August 26, 2008

Let's do away with datelines

Tupperware is based in Orlando.

Standard & Poors is based in New York.

Which doesn't explain why this article about S&P upgrading Tupperware's corporate credit rating is datelined "Mumbai."

Datelines originated with wire services, which would begin a transmitted story with the place and date the story was written.

Wikipedia's Dateline article gives this example:

"BEIRUT, Lebanon, June 2 — The outlook was uncertain today as ..."

That's how the story would appear to an editor pulling it from the wires. When it appeared in the newspaper, the date would usually be omitted, leaving the now misnamed "dateline" to carry only the location.

Of course, pre-Internet, a writer writing a story about Beirut was presumed to be in Beirut.

But now, in the interest of saving money, agencies are farming news-gathering tasks out to Mumbai and other points east.

I'm going to leave the question of whether this makes journalistic sense for another time. The truth is, the Mumbai correspondent did a proper job on the Tupperware story. What I want to address today is whether the story's having been written in India is of importance to the reader.

It is not. It is a useful piece of information, but the reader, for the most part, does not care. For his own good, he should be told, but not necessarily first thing.

We ought not yell "MUMBAI" at our readers before telling them a story about New York and Orlando. Let's spare them that incongruity. Let's just tell them the story and then, at the end, whisper, in italics, "This story was written by Our Correspondent in Mumbai."

There was a time when datelines made sense. They no longer do. Except when they're used to actually convey the date.

August 21, 2008

I am the Lorax..

I probably should have guessed that there was such a thing as a person who would use a computer to paperlessly shop for and purchase a product and then print a paper receipt. Should have, and would have, if I'd thought about it. But that's the sort of thing I actively try not to think about.

But now that I have thought about it, thanks to this paper-saving tip by J.D. Biersdorfer in the New York Times, I'm just sad.

I had hoped that by now, people wouldn't need these things explained to them.

...I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues...

August 16, 2008

Batteries included -- for what they're worth

Why does a $30 cell phone bleep at you before its battery dies, but a $30,000 car doesn't?

August 15, 2008

Care less? Or less care?

For the second time this week I have seen, in professional writing, the phrase "could care less."

If one could care less, that implies that, to some degree, one does care.

The idiomatic expression that describes a complete lack of interest is "could not care less." Which is to say that one doesn't care at all, so it is not possible to care any less.

I bring this up because I could not care more about the proper use of our language.

August 13, 2008

Sportsmanship — or sportswomanship, as the case may be

One of our favorite modern complaints is that the Olympics are too politicized. We imagine that the ancient games were pure and unsullied by such vulgarity.

Although the ancient games of Olympia were a sacred act of devotion to the Greek gods, they were not free of politicking.

The people of Elis organized the first games at Olympia, but other Greek city-states often tried to gain control of the area. The nearby city of Pisa (the Greek one, not the Italian one) did so several times. In 364 B.C., during one such occupation, the Eleans' battle against the Pisatans not only took place during the games -- a violation of the vaunted Olympic Truce -- but took place on the field of Olympia, while the wrestling portion of the pentathlon was taking place.

I learned this, and much more, from Ancient Origins of the Olympic Games, a lecture that's available for free download through Sept. 4 from The Teaching Company.

I listen to audiobooks, podcasts, and lectures during my commute, to keep the time from being a total loss. These lectures were a great use of time, not least for the story of Kallipateira, a widow who trained her son for the games. She accompanied him to Olympia, even though women (except, interestingly, young unmarried ones) were forbidden to attend on pain of death. She disguised herself as a man but was -- shall we say -- exposed when she leapt over a barrier after her son's victory. The judges pardoned her, not only because her son had won, but because her father, three brothers, and a nephew were all Olympic victors.

Yeah. Way more entertaining than top 40 radio.

August 11, 2008

Drawing the line when others cross it

Remember when I said ethical journalists don't charge for news content?

The Society of Professional Journalists announced that on Sept. 6, it will present its Ethics in Journalism Award to Glen Mabie.

If you've never heard of Glen Mabie, don't fret—I hadn't, either, and as a person who works with journalists, I probably should have.

Mabie was chosen for the award because on Jan. 7, 2008, he resigned from his position as news director at WEAU-TV in Eau Claire, Wis.— resigned over an ethics issue.

From the SPJ's news release:

"The general manager at WEAU-TV and the top marketing and communications person at the area’s Sacred Heart hospital negotiated an agreement under which the hospital would pay an undisclosed amount to the station to do two 'health news' segments a week. These segments were to be broadcast as part of the station’s regular newscasts, and the reporters were only to interview Sacred Heart employees as part of the 'news coverage.'

"Mabie protested this agreement but could not get management to cancel the deal. Mabie submitted his resignation a week later and made no public announcement of his departure. In the end, the station’s management decided to end its deal with Sacred Heart."

In his nomination letter, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire professor David Gordon wrote: "I believe that Mabie’s willingness to draw a line in the sand and to stand up for his ethical principles regardless of the personal cost is a perfect fit for the criteria set out for the SPJ Ethics in Journalism Award."

Acccording to the SPJ, Mabie said the award is "a reminder of the strong code of ethics to which journalists adhere."

That's true.

Mabie also said his colleagues in the newsroom contributed to the award. But Mabie is the one who put his job on the line, and therefore serves as a living example of ethics in action.

August 8, 2008

Goes without saying

Given the technology available, why do I still have to give directions to pizza delivery people?

It seems that, no matter where I order from, I get a phone call from the driver because he can't figure out how to get to my house.

I suppose if I were out on some uncharted rural track, this would be necessary. But I'm only 1.8 miles from the nearest pizza restaurant. To get from there to here is one left turn and a right turn. That's it.

But I just got the usual call about needing directions.

They have my address. Even if they can't afford GPS devices for all the drivers, can't they use this site or this one and figure it out?

August 2, 2008

Loose lips sink ships — or reputations

In this case, the ship -- or rather, reputation -- sunk by a loose-lipped soldier was his own.

---------- Forwarded Message ----------

“As you know I am not a very political person. I just wanted to pass along that Senator Obama came to Bagram Afghanistan for about an hour on his visit to 'The War Zone'. I wanted to share with you what happened. ...
“As the Soldiers were lined up to shake his hand he blew them off and didn't say a word as he went into the conference room to meet the General. ...”

---------- End Forwarded Message ----------

Well, dontcha know, the American soldier who fired off this miffed missive signed it with his full name, rank and unit – which, since he is in a war zone, is just a teensy bit off-protocol.

He later recanted this testimony, but not before his family, friends, friends of friends and probably a few thousand people he never heard of were forwarding it to everyone in their e-mail address books.

Then, one of those thousands forwarded it to me.

Now, you must understand, anything with “Fw:” at the beginning of it that lands in my inbox -- unless it’s a joke -- gets run through the Snopes-o-meter.

Sure enough, the folks at Snopes were getting this thing almost before Obama returned to the States. They also got a bunch of mail from troops whose experience with Obama was completely opposite that of the disgruntled correspondent quoted above. One of those soldiers wrote, “I don't know who this captain saw, but it wasn't the Barack Obama *I* just saw in Afghanistan. Unlike most of the pols who breeze on through for nothing more than brief photo ops before leaving he was warm, friendly & engaging (as much as security would allow) with the troops he met and he was genuinely interested in us and our mission and how we could best serve our country.”

As for myself, I disagree with Barak Obama’s political positions on ... just about everything. But let’s fight fair, shall we? I mean, if you are going to slam a candidate, do it on the basis of his benighted ideas about how to fight a war or his lack of support for manned space flight.

But don’t lie about him.