Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Herald Boo-Boo Watch parts 1&2

As I promised a couple days ago, here are the first two installments of the Herald Boo-Boo Watch wherein we take a look at the careless errors made by Monterey Herald since editing and production was moved out of town.

Parts 1 & 2 are being combined since they both appeared on July 18th.

Part 1 was on Page 1, and had me asking "100 miles south of what?"
Click image to enlarge. press Esc to return.

Part 2 was a USGS earthquake hazard map on page 6. At first glance I assumed the darker areas were higher risk zones and lighter shades were lower risk zones. Then I looked at the key and realized the top two shades were the same. So were the fourth and sixth shades. And the third shade from the top was lighter than the fifth shade. Evidently the original USGS map was in color and the Herald converted it to black and white without accounting for the fact that different colors can show up as the same shade of grey when converted.

Click image to enlarge. press Esc to return.
And notice the Herald's caption. It says this map is undated. so we have no way of knowing if it is the current map or an outdated one!

Part 3 will appear soon. It involves a peculiar form of math.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Careless errors

This is my third entry in a row regarding the disintegration of the Monterey Herald which has been taking place over the past four or five months. In February and March "Dismantle-it First Media" (as I now call the Herald's parent company) consolidated critical functions with other papers in California. So we no longer have a local editor, that's being done by a guy in Santa Cruz now, and production moved to Chico so the paper is being assembled by people who don't know the territory at all, which means they can't catch mistakes that are obvious to Herald readers.

Ever since these changes were made I've noticed a significant number of careless errors in the Herald of a kind that were rare or nonexistent before the changes. In early June I saw the exact same article with the exact same headline on two facing pages. One had a picture and an extra paragraph at the end, but otherwise they were the same. The next day two other articles were reprinted from the previous day with a note that indicated they were not printed in their entirety the first time around. I've also seen articles that had repeating paragraphs.

On two or three occasions I've seen letters published with titles that meant the exact opposite of what the letter actually said. One of these was written - oh the irony - by the deposed former local editor Royal Calkins! It was reprinted with a corrected title the next day.

Elsewhere in the Letters section some lucky writers have had their letters published twice in the same week. And one day quite recently the editorial page made space for a "Sounding Off" segment (where they reprint comments readers posted online) but left it blank.

When the consolidations took effect earlier this year Herald management assured us that we wouldn't notice any difference, and that the newspaper was committed to providing excellent local news coverage. I'll grant that their local news reporting is still pretty solid, but the editorial page is another story.

Prior to Royal Calkins removal, Herald editorials dealt with local issues almost exclusively. Not anymore. The vast majority are now focused on state and national issues. This is probably due to the fact that until recently two-thirds of the Herald's three-man editorial board lived in the next county. A week ago Monterey resident Phyllis Meurer became the fourth member, so now only half of the board members are out-of-towners. Still not a very good ratio for a supposedly local newspaper.

With all this in mind, I've decided to start a Herald Boo-Boo Watch where I will post the Herald's careless errors that I find. I've already found three from the last three days alone, which I'll share in future installments of Mr. Toy's Mental Notes.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Letter to the Butcher

Since 1985 I have written roughly three to six letters per year, plus a handful of guest commentaries, to the Monterey Herald. All but one or two have been published. I've also had letters published in the Carmel Pine Cone, Monterey County Weekly, USA Today, and the Christian Science Monitor, so I have a pretty good idea of what I'm doing. In many cases editors have changed a word or phrase here and there, but for the most part my letters have been published pretty much intact, until now. I have never before had a letter so thoroughly butchered in print as the one published in the Herald last Tuesday, July 8th. 

I've been hesitant to submit a letter to the Herald for a few months now. From the day former editor Royal Calkins disappeared I noticed that our local daily had been printing fewer letters than ever before, and much shorter ones, too. I suspected the new editor Don Miller was doing a hatchet job on reader submissions, and I was right. 

Here's the letter I wrote last week:
In the July 4th article about illegal fireworks a Seaside fire official described the problem as “overwhelming.” Every peace-loving Seaside resident would agree. The annual barrage of house-shaking KABOOMS starts around Memorial Day, peaks around Independence Day, then gradually tapers off the rest of the summer. Seaside sounds so much like a war zone that I've dubbed it “Baghdad-By-The-Bay.”
This year has been particularly bad. Every night for the past two weeks rockets approximating professional fireworks have been launched from three locations within a block of our home anywhere from 8:00 PM to 2:00 AM. They BANG so loud it makes us jump out of our skins. Complaining to the police is useless. They've told me that unless they see it happen, there's nothing they can do. But the chances of an officer facing the right property during the 3 seconds it takes to launch and explode a rocket is close to zero.

One officer told me that the city council receives numerous complaints every year, and every year the council does nothing. Their inaction has fostered an environment of tolerance for an illegal activity that disrupts what should be pleasant summer evenings.

Sincerely,
-James B. Toy

I've always been mindful of staying within the Herald's 200 word limit* and this one squeaked in at 199. That's never been a problem before. But for the Hatchet Man it was 75 words too much. This is what he printed, with my name on it:

In the July 4 illegal fireworks article, a Seaside fire official described the problem as "overwhelming." Seaside residents would agree. The annual barrage of house-shaking noise starts around Memorial Day, peaks around Independence Day, then tapers off the rest of summer.

This year has been particularly bad. Every night for the past two weeks fireworks have been launched from three locations within a block of our home between 8 p.m. and 2 a.m. Complaining to the police is useless. They told me that unless they see it happen, there's nothing they can do. One officer said the city council receives numerous complaints every year and the council does nothing. Their inaction has fostered an environment for an illegal activity that disrupts pleasant summer evenings.

James B. Toy, Seaside

In three decades I haven't had 75 words cut from all of my letters combined! So this came as quite a shock. Not only did Miller cut out entire sentences, he changed the meaning of two of them. 

I did not write the line "Seaside residents would agree." Don Miller did. It's wrong because it implies that EVERY Seaside resident would agree with me. But I couldn't say that because the Seaside residents who set off these rockets would not agree, right? That's why I qualified it by saying "Every peace-loving Seaside resident would agree." I chose those words carefully to be precise. The Herald made it look like I made a blanket statement I can't substantiate, which reflects on my credibility. No previous Herald editor (including some truly awful ones) ever did that to me. 

Miller's version of “my” letter ended with "Their inaction has fostered an environment for an illegal activity that disrupts pleasant summer evenings." But I wrote: "...an environment of tolerance for an illegal activity...." My intent was to emphasize official tolerance of illegal activity - basically the council looks the other way. But the Herald took that meaning away and changed the emphasis. If Miller had changed it to "fostered tolerance for an illegal activity" I would have been OK with that because it would have retained my original intent. 

I was also dismayed that he sucked the humor out of my letter by removing the sentence where I labeled Seaside as “Baghdad-By-The-Bay.” That was not just meant to be a joke, but also to publicly put city leaders on notice that the nightly noisemakers were damaging Seaside's image. 

So what I intended to convey and what actually appeared in print were not exactly the same, yet my name accompanied the mangled message anyway. I have informed the editor, who is actually the editor of the Santa Cruz paper now doing double-duty, that I will not be contributing any further letters to the Herald until he has been replaced by a truly local editor who knows the Herald's readership, the Herald's letter writers, and the Herald's territory. I added that I will have trouble taking seriously any letters he publishes, knowing first hand that what gets written and what gets printed can be entirely different things. As of Friday he had not responded. 

A friend of mine who saw both the original and edited letters aptly described the problem on Facebook saying "I like the original MUCH better than the edited one. Your original piece lets us feel the pain your community suffers, and that is the point. Edited, you just sound whiny. I can see why you wont be contributing until there is a change at the Herald." 

She's right.

This is just the latest frustration I've had with the Herald in the past four or five months since Digital First Media started consolidating its operations, taking much of the “local” out of the local paper. I'll get into the rest of my complaints another day.

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*In the 1980s the limit was a more generous 250 words, and during the brief period of Reg Henry's stewardship he allowed letters up to 300 words.