Sunday, February 27, 2011

Case Study No. 8

It’s very easy to think that many things in this world happen due to cause and effect, as in many of the bogus readings we had this week. But the key here in all of the Slate articles is the distinction between causation and correlation. 

After writing the story on the increase in attendance at Alachua County libraries, I was easily fooled by the economy being the causation of the increased attendance because of all the quotes in the story. People go and use the free entertainment, because it’s no hurt to their pockets. They use the free computers and free internet to look for work and fill out job applications. It’s easy to become easily deceived by all of this. 

In the New York Times story on shoplifting, the Times cites several reasons to the “increase” in shoplifting, but none of the reasons are well thought out to truly be causes. They sound practical, but the statistics ran alongside these causes are not as supportive as they should be. Lastly, keeping sources confidential in the story rubs me the wrong way, as well. I can understand not naming an undercover security guard, but if you’re not qualified to talk as the source from the Mall of America was, point me in the direction of someone who can, and who can vie for the facts being discussed.

Each of the bogus stories has its flaws. But as copy-editors, we should always take a step back from the stories and truly examine the situation for the betterment of our publication’s credibility.


The story I’m using for this exercise is a gamer from the UF v. Kentucky game on Saturday done by Kevin Brockway of the Gainesville Sun. This story appears the same in print and online. I’m sure if there was not enough room in the paper for the full story, some parts would have been omitted, but posted online. The story does a great job explaining the Gators’ lost and what happened during the game. The Sun provides more pictures from the game, but no video.


For this exercise, I’ll be using Chad Smith’s column that was published Monday in the Gainesville Sun on a budget impasse between the Alachua County Commission and the Sheriff’s office. 

1.      Make a list.
a.      Why is there a budget appeal?
b.      Why is spending within the budget so difficult?
c.       Why are new employees needed?
d.      Is doing away with the school crossing guard program a good threat to the budget appeal?
e.      Why can’t the Sheriff’s office stay within the budget if county commissioner Mike Byerly said every other office can?
2.      Think about change.
a.      What is going to happen if there is no more school crossing guard program?
b.      What are Alachua County parents going to do if this program is terminated?
3.      Think about the unusual.
a.      Definitely this school crossing program as a threat. The outcry parents have from this will make a great story.
4.      Ask yourself what interests you.
a.      This piece can lead to other pieces, especially on Sheriff Sadie Darnell’s side onto the need for more employees. Also, what working within this budget means compensation-wise for everyone else.
5.      Think about the next steps.
a.      Maybe a story on the other branches that made it within the budget to see the difficulty but possibility of getting within the budget.
6.      Think about the people.
a.      A story on the potential seven deputies leaving the school resource programs and the effect that can have on the schools they were in.
7.      Apply the five W’s.
a.      Who is going to cave in on this appeal?
b.      What is it going to take for both sides to agree?
c.       When is it all going to happen?
d.      Where are the schools that have officers in them, are they problem areas in the community?
e.      Why would the school crossing program be determinate over any other programs?
8.      Ask how.
a.      This is only going to happen if both sides can agree on the same terms, obviously. How it happens remains to be seen.
9.      Ask others.
a.      The school crossing program seems to be an interesting angle that others would be interested in.
10.  Read.
a.      How these other branches got within the budget, and how Pasco County Sheriff Bob White dropped his appeal.


Here's a link to five sneaker magazine/message board Web sites I like to visit from time-to-time. 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Case Study 7: Jimmy's World

The Jimmy World’s story by Janet Cooke is one of the best stories I’ve ever read. It’s captivating and hard to escape after reading the first paragraph because your natural curiosity is to keep reading to find out how an 8-year-old deals with heroin addiction. From his lavish outfit to his street smarts, we are amazed to see that Jimmy may be an 8-year-old, but is far beyond his time because he’s seen so much. With his love for math and vision of a successful future, we think he has his priorities as straight as they can be coming from a home of a drug dealer. And even as things in the story seem not to make sense, it’s easy to accept them for the truth because after all, not all of us live this lifestyle and can say we know this is really going on.

Too bad it was all fiction.

It’s hard to conceive how Jimmy is wearing “fancy running shoes” and has six striped Izod shirts living in a rough, Washington D.C., neighborhood. It’s hard to see countless numbers of people walking in and out of the home Jimmy lives in to get their hits to ease the pain, or even how a young teenage couple comes over to cook their own supply. A real drug dealer would never let anyone into his or her sanctuary to do such a thing.  It’s hard to believe how Jimmy goes to school and his favorite subject is math, and how his drug habit goes unnoticed by the others at school. And with that habit comes something I simply cannot fathom: how does his mother accept his drug habit, and how does she allow her “live-in-lover” to inject him with heroin?

Despite the discrepancies, it’s easy to see with such a well-written piece could get past the psyches of several editors on the job, and even a promotion from the great Bob Woodward. But the urgency to run the story without having someone else to verify all the “facts”, and not listening to veteran editor Vivian Aplin-Brownlee when she shared her concern was a big mistake put the Post in hot water. Aplin-Brownlee knew the type of writing and reporting Cooke was capable of, and most of all, she knew what type of person Cooke was. Cooke even lied to the Pulitzer board about her college education. She knew Cooke’s ambitious personality was capable of committing such a journalistic crime and in the end, Aplin-Brownlee was right.

I think as a copy-editor, it’s not only important to be conscious of what you are reading, but also whose work you are reading, too. Aplin-Brownlee recognition of Jimmy’s World as a unique piece from Cooke triggered her intuition and this is something all copy-editors should walk away with — know your writers. By knowing the personalities and styles of the ones you edit the most, it becomes easier to question the validity of their work. And in turn if they get to know you, working together becomes easier and does not create any confrontation when the number one goal should be producing flawless pieces for the publication.  

In addition, being naturally curious is just as important. Copy-editing is not only about making sure stories are factual and easy-to-read, but to ensure they are valid and truly make sense.  As copy-editors, don’t be afraid to dig deeper. Find out how Jimmy is wearing “fancy running shoes” and how he’s doing in school, or better yet, what school he goes to.  Question how it’s conceivable for a mother to allow her 8-year-old son to be addicted to heroin and even question on what it was really like seeing Jimmy get injected first-hand.

Even as copy-editors, we shouldn’t be afraid to do a little dirty work.