The Continuing Decline in News Reporting

I Really Rolled My Eyes at the poor reporting in the source for a story in this week’s issue. Let’s start with my version of the story:

Back on the Street Too

A teen girl was alone at home in Tampa, Fla., when she heard the front door being kicked open. She quickly called 911 to summon help, and then quietly slipped out her bedroom window to safety. Hillsborough County Sheriff deputies arrived, including one with a dog, and called for the intruder to come out with his hands up or they’d send in the dog. With no response, a deputy went in with the K9 and quickly found the man hiding in a bathroom; he was apprehended at gunpoint and, presumably, toothpoint. Cody Lee Maund, 28, was arrested. Investigators note that in the past six years, Maund has been arrested 18 times, and convicted of three felonies. (RC/WTVT Tampa) …A happy ending: an intruder charged with burglary of an occupied residence rather than rape and murder.

Maund, captured. (HCSO bodycam)

The Problem?

In its first reference, WTVT Tampa identified the suspect as “Cody Lee Maud”, and used that surname in two other places. But then I noticed that the caption on his mug shot in the middle of the story said, “Cody Lee Maund mugshot courtesy of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.” (emphasis added).

“Dude! You, like, got any weed?” Maund’s mug. (HCSO)

OK, which is it? I had to go to the HCSO’s web site, which allows for inmate look-up, and found no entries for “Maud” — but did find that Maund is still in jail, being held on $15,250 bond. It also notes he’s a Florida native, and is 6ft tall and 170 lbs.

But Wait, There’s More

Then there was this terrific quote: “‘She was safe,’ Martello said. ‘She didn’t have any injuries. And, you know, we’re very thankful that this started and a different way.’”

In addition to having no clue as to how to parse that last sentence, that’s the only reference to “Martello” in the whole article: it never says who s/he is. My guess is, Martello rolled his or her eyes when they saw this “quote.”

Sure, everyone makes typos, including me and the other True contributors. But unlike “professional” news organizations like WTVT, True has editors who catch most of them, and an Errata Page where you can report things they didn’t. WTVT doesn’t have a place to report problems, at least that I can find. I’m thankful for True’s editors since they indeed do catch similar errors made in the stories.

I’ve said it before: news outlets complain that readers are dwindling, yet won’t lift a finger to offer them quality reporting that (yup!) actually attracts readers. The news biz sure has changed a lot since I started this gig in 1994.

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22 Comments on “The Continuing Decline in News Reporting

  1. Thank you for addressing something that’s been bugging me for ages. Editing seems to be a dead profession these days. I realize there’s a lot of self-publishing going on — which is fantastic IMO! — but at least get a highschooler to proofread it. Or maybe your Grandma — she might do a better job.

    As for supposed “professional” media — shame, shame, shame. You have editors, so use them! Society is stupid enough as it is….

    More and more, they don’t have editors. (Maybe assignment editors, but not copyeditors.) -rc

    • McClatchy has two (I think) copy editors who are “retired” and part-time. The two of them cover several papers in the upper south, working remotely.

  2. Back when I was running on the ambulance a few of my calls made the local news (a shooting, a few MVAs, a mass casualty event, etc.) I always enjoyed reading the news stories about them because never once was the reported story anywhere close to what actually occurred. Really has made me jaded and distrustful of the media. If they are misreporting a story about a vehicle accident, how can I trust that major stories are being portrayed accurately?

    Years and years ago I wrote, “In addition to my job as a writer, I’ve worked a few other careers, including a brief stint as a sheriff deputy, many years as a medic, and ten years at a NASA field center. One thing in common in all of these jobs is that I have often been a participant in, or direct observer of, events that tend to end up in the news. And not once, when I knew the entire story, did any news report on the event come without at least some small error in the ‘facts’.” -rc

    • When I was in Vietnam at a battalion headquarters we got an example of terrible reporting. There was a tactical operations center that daily got all of the after action reports from all over the country. One of the clerks liked to go into the TOC and read them. He also got a newspaper from home. One day while reading the newspaper he jumped up and ran to the HQ.

      When he came back he said the report listed an infantry unit moving along a ridge that stopped and sent some soldiers down to a stream to get water. While there they heard a noise, set up a hasty ambush, killed two VC and captured three weapons.

      The newspaper repeated everything above except the VC set up a “hasty” ambush killed two soldiers and captured three weapons.

      The flaws include the fact that no one would report the VC setting up a hasty ambush because that is a specific technique that you would have to see to report it. The VC would NOT have taken our weapons; how would they get ammo for them, plus the M-16 was not as good as an AK-47. And, third, no commander would claim enemy dead if he lost his own men. His dead would be treated with respect and medivaced.

      Since then I’ve seen several instances where the news media deliberately twisted and lied about what happened.

      “From 40. years experience of the wretched guesswork of the newspapers of what is not done in open day light, and of their falsehood even as to that, I rarely think them worth reading, & almost never worth notice.” –Thomas Jefferson, 1816

  3. Even the ‘Big Boys’ — The New York Times & The Washington Post — have recently trimmed their news staff. It’s hard to tell if the fault is with the publications or with people who want their personal viewpoint spoon-fed to them by algorithms with no interest in facts of her clicks.

  4. My greatest disappointment is they, the authors,the composers, the teleprompter typists, the sign makers, et al, None seem to have a clue that what they are putting forth not only Appears incorrect, and then, if reread, Sounds entirely incorrect. Drives me nuts, and still breaks my heart.

    • I can’t resist! Fixed it for you.

      My greatest disappointment is that they (the authors, the composers, the teleprompter typists, the sign makers, etc.) don’t seem to have a clue that what they are putting forth not only appears incorrect, if read aloud, it also sounds incorrect.

      This drives me nuts and breaks my heart.

      • You got it in one.

        If you do not have a professional proof reader available read it ALOUD to yourself and that will show you where the missing commas and periods, etc belong as well as make you think “that does not make sense” .

        With some software you can get it to read what you have typed and that also works to show the worst errors.

        One of my favourite authors has terrible continuity errors but the stories are so inventive I read them anyway but always complain to myself when a character leaves something at home but has it on hand when needed. etc.

  5. I get annoyed at the lack of proof reading too. Quiet often they’re are worms with correct spelling but their are the wrong words. Too much reliance on spell checking programs. I think auto-correct is for aunts.

    • Wow Dean —
      Those couple sentences were very difficult for me to get through. Really, really difficult — only when I read it out loud quickly did I hear the intended meaning! Well done sir.

      Yeah, I had to slow down when I was reading it! -rc

    • After the third homophone “error” I realized that your word choices were deliberate. For once, I’m not gnashing my teeth at someone not knowing how to spell correctly.

  6. At 67, I might need to return to the workforce. Someone suggested that I return to freelance proofreading. Obviously, there’s a need for proofreaders; just as obviously, no one wants to pay proofreaders.

    Yep, there are plenty of able people available. They just don’t want to pay for them, and instead foist a crappy product on their readers. And then wonder why they can’t hold on to their readers. -rc

  7. Not for nothing, but I’ll note that WTVT is a “Fox News” affiliate, so I wouldn’t expect much out of them. They were much better before Fox bought them out, but that was at least two decades ago.

    As far as I can tell, Fox affiliates run their own news operations just like any local network affiliate. I don’t think any such affiliate is better/worse “because” of which network they affiliate with. -rc

  8. I lost all interest in watching local news shows on TV in 1978; they had to show fires! If there was no fire in our city, Indianapolis, they would show a fire somewhere in the state, and if they came up blank in our state they would range out farther and farther. The final straw for me was the show where they covered an apartment fire in Taiwan; several people injured, no mention if anyone died. (Sigh!)

    In 1989 I was actually filmed for the Chicago local news (video only, I was not interviewed); the story was, of course, a house fire, but the narrative included errors regarding who owned the house, what town it was in, and speculation about possible injuries (the home was unoccupied). The “reporter” did, however, include speculation about possible illegal activity by the owners (she was actually referring to a couple with a similar name who lived in a different suburb), inaccurate statements about a famous neighbor (5 miles away) and some political/social comments that were inappropriate and irrelevant.

    I understand that TV and radio stations need ratings to entice advertisers and stay in business, but I will never understand why they think that offensive bilge will raise ratings.

  9. Ya know, it’s so common these days that my head just stuck “ended” into that last sentence and I didn’t even notice it wasn’t there until you pointed it out.

    It’s great your mind is quick enough to fill in the missing word. The problem is, while it makes sense with “ended,” we still don’t know if that’s what the person said …and we still don’t know who the person is! -rc

  10. Lack of attention to detail has always annoyed me but when I point out errors I’m a “grammar nazi” so I’ve learned to let most typos slide — especially in reader-contributed material, like here — but for professional organisations to let bad copy go out is nigh unforgiveable.

    My biggest bugbear though is the “just make shit up” school of journalism. It’s one thing to make errors in reporting — can’t expect every reporter to understand all technical details about every aspect of 21st century life — but when you see stuff that _clearly_ came from nowhere but the imagination of the “journalist” that is enough to make me want to write a letter to the editor.

    Example: Not long ago my local newspaper ran a photo of a construction worker tieing rebar in the foundation of a sports stadium. The photojournalist captioned it “{guy’s name} laying cables for the new stadium”. OK, so she doesn’t know the difference between clanging steel reinforcing bars and cable, which would have some form of insulation covering and at least be _a bit_ flexible — but where is the inquiring mind, the critical thinking, that asks them “why lay a gridion pattern of cables in the ground and pour concrete on top of it”?

    Example: I used to skydive a lot and one day I was on a load that resulted in the death of one guy who landed without deploying. News report: “A spokesman for the club said {guy’s name}’s parachute failed” which was a bald faced lie. Only one person from the club ever spoke to anyone who asked, and he said the accident was subject to investigation, no-one knew what happened, the reason for the fatality would be released in due course. No-one, *EVER,* says “parachute failed to open” and absolutely no “spokesman” is ever going to say that.

    It’s in light of this sort of reporting that I read or listen to any news article and interpret and infer what actually happened. What it really boils down to is that there are loads of people out there who just have minimal pride in their work and less integrity.

  11. In my news reading, reporters no longer show any investigative curiosity and competitiveness. The five w’s plus ‘how’ used to form the contents of any news story — gone. Stories today are so vague and lacking in detail, they might as well be complete fiction.

    And when the story starts with the portrait of a victim, unless the story is about that individual, I move on — suggest or point out the effects of a problem later in the piece as part of the discussion, but first describe the situation to me.

  12. I suspect that the real reason print media has lost readership is because the public has lost interest in reading print media. They’d rather consume what’s on their “social” media feed. I would also argue that between not being properly taught correct spelling and grammar in school, and the widespread use of text-spell, many folks don’t know the proper words to use. A third point is that news reporting is turned out by perhaps five or six news chains. Little independent reporting leads to a poor-quality product. And I think the most important reason is that people would rather watch TV rather than spend any time thinking.

  13. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the quality of journalism — researching, questioning, relating to context and history and actually reporting — has declined greatly since the establishment of a “Journalism” major in colleges. In the before times a liberal arts major gave people at least a familiarity with history, geography, art, literature, economics, philosophy, psychology, etc. plus the skill to observe, research and analyze objectively.

    Current reporters don’t seem to know enough to know what they don’t know and seem to lack awareness, objectivity and those skills of observation, research, and analysis that lead to the formulation of pertinent questions. Of course, if they had possessed those skills they would not have absorbed, believed and sworn fealty to all the liberal twaddle from their professors and become committed to changing the world to conform to their wishin’ & hopin’ visions.

    Acceding to the approach of a professor is not much different than acceding to the source of the story –- producing copy seems now more important than actually working at what used to be traditional reporting.: “The duty of a newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”. In the past two decades the media elite have become too comfortable.

  14. I can’t help but remember that when blogging started to become a big thing on the Internet (especially people blogging about events also covered by the news media), blogs and bloggers were pooh-poohed by the media as “amateurs,” “people writing in their pajamas,” and so on. The news media, on the other hand, were “professionals” who had editors/proofreaders/editorial staff. How far the mighty have fallen.


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