter conducting on-campus interviews: “I want to get with Gannett.”

I’m sure there are others. But those both stick out in my mind as the funniest. Your Turn: What’s the funniest mistake you’ve made or seen?

A ‘circa long, long ago’ video about journalism jobs

Monday, March 10th, 2008

A major thank you to David Cohn for finding this gem of a video on jobs in journalism circa — I don’t know a long, long time ago.

Seriously. Is this how journalism used to be?

I remember a “Reading Rainbow” episode when I was growing up about how a newspaper was published, and even then, elementary school, I remember thinking it seemed dated. But I still loved that show.

I’m going next week to give a presentation on journalism as a career to middle school students. Perhaps I should show this video and then maybe the EPIC video, if only to give them a glimpse of how much things have changed and how rapidly they are changing.

Instead, my plan is to walk them through a story, a “typical” day, a bit about what types of jobs exist and where, plus how that’s changing and how to set themselves up to actually break into the biz. Then scare most of them away with a discussion of necessary education and internships, hours and pay. Just kidding. (Sort of.)

But seriously, “Women find it difficult to compete with men in general reporting jobs…” lol. And hot type? I’m glad to be in this biz today.

What do Ohio.com & IndyStar.com have in common?

Thursday, February 21st, 2008

They both annoyed the hell out of me tonight. And they did it with the help of the same Key Bank ad.

I need to update my ad block software or something, because almost or perhaps even more annoying than little green underlines on my articles is an ad that moves my page around so I can’t click or even focus on the actual content. Not only that, but you are allowing advertising to dominate the majority of my screen — including the content I actually came to see.

I took both these screen shots tonight to demonstrate exactly what news sites SHOULD NOT be doing with advertising. (Click the thumbnail for bigger pictures.)

Ohio.com/Akron Beacon Journal:
ABJ annoying key bank ad

and the Indy Star:
Indy Star annoying key bank ad

If I had to make one cardinal rule about online advertising it’s this: Do not, under any circumstance, annoy the reader. They may leave and not return.

You may get my attention, but this is a bad thing. I am forming a negative association with your brand and your company. Now, for instance, when I see Key Bank fliers, mailings, advertisements, etc. I am going to associate it with being annoyed. I’m therefore going to be even less likely to patronize your business or products than if you’d just sat there nicely and conned me into clicking with words like “$100 free for opening a checking account.” This is not exactly what you were going for was it? I didn’t think so.

What do you say about suspected plagiarism?

Thursday, January 17th, 2008

As we continue to follow the recent floods up here in northwest Indiana, I’ve been called on to pick up random stories here and there. (Not so much random, but between beats kind of things.) Today it was the arrival of FEMA to assess the damage. Yesterday, it was about the American Red Cross naming the region a national level disaster.

A version of the charticle that ran in today’s paper was originally posted yesterday (Tuesday night) as a breaking news item. A version of my story was out on the state wire around 1 p.m. today (Wednesday).

Now, today, I was charged with kind of picking up all the pieces for a comprehensive “This is where we stand” update for Thursday’s paper. My editor handed me a story printed off the site of the paper in one of the small cities to our north, which was one of the worst affected spots. It included comments about the Red Cross efforts in that area, which he wanted me to check into.

I set it aside as I made some other calls and tried to rein in other sources and wrap up another story. About half an hour later, I picked the print out up and noticed something that piqued my interest. It sounded familiar. Really, really familiar.

At first I thought, well how many ways are there to write that an area’s been named a disaster site? Coincidence perhaps. But then, when I re-read it, I noticed something that made my heart race. Between the lead in my online update yesterday and the lead in the story that ran today I made a change to clarify something I realized after I’d already posted the update. My original lead was:

The American Red Cross has named Northwest Indiana a national level disaster because of the recent floods, which destroyed hundreds of homes and left thousands displaced.

As a result, more than 50 volunteers from across the country have already been mobilized to aid in the recovery effort in the 17-county region, with headquarters in Lafayette.

When I wasn’t just trying to get the story up, and I was smoothing it out for print, I realized I needed to specify it “left thousands of residents displaced.” Otherwise it sounds like it displaced homes. I also fixed the incorrect capitalization on northwest Indiana. Small technicalities.

But seeing the same technical mistakes in the other story made me suspicious. So I brought up my online update and compared the familiar-sounding lead.

My version, with a 6:55 p.m. time stamp:
My original update

Their version:
Plagiarized story

I don’t know if I can sum up in words how utterly shocked I was to discover the first two paragraphs of that story were identical to the first two graphs of my update. I mean, word for word they must have been copy and pasted. Go back and look again. I had to.

At first, my instinct was, maybe the wires picked it up and they just took that to top their story. But then I checked, and as I said before, it wasn’t on the wire until 1:12 p.m. I had the print out before then. Plus, the wire story further cleans up my lead. I also noticed the story doesn’t attribute anything to the Associated Press or even “Wire reports,” and it certainly doesn’t mention the J&C.

I mean, wow. I was pretty much speechless. This stuff doesn’t happen. Does it? Nobody’s that dumb. Are they?

This is plagiarism, right? I’m not confusing my journalism terms or just annoyed that guy took credit for my haphazard sentences and reporting. I mean, this is not OK. Right?

On one hand I have the inclination that I’m sure we caught them off guard because we got the news late in the day and posted it after the Red Cross had closed. Therefore, they likely couldn’t independently confirm what they read on our site. But they didn’t even attempt to rewrite around it. There was so much other, (presumably) original reporting in that story. Why would you top it off with someone else’s lead, especially if that someone else covers your region and will likely stumble across your story? I don’t get it. I mean. Who does that?!

The next question, I guess, once I reconcile my feelings is… What do you do with something like this? I pointed it out to my editor when I realized. I don’t know what he will do or has done. I asked him, jokingly, what he’d do if we just took two paragraphs from another paper, and his comment was simply, “I can’t fire a (the other paper) reporter.” I’d expect to be and hope I would be fired for doing that.

So I guess my question is, what would you do?

One of the other reporters suggested I e-mail the reporter directly to ask about it. But I don’t know. It’s probably one of those things best left to the editors.

UPDATED: Reprinting yesterday’s news? That’s odd

Sunday, January 13th, 2008

I noticed a weird headline among the IndyStar‘s top read stories tonight: “Note to Sunday Newspaper Readers

It said:

Due to massive computer problems, several news stories planned for Sunday’s newspaper did not appear this morning. The problems, related to computer storage issues, required us to reprint some stories from Saturday’s newspaper, and leave out stories we had planned to publish.

We apologize for the problems which we believe are now fixed. Local news and sports stories we had planned for Sunday’s paper will be published in Monday’s Star.

I guess there’s always that risk, right? The problem with computers is that they crash sometimes. But the paper always comes out right? Right. At least the ads did in this case. I guess that says a lot. Not necessarily good things, either. They can’t get the news out, but the ads can be delivered to your front door step packaged in yesterday’s news. Oy vey.

It just strikes me as supremely odd that they would opt to reprint stories that already ran. How does that make any sense? If anything, just run wire. Or take some of the stories slated to run in the other papers in the chain (there are several in Indiana, including the one where I work). Or reverse publish some of your blogs. Or shift around some of that advertising and tighten the paper to make it seem less empty.

I remember how much we used to curse and cry and freak out when the system would eat our stories on deadline at the Stater, and before we replaced the printer, when we couldn’t get the proofs to print and had to rely on our eyes looking over the screen. And when the PDFs wouldn’t FTP to the printer and we were already past deadline? Oh those nights were a blast, too. For all the ease technology has allowed, it hasn’t been without its own problems.

I don’t pretend to be as smart or experienced as the folks at the Star. But I’m just baffled — as too, apparently, are the readers — as to why you’d re-run yesterday’s content?

To their credit, it does appear some of those stories are online today. But there’s the rub. Tomorrow’s paper will be full of yesterday’s news, again. The news that should have run but didn’t will run a day past its prime. Not as bad as a complete reprint, but an odd conundrum to be sure. I’ve never heard of anything like this, though certainly it can’t be unprecedented?

On the other hand, though this isn’t a correction, I think I may forward it on to Regret the Error because it’s just so odd.


Editor & Publisher wrote about the glitch in a piece I just stumbled upon. I do feel bad for the Star. I mean, yikes, you can’t access your content? What do you do?

The glitch resulted in numerous pages worth of news and advertising planned for the Sunday paper being left out and replaced by other content, said Managing Editor Pam Fine. She said the problem occurred after the paper’s CCI Publishing System went down and content placed in it was not accessible.

“We wound up running a lot of wire we would ordinarily not run,” Fine told E&P, citing as an example a Page One wire story on the Blackwater security firm and a Web story about a local congressional caucus that ran inside. “We also had a place holder for an enterprise piece that will now run on Tuesday.”