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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Sloppy sports reporting

I'm delighted to see The Plain Dealer devoting so much space to high school football this morning. But is it too much to ask to get them to spell the names of players correctly? Two of the three Bay High players noted in the West Shore Conference preview are spelled wrong. It's Cale LaRiccia and Brian Harrell (not Cale LeRiccia and Brian Herrall).

This isn't limited to the PD sports guys. The West Shore Sun today also has a story about Bay's new head coach and new turf field. In it, Dale Meggas, whom I worked with while I was a reporter at Sun from 1990-95, references senior leader Jon Rieke and in the next paragraph refers to him as Reinke.

Come on, guys! Get it together. These players work hard and the least you can do if you're going to single them out among the thousands of players is to spell their name correctly.

In my sophomore year reporting class at Ohio University J-School, misspelling a word in an assignment was an automatic C; misspelling someone's name was an automatic F.


Wendy Hoke said...

Another comment from Becky at Deep Muck Big Rake:

When I was in j-school, we didn't flunk an assignment for mistakes. We had to write an obituary for each mistake made in an article. If we made a mistake in an obituary? We got to write another one. It was mind-numbing, but it certainly beat the idea into us the importance of checking for mistakes.

TJ Sullivan said...

During the fall semester of 2006, the journalism department at California State University Northridge invited its instructors (I was a part-time faculty member at the time) to experiment with The Medill F, an automatic grade of zero for any assignment that contained a factual error, up to and including misspelled proper nouns. As anyone who has ever been a student would expect, side effects included a collective feeling of lightheadedness as entire classrooms were drained of oxygen. How could we be so harsh? Why would we sink an otherwise brilliant piece of work just because one name was misspelled?

Some students took longer than others to realize this was serious. In the end, however, everyone understood why this mattered.

If a reader can't trust us to spell something as simple as a person's name correctly, they won't trust us on the complicated stuff.

I'm as fallible as the next writer. Mistakes happen. It's important to regret them, and to double our efforts to prevent them. But, when the error involves people whose efforts are rarely recognized in print, we should also take the extra effort to apologize in a phone call, or letter.

I started out as a sports writer covering prep sports for a daily newspaper, and I probably grumbled as much as any recent graduate about the beat's lack of glitz and sophistication. I had friends who were covering professional sports, or at least college. But high school varsity? That was the bottom rung, not to mention junior varsity and, gulp, little league.

Then I realized what we all do eventually, that those stories more than any others I would ever write would be saved in scrapbooks and picture frames for a lifetime. To this day I have no doubt that there are more original copies of those stories (written almost 20 years ago) than the ones I wrote last year.

For that reason alone, the names have to be spelled right. And if a mistake happens, as mistakes sometimes do, make a call. Say you're sorry. I guarantee that the kid is going to remember one of two things forever, either that this reporter's a cool guy who made a mistake and went out of his way to make up for it, or that this moron reporter couldn't even get the name right. If you take your chances on the latter, you just better hope they don't grow up to be the next Shaquille O'Neal.

Wendy Hoke said...

Well said, TJ.