Thursday, December 29, 2005

What's going on...

Not much, apparently.

I remember longingly the days when as the sole local scribe I roamed the streets of a rural town hunting for scandalous stories and loose-lipped leads. As a newspaper man, this was my favorite time of the year; news was slow and all there was to write were the formulaic year-end fluff pieces and recaps, the sole purpose of which being to frame the plethora of holiday advertisements.

Of course, while most journalists hate not having anything to write about, I enjoyed the relaxed pace between Christmas and New Year's; to be honest, news in a rural town is always pretty slow, but I digress. This time was so enjoyable that, later in life, I turned down a job specifically because I was told that December was the busiest time, and it wasn't even retail. Naturally, my current employer found a way to sneak in a late December deadline for a massive project that has ruined what would otherwise be a week of long lunches, early dismissals, and days off. Alas, things just ain't what they used to be.

Anyway, as a blogger, one who relies on new stories to fuel the regular updates that keep readers coming back, the lack of anything interesting or relevant in the newspapers is a bit of a bummer. With nothing happening, all I've got to write about are a few nit-picky things that in during any other week would be ignored.

Nit-picking item #1: A headline in today's Flier reads: "CA Board kicks in extra 60,000 for Katrina relief". Wow, that is awful nice of them, even if the money really belongs to Columbians. But wait, the first sentence of the story reads: "The Columbia Association's Board of Directors has agreed to donate $6,000 to the Columbia Foundation to cover additional Hurricane Katrina relief costs." Whoops.

Nit-picking item #2: Okay, the above item was pretty lame; I couldn't even think of anything funny to say. "Whoops"? What's that about? Clearly, I'm losing my edge.

Nit-picking item #3: Back to item #1. Talk about grossly over-using colons. Wait, there's probably a horribly inappropriate joke in there somewhere. Let's move on.

Nit-picking item #4 (or Praising Objectivity): So, I've heard a lot recently about the idea of objectivity in the news. Mainly what I hear is liberals complaining that what passes for objectivity is quoting someone's assertion of a "fact" and then quoting an opposite assertion of someone else. Here's an example:

"The sky is green," says George Bush.

"The sky is most certainly not green," says Howard Dean. "It's blue."
Obviously, this is a made up exchange. If it were real, it would probably read something more like this:
"The sky is green," says George Bush. "It's hard work keeping the sky green like that, heh."

"The sky is most certainly not green," says Howard Dean. "It's blue, yaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrgggggggggghhhhhhhh."
Again, not a real exchange, but probably more realistic.

So, the complaint goes, the story leaves it there without the reporter stepping up to assert what really is fact, that the sky is blue, and readers are left trying to figure out who's citing the real fact and who's just a blowhard. Suddenly, facts have become muddied, in that it doesn't matter if they are true, only that you believe who uttered them. This, many argue, makes it easy for readers to conveniently brush off realities that don't suit their world view.

Now, I tend to have a little more faith in readers than many of those who complain about the media's inability to grow a spine and/or actually fact check. That said, it was refreshing to see this in a story from yesterday's Sun about the ICC and tolls:
[Sec of Transportation Robert] Flanagan disputed the contention that the projected ICC tolls are excessive.

"The cost to go the entire length of the Intercounty Connector is less than the cost to take the Washington subway system," he said. "Nobody is criticizing the fares on the Washington subway system, and they shouldn't be criticizing the fares on the ICC."

(Flanagan's comparison is accurate in certain cases - for instance, a maximum-distance ride on the Metro at peak times vs. a one-way ICC trip - but not others.)
The parenthetical sentence at the bottom actually appeared in the story. I'm sure conservatives will complain that this is further evidence of the Sun's liberal bias, but I see it solely as factual bias--a bias I think we can all support.

To go one step further, however, the simple calculations Flanagan is relying on don't take into account any number of additional costs imposed by driving that you avoid when taking the metro--namely, the $.48 per mile of gas and wear and tear on cars and the opportunity costs of sitting in traffic. But, what the Sun did in this case is definitely laudable and should continue.

And no, I'm not going to comment on the ICC itself. No need to open up that can of worms now. It's the holidays, remember.

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