In terms of the Sun-Sentinel's Help Team, there's good news and bad news. First the good news: The "Sun-Sentinel Watch" charticle (a mix between an article and chart that is all the rave at newspapers these days) was bumped off the Local front and onto 3B this morning. Apparently the editors have realized that in their zeal to pander to readers' every whim they may have gone too far. Today's version is about a damaged fence in Sunrise, though it's not quite as exciting as it sounds. It doesn't exactly demand prime real estate. Pushing those things deeper in the newspaper makes them a little more palatable.
But for that step forward, the newspaper took three or four steps back. The front page today is dominated by a Help Team special about the danger of pool drains. In, oh, something like 50-point type on the top of the front is the headline, "A Hidden Danger." Next to that is a giant graphic explaining the mechanics of pool drains. This is reminiscent of the worst brand of TV tabloid journalism. You can hear the anchor, "Swimming pools ... founts of fun or watery dens of death? Answer at 10." The only possible way this story is worthy of such hysterical front-page treatment is if there's been a spate of local deaths tied to pool drains. Uh, no. The writer, Diane C. Lade (who didn't do a bad job on the story), reports that their have been 25 deaths. Nationwide. Since 1990.
To put that incredibly paltry number in perspective, more people were killed in that time by mobile woodchippers -- not to mention thousands of grotesque mutilations. Hmmm ... Killer Woodchippers. The Help Team could do a five-part series on something so meaty.
Some weekend coverage highlights:
-- Paul Lomartie and Pat Beall pick apart Riviera Beach in the Palm Beach Post. Interesting carpet bombing of the issues, though nothing groundbreaking. Tiptoes admirably around the most blaring problem: The apparent inability of the black community in Riviera Beach to help itself.
-- Ana Menendez on hate mail, a topic the Pulp knows something about. I think Ana's great, but sometimes what she describes as the syllable-rich deftness of academia can invade her copy. I only went to a state school, so can somebody tell me what this means: "With time, however, I came to appreciate hate mail for what it is: a nascent art form just waiting for its own school of criticism, marking not only its maturity but its eventual ossification and decline."
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-- Douglas Hanks III delves into the inherent corruption of travel writing. Nice piece of reporting from the opening scene throughout. He let Poynter Institute ethics instructor Kelly McBride provide the real nut graph: ''I hate to be a cynic about this ... [but] I assume the work is tainted when it comes to travel journalism. . . . I assume the judgment of the writer has been compromised by getting free meals or free plane rides.''
-- Speaking of ethics, did anybody catch Michael Putney on Channel 10 Sunday? He was talking about some oxymoron or another and to educate his viewers about what an oxymoron is, he said it was sort of like "journalistic ethics." I generally think Putney is a decent commentator, but that little line lived up to his nickname of Putzney (okay, I just made that up). He meant it lightly, maybe even in jest, but there's enough hate and hysteria being worked up against journalists right now, especially with the Bush Administration's disgusting, politically driven campaign against the New York Times (and, by extension, the Bill of Rights). And the fact is that the journalism trade, the vast majority of it anyway, is long on ethics. Matter of fact, I'm not sure there's another profession so consumed by ethics as the newspaper trade -- certainly not law, business, politics, insurance, real estate, etc.
-- Not from the weekend per se, but been meaning to post this Daily Business Review story from Julie Kay about petty crimes catching up with people in the computer age. Interestingly, the story zeroes in on none other than Westlaw -- the new exclusive Internet content provider for DBR and other American Lawyer Media publications -- as one of the culprits.