This front-page promo groups the obituaries of three notable people. It’s a reasonable attempt to give some 1A presence to these people, whose only real connection beyond time of death was excellence in their respective fields.
But are they heroes, as indicated in the headline? Whenever I see that word applied to people in the news, I always think of this exchange from an old “Simpsons” episode:
Homer: That little Timmy is a real hero.
Lisa: What makes him a hero, dad?
Homer: Well, he fell down the well and … can’t get out.
Lisa: How does that make him a hero?
Homer: Well, it’s more than you did!
Tom Snyder, Ingmar Bergman and Bill Walsh did more than fall down a well, and they did more than I’ll probably ever do. Their work is significant, their lives newsworthy. But I am not sure they match these definitions of hero:
- a person distinguished by exceptional courage and nobility and strength;
- a being of great strength and courage celebrated for bold exploits; often the offspring of a mortal and a god (classical mythology)
Some heroes are tragic, others epic. And some are folksy. Whatever type, let’s be careful not to confuse achievement with heroism. Luke Skywalker, Rosa Parks and Mahatma Gandhi were heroes. (So was Hero, if only in name.) Snyder, Bergman and Walsh? Probably not.
The Junie B. Jones children’s books are irritating to some parents, as The New York Times reports in this story. The books’ titular narrator, a child who goes from kindergarten to first grade in the series, uses unconventional grammar and spellings. Will this lead young readers to make the same mistakes in their own writing? Is Junie B. a good role model?
All I can do is offer anecdotal evidence. My 7-year-old son has read several of the Junie B. books, and he seems to be unharmed. He’s also apparently unscathed by the scatological tales of Captain Underpants. Despite the “anything goes” grammar of both of those book series, my son is still finding typos in the sports section of our local paper, and he points out errors that he sees in road signs. And he corrects me when I refer to the series as “Janie Jones” (the title of an old Clash song).
As a parent and copy editor, I am not worried about the influence of these books. Let Junie be Junie.
Ann Kennedy, the Nation & World editor at The News & Observer, is leaving North Carolina for Massachusetts. She’ll be managing editor at Boston Now, a free daily newspaper and Web site that incorporates both traditional and citizen journalism.
Kennedy’s nearly eight years at the N&O, she was a copy editor, sports copy editor and assistant wire editor. She was my successor as Nation & World editor, starting in July 2005.
Best of luck to Ann in Boston.
The latest blunder from Fox News regarding a politician’s party affiliation is being noted on liberal blogs. The cable network identified Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania as a Democrat. He’s a Republican. [UPDATE: In spring 2009, he switched parties.]
Daily Kos doubts whether this string of errors by the “nutwork” is just a coincidence. Talking Points Memo is a bit more forgiving, with Josh Marshall admitting he’s made that sort of mistake from time to time. Yet he still wonders how Fox manages to mangle it in one ideological direction.
Similar objections come when a story omits party affiliation — especially when the news is unflattering to the person and, therefore, to the person’s political party. The suspicious reader sees that omission as evidence of a coverup. (Here’s an example.) This problem is bipartisan, as seen here in the brief about Coy Privette, a former lawmaker in North Carolina. Editors have tried to make that point, but readers remain skeptical.
As Marshall mentioned at TPM, everyone makes mistakes or fails to include a detail that we take for granted. Here’s what copy editors can do:
- Doublecheck party affiliations in every story they edit.
- Ensure that party affiliations are included in stories about politicians accused of some sort of malfeasance.
- If one politician in a story is identified by party, make sure they all are. Be evenhanded.
It’s quick and easy to add “Democrat” or “Republican” to most stories. Those words don’t take up much space and rarely interrupt the flow of a sentence — except perhaps in the case of Sen. Joe Lieberman.
The Weekly World News, the supermarket tabloid that brought you Bat Boy and the alien who endorsed presidential candidates, is shutting down. The print edition and Web site will vanish by the end of the summer.
Maybe the editors should have removed “world” from the name — everyone knows that Americans don’t care about that stuff.
UPDATE: A Washington Post blogger offers an appreciation of sorts.