Wednesday, 10 May 2017 06:06

Talk of the Towns for June 10, 2017

Written by  Staff

Double cross(word)ed

There are a handful of sins newspapers cannot commit that are absolute. Usually, Talkers are satisfied if the tens of thousands of words that can appear in a weekly edition don’t include any offensive ones. Yes, an occasional apostrophe slips in where it doesn’t belong (and we do know the difference between its and it’s), a typo might slip past them, the dreaded double word that is so hard to catch is suddenly glaring from the printed page and even a punctuation error or two occurs.

And sometimes what appears to be an error really isn’t, as newspaper grammar sometimes varies from the King’s English, and even the “Oxford comma” is a constant matter of dispute. Usually, if there are fewer than 10 minor errors out of every 10,000 words, we figure that to be a pretty good batting average for a small staff that does just about everything required to create a newspaper, short of threading the printing press itself.

But there are some unforgivable sins. Over the years, Talkers have seen the results of writers and graphic artists goofing off by putting content into stories, headlines and even advertisements that were never meant for public consumption, yet somehow made it to print. And although the term is thrown around so loosely most don’t understand the definition of it, libel is what we guard against the most vigilantly.

The worst offense, Talkers were reminded last week, is when the crossword puzzle is left out of the paper. It’s happened two or three times in the last eight years, but each time it does, phones and e-mail accounts are flooded with complaints. There were also a few weeks not too long ago when the print quality of the puzzle was definitely sub-par. Talkers don’t know why but, hey, at least it was there.

During the final hours of production of last week’s edition, a late decision to move the puzzle to a different page was made and the page to which the crossword was destined, one that had previously been electronically transmitted to our printer in Winston-Salem, was never replaced with the new version to include the puzzle. So, puzzle solvers who turned to the page where the crossword was supposed to be were disappointed to find only a “For The Record” commentary written by a Davidson College student about an asbestos issue in Davidson and a couple of editorial cartoons.

It was weighty content indeed, but that which does not rise to the level of the New York Times crossword. Talkers apologize, and they know if it happens again, they’ll be the second ones to know about it.

Is it news?

Talkers can already hear the hue and cry in certain circles as they digest this week’s issue of the Citizen. “Why,” they will ask in an accusatory tone, “did they not write about the former mayor of Huntersville and her free membership to NorthStone Country Club?”

In this era of reacting to a story that may not be a story and rushing to be first to put it in print or on the air, some media outlets still prefer to take the time to make sure that news is, indeed, news. First, if it’s on local TV, Talkers cast a cautious eye to simply repeating a report. And sometimes the effort to find out if something truly is news takes more time than the print cycle will permit.

So, rather than parrot a story that may or may not have legitimate value, responsible media will take the time to ask more questions: For example, ask the general manager of NorthStone directly, rather than take the word of a third party, that he was unaware membership was still extended to Huntersville’s former mayor because he was “unaware” she was no longer mayor. And secondly, was it a membership at all, or perhaps an arrangement with the town that falls short of that level.

So many questions and so little time. The key is to take the time ... first.

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