Tuesday, April 22, 2014

"He's Bonafide!"

Pardon me if I “rasp poetic.”

I am, obviously, a blogger. I was also, for about ten years, a journalist. For the past eight years, I’ve worked as a technical writer. I teach English. I’m completing the third revision of a novel, one of many I’ve written (no, I’m not published yet, but give me time). I feel the sting of typos to the point I scout my Facebook history and my blog looking for things that need to be fixed. And I fix them. And have been called anal retentive for doing so. But I will continue to do it. I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication and a masters degree in English. I am, as they say in the vernacular, bona fide.

Also, I try to practice what I preach.

And one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned in nearly 20 years as a writer is that writers live in glass houses. And shouldn’t throw rocks.

But that’s a lie, of course. Writers throw rocks all the time. Writers should, however, have better aim. And more polished rocks.

Here’s a journalist throwing rocks at bloggers. As I read her screed, I’m not sure how to write my own. Context, I keep saying. Context. A journalist is supposed to provide context. As this journalist rags on a blogger for not writing as a journalist should, there’s no context. No link to the offending blog so we can judge for ourselves – and bless me, we would judge – the content of said blogger’s character. The old saw goes that if your mother says she loves you, you should check it out. So if this blog is so bad, let your readers check it out. Seeing the evidence for themselves will help them believe what you say.

As it is, there is no link. No context. So we’re left to judge the character of the judger.
I know. I’m throwing rocks.

Polished rocks.

Here’s her version of events, factually laid out (at least in part) contrasting with the unlinked blogger’s nonsense:

The Caldwell police responded to calls from local residents that they may have seen someone on the foreclosed lot next to their home. The house has been vandalized in the past, so the police set up bright yellow police tape.

"We want kids and others to know they can't just trespass," said Caldwell police cheif James Bongiorno. 

In order to help the problem, the chief added, the borough is reaching out to the owners to take immediate measures to secure the house so there is no easy access.

Hm. Much, much too wordy for starters. Here’s what a journalist should have done:

Caldwell police want trespassers to know they’re watching the vacant home at ADDRESS.
“We want kids and others to know they just can’t trespass,” says Caldwell Police Chief James Bongiorno. He said borough officials are trying to contact the vacant home’s owner to ensure trespassers can’t get on the property.

Neighbors called police DATE AND TIME when they noticed someone on the lot. The home has been vandalized in the past.

We don’t need to know about the bright yellow police tape, or that the measures will be “immediate.” This journalist says she likes to “rasp poetic” and that “[a]dding in that poetic or inspirational writing is the art in journalism but not every journalist has those creative bones and can spin their words to "weave that sticky web of an irresistable (sic) news story." Sadly, either you have that poetic eye - or you don't.”

I don’t know if she counts the police setting up bright yellow police tape as poetic or inspirational, or spinning words to weave that sticky web of an irresistible news story. But it’s not necessary for a police blotter item. Stick to the facts, and keep the poetry and inspiration in the features. Police stories need to lean heavy on fact – such as the location of the house and the time and date the complaints were called in. Now, I have no way of knowing if this excerpt is the full story or not – again, there’s no context provided. Maybe she did a better job in the full story. She doesn’t provide me with a way of knowing.

Perusing other writing under her name at Jersey Tomato Press, however, shows many other examples of the poetry and inspiration getting in the way of the facts.

As my own unused (for years) AOL sends out meaningless emails to contacts - that were deleted 2 years ago - and Target takes a giant sigh of relief after their giant hacking into their systems, Michaels Stores, a fun family-friendly (sic) arts and crafts home store, announced late yesterday they had been hacked.

What’s the news? Oh, the Michaels data breach. But it’s buried under the poetic inspiration. I don’t care that her AOL account was sending out meaningless emails. And her mention of the Target hacking makes it sound like the company was hacking its own systems. And if Michaels were a grumpy, adults-only arts and crafts home store, would she put it that way?

Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn A. Murray announced today that the former Glen Ridge Borough Registrar of Vital Statistics admitted to stealing $82,981 from the Borough over a three year period.

Tresor Gopaul, 30, of Montclair pled guilty today before the Honorable Peter V. Ryan, Judge of the Superior Court, to second degree theft by unlawful taking.

Wow. Three very, very long titles in two short paragraphs. Here’s what a journalist would have done:

A former Glen Ridge Borough registrar pleaded guilty in superior court DATE to stealing $82,981 from the borough over three years.

Tresor Gopaul, 30, of Montclair, pleaded guilty to second degree theft by unlawful taking, according to Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn A. Murray.

Who cares who the judge was? If the judge had something significant to say about the crime, then include his name and honorable title. Otherwise, it’s unnecessary information. It’s important that the guy pleaded (not pled) guilty. The rest of the information, including his title, can come later in the story.

The story has other problems – two individuals identified by the last name of Wells – is it the same person, or two Wells? The second Wells isn’t identified by title or by connection to the case.
And if you’re going to criticize bloggers, don’t write like a blogger. This piece just oozes blogginess. A real journalist would not continue to insert herself into the story, no matter how poetic or inspiration she might be feeling. She has a significant story here. She should step out of its way.

Yes, I know it’s easy to sit here and armchair quarterback news stories for a news organization that confesses in a blog post it has no copy editor. Just as easy as it is to armchair quarterback bloggers for doing what they do without really considering the blogger’s reach (probably very small) and their motivations (sometimes like looking into an empty room, yes, but more often than not they have a sincere desire to do something, whether it’s to share the news, feel involved, shout into the darkness or write scattered commentaries on the state of journalism versus blogging). It’s all relative.
I congratulate the Jersey Tomato Press on its willingness to work hard at journalism. But invest in an editor, as some of  your commenters have said. Someone used to editing newspaper stories. Then preach against bloggers all you want, after those rocks of yours are polished.

And yes, I took a butt-first exit from the industry in 2005. I don't claim to be a perfect journalist. I don't claim to be a journalist at all now. But I have my bonafides in professional writing, and I ain't afraid to use them.

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