Full-court Press on bad writing

Good writing should be praised. I have an entire category devoted to it. Likewise, subpar writing must be confronted. This is bad stuff.

Or at least talkable, teachable stuff.

The Associated Press is a great, award-winning, 166-year-old organization, but two writers stepped out of bounds last week.

#1
In a story of a family rescued from the Oregon wilderness, I was curious about the reasoning behind not correcting the grammar of the father.

• “The wife had the Blackberry and I had the knife,” Dan Conne told The Associated Press. “I kept flashing. The wife said, `You’re blinding them.’ But I wanted to make sure they seen us. I wasn’t taking no chance.”

• “lt was just a real happy feeling, ’cause we knew we wasn’t going to die out there.”

• “Rubbing sticks together? That don’t work.”

This wasn’t a profile piece that needed an injection of dialect. This was a news story quoting a man who’d survived six days with his wife and son. I’m at a loss on this one.

#2
Education is a topic near to my heart, but this story about college rankings seems to hold a leap of logic in the third graph.

“It’s colleges that have spent billions on financial aid for high-scoring students who don’t actually need the money, motivated at least partly by the quest for rankings glory.”

This sentence conveys the idea that the writer believes all or most students who excel academically are wealthy, too. The flip side of this is the idea that all or most wealthy students do well academically. The statement comes off as an opinion rather than an objective take on the problems of college rankings.

Like #1, this is a news story.

Buried in the middle of the article is the following quote:

“In the mid-1990s, roughly one-third of grant aid, or scholarships colleges of all types awarded with their own money, was given on grounds other than need (typically called ‘merit aid’). A decade later, they gave away three times as much money – but well over half was based on merit.”

Disregarding the incorrect use of the word “over,” this factual evidence does provide some backing for the writer’s contention that colleges are wooing high scorers to the disadvantage of other students who need more help financially.

However, even though the article later includes quotes supporting this hypothesis, the writer should not have generalized his notion of “high scores = rich kids.”

#3
Finally, what the hell is “cookie-cutter copy,” and how can it be good for journalism?

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