Saturday, July 5, 2008

On Wednesday, the Times Picayune's editorial board rightly scolded people for using the term 100-year storm. Hurricanes don't watch the calendar. A 100-year hurricane is one that has a 1 in 100 chance of striking in a given year. There is no reason that 100-year hurricanes couldn't strike two years in a row. Or even three. As the TP wisely says, "the problem isn't the person who coined the term, it's the people who continue to use it."

On Friday, Mark Schleifstein filed a report in the TP on new storm risk assessments. Schleifstein write about the risk of a "100-year storm." He uses the phrase 7 times, in fact. Three times he refers to a "50-year storm" and three times to a "500-year storm."

According to the TP's editors:
There are better ways to describe risk for hurricanes and river floods, and scientists, engineers and government officials would be doing the public a service if they talked in terms of percentage of risk. Doing so takes a little more explanation, but people will be far better informed.
Scientists, engineers and government. It's curious that they don't include the media in that list.

So is the TP uninterested in performing a public service. Or does the newspaper just not have the time to explain the odds to the public in terms of percentage of risk. For the scientists, 100-year storm is a shorthand phrase, and they no doubt understand what it really means. Isn't it the media's job to translate technical issues into terms a layman can understand?

Monday, April 7, 2008

In that last post did we say more cultural coverage is always better? Sorry. Slip of the tongue. More quality coverage is better. There were some stories in the Lagniappe this week that missed that mark. Keith Spera cribs the entire meat of his piece on Iron and Wine from an interview in Paste magazine. What happened? The TP couldn't score its own interview?

A sloppy error sits smack in the center of Robyn L. Loda's paint-by-numbers piece on the Isleños Festival:
New Orleans area residents may be more familiar with Latin American cuisine since Hurricane Katrina brought an influx of food vendors to serve an expanding Latino population. But the Islenos have been celebrating such dishes at the festival for three decades.
Just to be clear, the Isleños are from Spain. Spaniards do not eat tacos.

Brett Anderson normally covers the food beat, but he's been missing for the past few weeks. He did return on Sunday for a story about a car accident involving Bacchanal's owner:
People won't remember March 30 as the sort of perfect Sunday night they've grown accustomed to at Bacchanal Fine Wine and Spirits, although that is precisely what it was until tragedy stuck in the wee hours of the following morning.
That lede just makes my head hurt. Or maybe I should say that that lede does not make my head not hurt.
Turns out local boy Dave Walker is the president of the Television Critics Associations. In this article in Broadcast and Cable he laments the demise of the television critic:
“The fact that newspapers are giving up this role as navigators over this most pervasive of mediums, it’s totally weird to me,” said Dave Walker, president of the Television Critics Association and critic at the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

I certainly agree that more cultural coverage is better, but Walker might want to look in the mirror to discover why his ilk is becoming irrelevant. How many weeks did he spend summarizing the plot of K-Ville? As if that wasn't sufficiently sleep inducing, he now summarizes every episode of a This Old House show on New Orleans. When you've become the equivalent of a soap opera digest for the PBS crowd, it's hard to argue that you're worth the expense.

Monday, February 25, 2008

What's the website of the Times Picayune? Did you say Silly you. James Gill is here to set you straight in an op-ed about Nagin's latest insane outburst:

The security question came up after Nagin complained about blogs on a website affiliated with, but not controlled by, the Times-Picayune.

Gill is the kind of crusty of old newsman that we approve of here, but if you're going to write about contemporary life do a little research. This is a blog that you're reading right now. Comments on a story do not make a blog.

But what about the contention that is just some random website that reprints stories from the Picayune? There's more:

The Web site posts articles from the paper and invites reader comments. Among readers taking advantage of that opportunity, Nagin said, are "some of the most vile, angry people that I've ever seen in this community."

He is absolutely correct. Some of those bloggers can put a racist spin on a weather report, although it seems a bit of a stretch to blame the newspaper for that.

Yes, the paper takes no moral responsibility for what's printed by the website that's presented as the online face of the paper. I mean, the Times-Picayune and the website are run by completely different units of the Advance Publications. That would be like assuming that Allstate Insurance Co. and Allstate Indemnity Co. are the same company, and only a fool, for example Jarvis Deberry, would be that silly. creates a platform for hatred and bigotry. When you allow unmoderated, anonymous comments then you end up with the kind of filth the fills that site. Do the editors not understand that, no matter what the org chart at Advance Publications says, is the website for the paper. And people talk about those comments as much as they talk about the articles.

Now, maybe Gill is just out of touch and doesn't get the whole internet thing. I wonder what Chris Rose says, because he's down with the kids. Turns out that same day Rose made this lawyerly sounding statement about "the comments about my stories on our affiliated Web site,"

Why do I suspect a memo went out advising all writers to keep at arms length. Back away slowly from the internet, and no one gets hurt.

Correction: The original post referred to "Dan Gill," the crusty old gardening columnist, instead of "James Gill," the crusty old op-ed writer. Sometimes it's hard to keep the old men straight. Thanks to a commenter for pointing this out.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Some newspapers never admit mistakes. Some papers issue corrections. The Times-Picayune?

They admit mistakes, scrub the commentary from the print edition, erase it from the online version and delete letters responding to it all. See Kevin Allman's blog for plenty of visual evidence on how the Picayune tried to hide its offense to hizzoner.

I think it's safe to say that Nagin made the Picayune his bitch.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Times Picayune has a new ombudsman. The NOPD.

In what amounts to a page one correction disguised as defensiveness, Brendan McCarthy reports that "Murder victim's identity incorrect." You see, yesterday Brendan reported that "N.O. murder suspect now a victim: He was sought in Christmas shooting." Turns out 18-year-old Eldrin George, wanted for murder and a series of Uptown armed robberies, is still alive.

How did this happen? How did Mr. McCarthy mess this up? He makes it clear that he had plenty of sources:
The Times-Picayune incorrectly reported in Wednesday's editions that George, 18, who has been implicated in a dozen armed robberies and the Christmas shooting of six people, was shot to death.

Seven police officers, including some officers close to the investigation, all speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Times-Picayune that George had been killed. Some of the officers said the man's tattoos, scars and markings matched those of George. The Police Department, however, declined to publicly confirm the murder victim's identity, as did coroner's office spokesman John Gagliano.

Seven sources seems pretty good. How could they all get it wrong? But here's a good question, why wouldn't a single one of them go on the record? Perhaps because they all knew that their info wasn't good?

Granting sources anonymity should be done rarely and only when it serves a purpose. What purpose did it serve here? Was this such a worthwhile scoop that it warranted using shaky sources? And does the Picayune have any policy on use anonymous sources?

More importantly, shouldn't McCarthy have acknowledge in the initial story that he relied on anonymous sources? Perhaps even told us why the sources refused to go on the record? Of course, citing "anonymous sources who refuse to go on the record because their information is uncertain" doesn't make a good story. But it might have saved some embarrassment.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Sorry for the extended silence, but the local media has been so good, so thoughtful and careful, that I've had nothing to say. Nah, just kidding.

"Get the name of the dog." It's a mantra of good journalism. It means, get every little detail, because you never know which one might be telling. As Brendan McCarthy shows is this Times Picayune article, it's not enough to get the name of the dog. You also have to know when to use that detail and, more importantly, when to leave it in the notebook.

McCarthy has great material. It's a bank robbery like you'd see on K-Ville. An organized team robbed an armored car in the middle of the day. Allow me to quote at length so that that you can hear the tone deaf delivery:
Three men in ski masks with assault rifles at their sides pulled off a highly choreographed armored-truck heist late Thursday morning and exchanged gunfire with a security guard outside a bank in the bustling Riverbend neighborhood.

A just the facts lede. Nothing wrong with that.
The brazen armed robbery, according to police and witnesses, went like this: Shortly before 11:30 a.m., a black Dodge Intrepid squealed to a halt -- diagonally across the road -- outside Mona's Cafe at 1120 S. Carrollton Ave. Car horns began blaring. Drivers started swearing.

A man dressed in black with a ski mask covering his face got out of the car and walked down the block.

He starts to slip here. If you're going try a narrative approach, it's best not to start so bland.
Across the tree-lined street, children at St. Andrew's Episcopal School reveled at recess, playing a game of Octopus, when the commotion erupted. A teacher ushered the students into the chapel and led them in prayer.

Ah, the revelry of youth! I bet you didn't know this, but it was also a beautiful morning in New York the day the terrorists attacked the Twin Towers. Innocence and evil! How can they both exist in this world of ours?
On the Zimpel Street side of the building, an armored truck idled. An armored-truck guard pushed a cart stacked with encyclopedia-sized boxes of coins and money toward the truck. The other guard held the door open.

The gunmen confronted the guards.

Bennett Luke, a bank customer, said he was inside leaning against a wall, chatting on his cell phone. The room suddenly went quiet.

Well, now that it's quiet Luke will find it easier to talk on his cell phone.
The gunmen fired several rounds. Across Zimpel Street, a young man in his pajamas heard the shots. His cat was clawing at the window.

"Dut-dut-dut-dut . . . It sounded like firecrackers going off," said the man, who asked not to be identified.

"I came out of my house and this guy had a straight-up AK-47," he said. "It even had a banana clip on it. This was a professional job. No doubt about it."

The robbers got away with an undisclosed amount of money, authorities said. They never entered the bank, according to sources.

My word, man, it's 11:30 in the morning. Time to take a shower and get dressed. No wonder he didn't want to be identified. And watch that cat. Sounds like it's trying to escape.

What I want to know is whether any puppies witnessed this brazen crime. And what was that puppy's name?