I take all your blaming!

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2006

‘Chronicles’ author Ray Bradbury dies
—ajc.com, August 22, around 10 pm.

When I saw this headline in the AJC’s ‘news buzz’, I started to gather my thoughts and reflect on the passing of one of my favorite writers. Then I clicked on the link, and decided instead to reflect on the low level of quality control at news websites.

‘This just in: Ray Bradbury alive‘—I fired off to the AJC folk. I (helpfully?) included the AP story the headline linked to on the AJC site, which of course discussed Bradbury’s 86th birthday celebration. And I tried not to be too annoying in my notation of this small um…blunder.

Ah, well, I am quite the cosmic picker of nits. Quite the corrector of others’ errors. But as Nancy said when I tossed all of this into an iChat window her way last night, if you can’t get the little things right, the big errors are likely to get through too.

We learned that back in our little journalism school in the Appalachian foothills, and so I shuddered more than a bit as I read via Romanesko about the attempt of the University of Georgia newspaper’s editor, David Pittman, to articulate just why and how the Red and Black screwed up not once, but twice in one issue.

Pittman starts off, with no apparent irony (or maybe my sensors don’t pick up 21st century student irony) by saying the R & B “has been hammered” in recent days for its decision to print two stories that celebrate the concept of going uptown and doing quite a lot of drinking, including of the underage and of the till-you-black-out varieties.

Yep, mistake. Even in our arguably harder-drinking days in our Athens, we knew better than to provide a handy guide to drinking games…and we kept our rambling ‘lost weekend’ new journalism pieces (mostly) out of the paper. But I’m willing to give the youthful editor a pass on his bad judgment. After all, as he admits, he didn’t read either of the pieces before they ran.

But here’s where I want a freshman english professor to slam him up against one of Athens’ brick walls and jam a well-thumbed copy of Strunk and White up his nose. His ‘Editor responds to recent debates’ (a really lousy headline, by the way), is some of the sloppiest, weakest writing I’ve read in a long while. And hey, I’ve been reading blogs.

Here are just a few examples…please read his entire piece to get the full sense of..uh..what’s annoying me.

  • He writes: “I’m not saying the initial story idea was taboo…” …he’s trying to convey the idea was a bad one, not a forbidden one. Wrong word choice.
  • “some of the behavior exhibited downtown and the reasons behind why one should play those games are flawed.” Reasons behind why one..uh..huh? Are you trying to use ‘rationale’? Reasoning? Rationalization? Awk.
  • “We want to pose a call to action for all University students…” I don’t believe you pose those.
  • “I don’t see anything wrong with acknowledging the bar scene, drinking games or even what bars have the best drink specials on what night in the pages of The Red & Black.” The specials take place in the pages of the Red and Black?
  • “Hopefully, it will reignite an open and honest debate about the University students’ drinking habits and what the administration should be doing about it.” Lose the ‘hopefully’; does it ‘reignite’ a debate if that debate hasn’t happened yet? And…what the Administration should be doing about them…habits, plural.
  • “That is not a good excuse for those stories still being there, however.” I think they’re “still” there because, y’know, you printed them, using that ink stuff and those large press-like objects.
  • “As for The Red & Black running those stories, I take complete blame.” We’re of course looking for you to take the responsibility…I think the blame will be delivered to your doorstep whether you ‘take’ it or not. Again, use the right damn word!

In one paragraph, he’s speaking in the first person, and then switches to the collective “we” at the paper, and then morphs into “as a community, we want this page…”—who are you? Pick one!

And whichever one you pick, sit down and rewrite this apologia (if that’s what it is) about a hundred more times…as practice, not penance, for what may well be your career.

I’m imagining another time, another Athens, where my dear friend and editing icon Deb, sleep-deprived, would be slumped slightly at the copy desk (note to students: a place where these things are checked and honed!), holding this guy’s piece with disdain, a roll of faded yellow wire copy groaning under a spew of blue pencil marks and typewriter smudges. “Just do it again,” she’d say, tossing it back.

And of course, she’d make sure you were sure whether something slugged ‘Bradbury’ was, in fact, an obit or a celebration of longevity.