Your journalism detective is on the job, readers.
In my reading of recent editions of The Star and The New York Times, I came across three items that gave me pause. Sometimes, newspaper stories that prompt you to pause are good because you’re reflecting on what you’ve been reading. But in these cases, the pauses were not good because what I had just read had me thinking, “What the hell is going on here?”
:: A Dec. 28 item in The Star reported that a 17-year-old boy from Fort Smith, Ark., died on Christmas Day from injuries he suffered when a Ford Model A he was riding in struck a light pole in the 9100 block of Nieman Road in Overland Park on Christmas Eve.
You don’t see many fatalities involving Model A’s any more, so it piqued my interest. The five-paragraph story, written by Bob Cronkleton, said that the victim, Travis S. McAfee, was in the rear seat of the “kit car” when it veered off the road, hit the pole and rolled onto its top. McAfee was ejected. The driver, a 65-year-old man and two other passengers, suffered serious injuries, the story said.
I wondered just what a “kit car” was because Cronkleton didn’t explain. I looked it up in Wikipedia, and the definition gave me the impression that this was probably a case of a new car body being put on an old chassis. But it could be something else. In any event, I wondered if this was an old putt-putt car or if it was an old car that had been souped up and was capable of high speeds.
Since Cronkleton had failed to inform, I called Officer Jim Weaver, Overland Park Police Department spokesman. Unfortunately, he wasn’t much help, either. He said he didn’t know much about the wreck, including whether excessive speed had been a factor. He said the traffic unit was investigating but that a report on the wreck had not been completed.
Then, I asked about the “kit car” business. He didn’t know, so he put the phone down to check with another officer. When he came back on the line, he said, “We’re not exactly sure what a kit car is.”
So, once again, just like in the collision that killed 16-year-old Zach Myers of Lenexa a few weeks ago, The Star raised questions in an account of a fatal accident, but it didn’t bother to try to sort out the answers.
This time, though, I’m not pulling out all the stops to find out what happened and what the deal is with this “kit car.”
I’ll say this, though: Cronkleton owed the readers an explanation, and his editor should have pushed him to explain. You can’t just toss an unfamiliar term out there and expect readers to know what you’re talking about. Once again, it was a case of lazy reporting and editing.
:: The New York Times had an outstanding, front-page story on Sunday, Dec. 26, about a football coach in California who is teaching youngsters a safer way to tackle. Instead of head-first, helmet-down, the technique he teaches is chest-up, head-up, with the tackler thrusting his hips and shoulders upward into the ball carrier.
An accompanying photo showed several youngsters, with their heads pushed way back, moving into tackling “dummies.”
The photo told the story.
Two days later, however, The Times ran a story on its sports page about the growing popularity of football in Israel. And right there, in the middle of the page, was a four-column photo of a player doing exactly the wrong thing — hitting a dummy helmet first, head down. That’s the prescription for a concussion or other head or neck injury.
The journalistic moral? If you’re going to preach what is good, such as a safer way of tackling, don’t turn around and depict what is bad. It’s like a paper crusading against texting or using the cell phone while driving (which The Times has done), but then running a photo of a teenager texting someone while driving to illustrate a story about the proliferation of social networking. (The Times has not done that, I’m happy to say).
:: On the Op-Ed page of Wednesday’s New York Times, an eye-catching chart appeared under the heading “The Year in Questions.” In the five-column spread, which consumed about two-thirds of the page, contributing columnist Ben Schott presented readers with an end-of-year quiz consisting of about 100 questions. It was a very challenging quiz, which included a section that asked readers to match eight specific quotes with the people who uttered them.
Before starting the “match the utterance” section, I scoured the page to see where I might find the answers after I finished. Sometimes with those types of quizzes, the answers are upside down at the bottom of the page; or they’re on another page; or they’re in the next day’s edition. But the reader is almost invariably guided to the answers.
In this case, though, there was no clue anywhere on the page where the answers were or when they would be provided.
Well, I slogged through the “match the utterance” section and hoped that the answers would be on the Op-Ed page today, Thursday. They were…And, sad to say, I only got two of the eight “match the utterance” questions correct.
Yes, I flunked “The Year in Questions.” However, I’m smart enough to know that The Times should have told the readers on Wednesday when and where the answers would be published.