Sunday, July 21, 2013

Cause and Effect


Here’s a cheery story for a Sunday morning. Apparently, a family came home from vacation and found a body in the back yard of their home.

A reporter at one of our local news stations, after relaying those same facts, had this to say:

“There is no known cause at this time.”

Um. Okay. Cause for what, exactly? The cause for the body being in the back yard? The cause of the family finding it?

Oh, wait! Maybe this writer meant cause of death!

The lesson here is simply this: Say what you mean. Don’t be vague in your writing, or assume that your reader will know what you’re talking about just because it sounds good in your head.

If this writer had kept that advice in mind, he/she wouldn’t have written this gem of a closing sentence:

“We're told based on the state of the composition of the body, it could take weeks to determine the cause.”

There’s that cause thing again.

But a friend who pointed me to this story was more amused by the “composition of the body.” Well, let’s see. Flesh, bone…

Perhaps the writer meant “decomposition.”

Perhaps the writer needs to watch more episodes of Bones and pick up some terminology. You’d be surprised how much you can learn from TV.

Friday, July 5, 2013

And…We’re Back


You might recall back in June 2012 when I put this blog on hiatus because of the Waldo Canyon fire, which destroyed 347 homes in northwestern Colorado Springs and killed two people.

The last month of blog silence resulted from a combination of factors. The major one was the Black Forest fire, which destroyed 511 488 homes in the community where I’ve lived for more than 20 years, and took the lives of two of its residents. 


My husband and I are among the very fortunate who did not lose loved ones, or suffer property loss or damage from the fire. But there was no way I could poke fun at mass media's typos and gaffes (or those I noticed while watching the seemingly endless fire coverage on TV) while so many were mourning their losses.

Life goes on, however. No sooner had I started thinking about getting back to blogging than the news broke about 19 firefighters killed while fighting the Yarnell Hill fire in Arizona. There aren’t adequate words to put this tragedy into any sort of perspective, so I won’t try. But I can tell you that as a former firefighter and as a writer, certain typos in the media coverage of these kinds of events really tick me off.

Case in point:  A secondary headline on the CNN.com main web page said:

The firefighters were part of an elite "hotspot" squad.

Really? Every other news outlet managed to get it right by calling these men “hotshots,” which is derived from the official name of certain wildland firefighters: Interagency Hotshot Crews (IHC).

Yeah, I get it. Breaking news, gotta get it out first, blah blah blah. But calling 19 dead firefighters by the wrong term is, to me, just insulting. The writer can’t claim finger-fumble because the “p” and the “h” aren’t even close on the keyboard!

I don’t know how long the typo appeared on CNN’s page. I had clicked through to see if the story headline was also incorrect (which it wasn’t), and by the time I returned to the main page to capture a screenshot, the mistake (thankfully) had been corrected.

The early stages of any emergency or disaster are chaotic by nature, and the media often puts out contradictory or even false information until officials set the record straight. But honestly, there’s no excuse for some mistakes.

There’s also no reason except pure, unadulterated sensationalism behind the (over)use of the term “Breaking News” to keep TV viewers glued to the screen for everything from a zoo elephant’s hangnail to a mass murder in another state, but that’s a rant for another day.