Friday, March 10, 2006

Hitting the road

I'll be incommunicado through the 14th. Blog amongst yourselves.


Keeping the red pencil still...

Several days ago I wrote about a variety of situations where poorly constructed prose might come to appear in the daily paper and about how it's possible to manipulate it to subtly create certain impressions. Today's column by Glenda Overstreet illustrates that I omitted at least one relevant scenario.

It is possible that someone without the skills to express him or herself clearly with written English could be offered a position as a regular columnist for a newspaper. I find that very disturbing on a number of levels.

I can understand printing a letter to the editor or a quote that wouldn't pass muster in a stack of middle-school homework assignments. What I can't endorse is giving a byline to someone without the skills necessary to produce the work.

I have nothing against Ms. Overstreet and I applaud the notion of including the president of the local branch of the NAACP on the roster of columnists. It's inclusive and provides an opportunity for the readers of the Capital-Journal to benefit from views they might otherwise not. But her struggles with setting her views down undermine her ability to get them across.

If the newsroom management haven't got the spine to insist on helping her with a strong editorial hand, they're doing her no favors. The "Norm Crosby" malapropism and the horrid grammar do not serve her intentions at all. These things needlessly add confusion, frustration and dismissal to the process of digesting her work. It shouldn't be that difficult to read a newspaper and in my opinion she needs editorial assistance or replacement.


Thursday, March 09, 2006

Word of the Month: Mystification

Mystification: The activity of obscuring people's understanding, leaving them baffled or bewildered.

Okay folks, I've been planning to blog on this subject for a while and I've been doing some research in preparation. Unfortunately, the luxury of time was lost with an editorial in today's Capital-Journal and so I'll jump into this now.

Here's the piece, in its entirety:

Published Thursday, March 9, 2006

Tolerance -- Good timing

By The Capital-Journal editorial board

The Character Word of the Month has won favorable reviews from many in Topeka since the international program was first implemented here. It consists of 49 positive characteristics to be given emphasis, one each month.

This month's word, "tolerance" couldn't have come at a better time. However, the definition given to the word by the international organization falls short of the kind of tolerance needed in Topeka now.

The program defines the word as "realizing that everyone is at varying levels of character development."

That seems to put the onus on the people to be tolerated, rather on those needing to be tolerant.

Just because someone annoys us with his views or some other characteristic that is different from ours doesn't mean that other person is flawed. It just means he's different.

Webster defines "tolerate" as "to recognize and respect others' beliefs, practices, etc., without sharing them."

That's what Topeka needs more of.

Well that's just fine except for one thing, the Capital-Journal is one of the major sponsors of this program in Topeka, outside of the city government. As such, this accurate (if brief) and overdue examination of the program is both welcomed and mystifying.

It makes me wonder if there is a factional skirmish over the program at 6th and Jefferson. One day I'll talk about the tension at a newspaper, between journalism and commerce...newsroom and sales department. Perhaps the editorial board may be the third leg of this stool.

The Capital-Journal presents the program at You'll notice that they have ommited the definition discussed in the editorial in favor of these other bits from the support materials:

Tolerance vs. Prejudice
Tolerance is:
• Not confusing what is right with what is popular
• Expecting the same of myself as I expect of others
• Looking for ways to help others mature
• Accepting my own unchangables and the unchangeables of others
• Listening before I form an opinion

The editorial identifies the issues I'd been preparing to discuss. These are, the laughable definitions of the words and the agenda these definitions expose upon close examination.

I've been disturbed by the billboards since they first appeared. What dictionary are these people using. Here is last month's installment:

Resourcefulness: Finding practical uses for that which others would overlook or discard

I may not know much, but that's a really bad definition for resourcefulness. It might work for "frugality" but when I think of resourcefulness, I think of creatively solving problems with limited means. offers, "Able to act effectively or imaginatively, especially in difficult situations." I'll buy that.

I'll assume that many of you, like myself before I began researching, know little, if anything about the program. The "City of Character" program is a product of the International Association of Character Cities, based in Oklahoma City, and an offshoot of something called the Character Training Institute.

In Silja J.A. Talvi's excellent examination of this program and it's purveyors, he singles out the first "character" word that raised my eyebrow:

Obedience: Quickly and cheerfully carrying out the direction of those who are responsible for me

Elsewhere in the company's literature Talvi finds this definition for the same word:

"Obedience" is defined as the "freedom to be creative under the protection of divinely appointed authorities. All legitimate authority comes from God. He is the One who sets up rulers and takes them down. ... God ordained government to carry out his will in matters of justice."

See where these people are coming from? Talvi has one company representative on record as saying, "We use this because we can't take religion into schools and government. But it's all based on the same thing."

How much are taxpayer paying to promote this thinly camoflaged religious agenda?

Talvi's research is an eye-opener. I highly recommend reading his work. I can't possibly improve upon it

For a bit of added perspective, here's what Phil Anderson, the Capital-Journal's "Faith" reporter wrote about the program two years ago:

Program makes mark in Topeka

Let's hope some people at C-J are ready to give this program a serious examination.


Wednesday, March 08, 2006

What's with -30-?

Several people have asked. This is as good an explanation as I could find:

Whichever explanation satisfies you, it's in the newsroom where this archaic practice has endured.

I really like the idea of using "</30>" instead of "-30-" and I wish I'd thought of it.


Does it strike you as odd also?

It seems odd that the Capital-Journal is relying on wire service coverage of the Westar/Wittig and Lake story.

Westar to get some Wittig assets (Published Wednesday, March 8, 2006)

I guess when a story rises to the level of AP coverage the hometown scribes are off the hook.


Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Does CJonline care about the legitimacy of journalism?

I discovered this over the weekend and wanted to bring it to your attention. The Capital-Journal dead tree edition runs something they call the Business Review. You've seen the page. It's chock full of little ads and in the middle features promotional patter about one or more local business.

In print, this content is clearly labeled "An Advertising Feature of The Topeka Capital-Journal." It's not even listed on the front page index of the paper's content.

CJonline, however, just shovels this stuff onto the Web server sans any disclaimer of journalistic intent. It's presented as another news item and they list and present Business Review as just another content section of the news operation.

Now granted, if you read these pieces you'd think they were really odd little news stories and once you figured out that they're ads you might well be annoyed that you were suckered into reading promotional copy in this manner. Perhaps you'd even consider complaining to the paper and the merchants involved about this.

But, if you wrote like, actual news stories for the paper, I'd expect you to be justifiably pissed-off that this drivel is given equal stature.

Down the road I'll be writing about the blurring of the boundary between journalism and commerce often...oh, trust me.


Monday, March 06, 2006

Not sweating the little things

As a rule, I try to refrain from calling attention to spelling, typographical or grammatical errors unless they have an impact on meaning or clarity or appear in a headline.

Here ya go...

Auschwitz innmate recalls photographing the living dead


Addendum: I thought I'd check to see if this had been quietly corrected on-line and after much searching I've discerned that this story doesn't appear on CJOnline at all. Now it might not be that unusual for not every bit of wire service page filler to make it on-line but this was a very large piece, lengthy, two columns, large headline, photo and caption. Its exclusion is odd.

Here is that AP story as it appeared on another site.

Headline of the week

I'm initiating a "Headline of the week" contest for the staff of the CJ copy desk. At the end of each week I'll award the best Headline designation. Along the way I'll make nominations to myself.

To kick it off I'll nominate yesterday's gem:

DNA reunites area family, horse

I'd like to see that topped!

Feel free to comment with your nominations.