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DeSoto Disgrace

A reader (and college teacher) sent me this beautifully written e-mail -- and it pounds a little newspaper called the DeSoto Sun over the head with a stick. It can get real bad out there, people.

Dear Bob,

Please clone yourself and send the doppelganger over here to Florida's West coast. We may not have the population density (of the east coast), but our bubbas, corruption, ignorance, and a lazy, lazy press make me long for a Bob Norman to keep tabs on it all.

For the last year, I've waged a campaign against plagiarism by local reporters and editors. The DeSoto Sun, a small zoned edition of the 30,000-circ Charlotte Herald-Sun, habitually runs "news" that's Website cut-and-paste or otherwise cribbed from a variety of prefab sources. Sun reporters and editors routinely publish stories fresh (and not-so-fresh) off the PR News Wire with their own bylines slapped on top. I've compiled a fat file of clips, sources, and line-by-line comparisons that I occasionally use in my college classes as a teaching tool.

As a result of my snotty e-mails to the managing editor and publisher, readers now get better bylines and attributions that acknowledge Charles Bronson's staff and not a local reporter writes our ag news and a school-board employee "covers" schools with an endless stream of superintendent-vetted puffery. Unfortunately, the publisher finds it sufficient that crime news emerges directly from the sheriff's word processor and business news is strictly Chamber of Commerce grade. City council news is typically a lightly reworded agenda with no evidence that the reporter actually attended a meeting. You'll never learn reading the Sun that my little town, despite the idyll of its name, has a huge crack and meth problem, the state's highest teenage pregnancy rate, and a soaring school dropout rate. The paper doesn't report that migrant workers are exploited in ways that recall the 1930's. Its reporters seem content that homelessness isn't a story worth covering here: "We just put 'em on a bus," a county commissioner told one of my students who was researching the issue last spring.

While the reporters have been emasculated (and seem content with their eunichhood), copyeditors have been turned into designers and paginators. Sun Publisher David Dunn-Rankin said in print that his "editors" won't challenge AP copy -- even to fix spelling -- because that would violate a contract; he expected readers to either swallow his lie or endorse his ignorance, I'm not sure which.

I'm about to go on and on, but I can see I've more than filled a screen that was supposed to be dedicated to high praises of your good work. I discovered The Daily Pulp last spring via a link from Mark Lane's Flablog and have since bookmarked it and check it daily. It's the best blog in the state. You keep writing and I'll keep reading.

Sincerely, Marilyn Tarnowski Arcadia

God, I loved informed, outspoken citizens -- lifeblood of America, baby.

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman

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