Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Who’s Really Doing the Work?

Maybe it’s just my state of mind this morning, but I find this amusing.

A local news station reporting on an overnight house fire closed the article with this statement:

            “We are working to learn a cause of the fire.”

This prompted a mental video of what that would look like.

Reporter to fire department: “Got a cause of that fire yet?”

Fire department: “Nope. It’s only been an hour since we put the fire out.”

Reporter drinks some coffee, types up another story, and calls back an hour later from the comfort of a climate-controlled office.

“Got anything yet?”

“Nope. Building’s still too unstable to get inside.”

Reporter refills the coffee cup, checks to see what other stations are reporting, does a little more typing, takes a bathroom break. Another hour passes. Then another call to the fire department.

“Well? What’s the status?”

“You’re kidding me, right?”

If you don’t know anything about fire investigation, I can tell you it’s dirty and often difficult work – especially in buildings like this one, which was heavily damaged in the fire. Investigators have to wait until the fire is out and, if necessary, until the building is stabilized and safe to enter. Then it’s digging through ashes and rubble by hand to get to the place where the fire started, working in heat, rain, snow, wind. For large fires, heavy equipment may be called in to remove debris.

All work is done carefully and deliberately to preserve any evidence that remains. Photos and videos are taken throughout the process. Witnesses, building occupants, and the property owner(s) must be interviewed. A structural fire investigation can take a few hours, or several days – or even longer,  depending on the size of the fire, the type of building involved, and the extent of the damage. Every detail is documented in a report.

So when a TV station’s reporter says “We are working to learn a cause of the fire,” I have to laugh.

Who’s really doing the work?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

More Words on Fire

It seems that in this age of “gotta have it now” news coverage, there isn’t time for reporters to do even minimal fact-checking or spell-checking. Yes, I know, you are shocked and surprised to hear this.

I am continually surprised – but not so much shocked anymore – by the typos that continue to crop up in local media. Sometimes they just make my head hurt from shaking it back and forth in disbelief, or thunking it on my desk.

From a Denver Post reporter who, IMHO, wrote some of the best stories about the Waldo Canyon Fire comes this report about a recent arson at an apartment complex:

“Fire investigators are . . . looking into reports of a man with a can of gasoline spreading the excellerant down a hallway of the burned building.”

That should be “accelerant,” as in a flammable liquid used to accelerate the spread of a fire.  “Excellerant” isn’t even a word as far as I know. Even my computer redlined it. Maybe it’s derived from a spell in the Harry Potter series: Excelleranto!

Then there’s this description of a traffic accident that was posted on the web site of a local news station:

“Officials say the truck from Engine 9 was enoroute to a call with lights and sirens active, when they were hit.”

Three mistakes in one sentence (four if you count the unnecessary comma) – and the rest of the article isn’t much better.

We’ll start with Fire Department Nomenclature 101. “Fire truck” is a generic term frequently used by the public when referring to vehicles such as fire engines (also called pumpers) and ladder trucks. Considering that many people outside of the fire service simply don't know the differences, I generally don't get my knickers in a twist when people say “fire trucks.”

However, fire departments typically use specific terms to identify their vehicles. In Colorado Springs, units are identified by the vehicle type and the fire station where they are assigned. Thus Engine 9 is a fire engine (pumper) operating out of Station 9; Truck 4 is a ladder truck operating out of Station 4; and so on. “The truck from Engine 9” just makes no sense whatsoever. 

Any reporter who’s assigned to cover public safety really needs to be familiar with basic terminology. Otherwise their work might end up on my blog.

And as evidenced by the misspelled “enoroute,” and the inappropriate pronoun (“they” for the single noun “truck”), it’s clear that reporters also really need to be familiar with English spelling and grammar…

Care to join me in some aspirin for that headache?

Friday, August 3, 2012

One Letter Makes a BIG Difference

You have to love it when people get a little too keystroke-happy.

Case in point: A Facebook comment in which the person intended to type "Candy Stripers" - you know, those sweet hospital volunteers who go around helping and cheering up patients. They get their name from the striped uniforms they wear.

What actually appeared on screen: "Candy Strippers."

Seems to me those kinds of volunteers - and presumably a lack of uniforms? - would take "cheering up patients" to a whole new level... <grin>