“The Press,” mass media and bloggers

One of the keystones when I read the New York Times in its staining, non-soy-ink edition, at the tail end of it’s black-and-white “Grey Lady” era was the language. Reporters wrote, editors edited and their bosses vetted articles for publication. “All the News That’s Fit to Print™.” And what was fit to print, in part, was the language of the article. Always in sync/synchronous to/in line with/alike to the current Manuals of Style (AP, Chicago, or internal) and their dictionaries. CBW became ‘weapons of mass destruction.’ RC airplanes became ‘drones,’ even if they were smaller than their decades-older ancestors, using batteries instead of gasoline-powered engines.

The press is already an endangered creature. I’ll be honest: I read the NYT and WP through their paywalls and pay only if the specific article gets my attention. I’m part of the problem: there are so many places where I can get the sensational information from multiple, free sources, and the more it bleeds, the more venues to watch/read/hear about it. After all, the Internet market is about click-throughs, page reads to set ad placement, and SEO analytics to monetize a page to the max.

Also about speed. And speed is queen, now. Who waits for the next morning to get information tweeted twenty hours previous, then blogged and shared through imagur, tumblr, facebook and a zillion other venues? Where’s the value added? Grammar? I think not.

So now we have outlets, like this CBS affiliate in my home town, where spell-checking is left to the computer, and the urgency is in the report, not the readability of the content. Such as, in this case, the content surrounding an Amber Alert. I’ll quote it from here in its entirety, just to point things out:

Amber Alert Suspect In Custody After SWAT Standoff
August 8, 2014 6:18pm
UPDATE: August 9, 12:20 p.m.
Austin Amber Alert suspect Jesse Thomas has been taken into custody, according to Harris County Sheriff’s Office. According to DPS officials, Jesse Thomas, the suspect in an amber alert out of Austin, was reportedly involved in a stand off with police in the Houston area. According to Sgt. John Sampa, troopers located Thomas’ vehicle this morning on the southbound frontage road of Highway 249. The road is blocked at Spring Cypress. Police had the suspect cornered in a parking lot of a Petco store. He says they were actively negotiating with him. Thomas turned the child over to authorities around 9:30 a.m. and was taken into custody after a brief struggle a shot time later. Officials would not say if a weapon was involved.

According to Austin Police Detective J.J. Schmidt, Thomas will be charged with Burglary for kicking the door in, DPS will charge him with Endangering a Child and APD will add several other charges related to kidnapping within the next several days.

9:15 p.m. UPDATE:

Police say Jesse Thomas is Cheyenne Johnson’s biological father, but he was told today that he no longer has parental rights.

He is currently out on bond for the aggravated assault against a peace officer with a deadly weapon. The biological mother is currently incarcerated. And the grandmother had full custody of the child, police say.

Investigators say Thomas went to his mother’s home, where Cheyenne was located. She refused to let him in but he went to the back of the house and kicked the door in, and got the child before fleeing the scene.

He was spotted at 5:15 p.m. at a U-Haul Storage facility, located at 1030 E. 46th St. Officers attempted to make contact, but as he saw them approaching he came at the officers with his vehicle and left the scene at a high right of speed, police say.

A short pursuit ensued, but was terminated due to heavy traffic and his erratic driving pattern — speeds of over 100 mph with the child in the vehicle.

Thomas has a violent history with other felony charges pending right now, police say.

If you see him do not make any contact with him. Call 911 or the homicide tip line at 512-477-3588.

Police say they believe the child is in danger.

Police have issued an Amber Alert for a missing child last seen Friday afternoon in South Austin with her father — but his parental rights have been relinquished and he’s considered dangerous.

Investigators say two-year-old Cheyenne Johnson was last seen at 1:54 p.m. in the 1800 block of Anita Drive, just west of South Lamar Boulevard and south of Barton Springs Road…

The highlighted errors don’t change the story. I’m sure that Detective (Lt., by the way) JJ Schmidt (one of the best officers ever to be put in front of a microphone or camera) didn’t dictate the text.

The issue here, picayune as you might think, is that getting the basic spelling correct is part of the reporting. It’s a lot easier to trust someone who knows how to spell with at least 7th grade capabilities than someone who relies on “autocorrect” to get the words right. Spelling and punctuation change the meaning. And the reputation of the source (CBS’s KEYE-TV in this case) is on the line.

Getting it right is job #1. Getting it right quickly is a close, but not competing, second. If spelling stops being important, the facts are a close second in losing to ignorance or “fat-fingered” spelling.