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Cat bites, "coocks" and bad journalism

I took an editing class my junior year of college. I learned about headlines, different newspaper layouts, photojournalism and grammar, grammar, grammar. [Admittedly, rules of which I often break on this blog.] Occasionally we spent a class period looking at newspapers printed throughout the country. Our assignment would be to critic the front page of various publications. My professor advised my peers and I to look at small town newspapers because they usually had the worst layouts, photographs and headlines. The newspaper printed in the small town where I currently reside is no exception.

Truthfully, I refuse to read it 80 percent of the time. This is due to the fact that I can’t pick it up without 1. cringing and 2. wanting to take a red pen and edit the entire thing. Articles are placed in such a way that it’s sometimes difficult to differentiate between two separate news stories. Headline hierarchy is obviously a concept foreign to the editor. There is no font consistency. There is zero balance. And 98 percent of the stories have no significant news value. I wouldn’t consider the last fact to be a problem, considering it is a small town paper. But for the love of all that is journalism please be grammatically accurate.

Okay, now that I’ve vented on that just a bit, let’s cut to the chase as to why I’ve bothered to address this issue at all.

Last Friday my brother moved back to Arizona, leaving behind four cats for my parents to take to their new property. One cat wasn't too thrilled. When my mom attempted to place the cat into a kennel, it reacted by biting my mother between her thumb and index finger. The wound was cut clear to the bone. Blood was squirting everywhere. So naturally my mother went to the doctor where she received a tetanus shot. Apparently incidents involving a cat bite must be reported to the police. That’s a small town for you. So an officer went to the doctor's office to file a report about the incident. Five days later...

My mother made the second page of the newspaper-- the Christmas edition. Yes, the second page. Three columns. Six paragraphs. The largest headline on the page reading, "Cat bites reported in two separate weekend incidents." I reacted with hysterical laughter. I mean, really? Do the people of this town really care to know about a cat bite? Oh, I’m sorry-- two cat bites? It’s as if there was a wild rash of mad cats running amuck, attacking the innocent townspeople. And get this-- the story was inaccurate.

"It was while she was driving along [name of road] that the stray escaped his confinement and began to 'freak out.' The victim said she opened the door to allow the cat to exit. As it passed her, she said it scratched and bit her." 1. She was not driving. 2. I highly doubt my mother would have reacted by throwing a cat out of a moving vehicle, which is what the story implies.

If it wasn’t for the fact that it was the Christmas edition and the front page featured photographs from a children's play of Twas the Night Before Christmas, I’m convinced my mother would’ve made the front page.

And if that wasn’t enough...

The report beneath the article was about the death of a 22-year-old local girl. My cousin and the girl had known each other in high school. She died Wednesday afternoon in a car crash on the interstate. This article was less than a third the size of the pointless cat story. Is the newspaper really suggesting that a cat bite is more important than the death of a young girl?

I'll just end this journo rant by saying my dad and I got a kick out of the Christmas section of the paper. Kids from an elementary school had their essays and letters to Santa published-- spelling mistakes and all. I see how the paper is going for a cute factor, but the cute factor should be in what the children are writing, not their spelling mistakes. It makes the teacher appear as if he/she doesnt't know how to edit. Maybe that's just me. Maybe I'm being too harsh. But was it really someone's job to sit at a computer all day to accurately type spelling mistakes? Did the teachers not edit the essays? Were the rough drafts submitted by mistake?

Let's just say my dad and I believed a few of these essays and letters to Santa could be easily misinterpreted:



What do we believe?

This picture reminded me that many times throughout history, society has believed lies that were later proved untrue. Things like "the Titanic is unsinkable." Statements are made every day that we just accept to be true. "Media are always right." Many never question what is in print. I just want to remind you of these simple words by Ronald Reagan: "trust, but verify."