Wednesday, August 4, 2010

SLIP-SLIDIN’ AWAY

SLIP-SLIDIN’ AWAY: Hyperbole notwithstanding, the worst reporter in the world at the worst newspaper in the world, Leo Azambuja of our local newspaper, seems to be making an effort to learn what constitutes a “lede”- the journalistic slang for the “lead”, the opening sentence that covers the “who, what, when, where and why” in about 25 words or less, as part of the inverted triangle that puts the most important information nearer the top and the less important stuff further down.

So Azambuja’s article on the fate of the “county manager” proposal that was before the Charter Review Commission is, on the surface, a step forward as he reported:

Kaua‘i’s strong mayoral form of government won’t be changing this election.

After several community meetings, the Charter Review Commission’s Special County Governance Committee last week unanimously voted down a proposal to ask voters this fall if they would like to see the Garden Island governed by an appointed county manager instead of an elected mayor.


Now perhaps it’s our fault because in the virtual reams of criticism of Azambuja’s apparent lack of journalistic training or ability we forgot to mention the most important part of the lede- that the information be ACCURATE.

Silly us for thinking that that went without saying.

As we reported a day short of a month ago, in actuality, according to the recommendation section of the SCCG’s Report to the Kauai County Charter Review Commission- which apparently Azambuja failed to read critically, understand or comprehend:

Special Committee on County Governance, by unanimous vote, recommend(ed) against placing a measure for a Council-Manager form of government on the 2010 General Election ballot. The committee, accordingly, recommends the adoption of this report, and further recommends that the issue of a Council-Manager form of government be postponed indefinitely.

What actually happened “last week”- at the July 26 meeting of the full Charter Review Commission to be precise- is that the full commission voted to accept the recommendation of the SCCG- something Azambuja could have found out by going to the county web site he cited as an information source at the end of the article, since he apparently failed to attend the all important meeting.

From there it only gets worse. So we decided to use the skills we gained as a teaching assistant to the legendary local newspaper editor Jean Holmes while she taught-and we attended- her journalism classes at Kauai Community College in the 80’s to take a blue pencil to Azambuja’s Adventures in Newswriting Wonderland.

Next Azambuja writes:

“The large majority of people didn’t see it as a desirable necessary change from the current situation,” said Patrick Stack, who chairs the three-member committee. North Shore resident Joel Guy and former reporter Jan TenBruggencate are the other members.

While that’s technically accurate it’s omits the most important information showing that he didn’t understand the SCCG report because, as we reported, they plainly based their recommendation on the a rationale that makes the decision anything but arbitrary or capricious, saying:

The Special Committee was constrained by the authority given the Charter Review Commission under the existing Kaua`i County Charter. Section 24-03 of the County Charter contains this authority: "In the event the commission deems changes are necessary or desirable, the commission may propose amendments to the existing charter or draft a new charter which shall be submitted to the county clerk." (Emphasis added) This is a key point. The Charter Review Commission is not authorized, as many public testifiers suggested, to place an item on the ballot simply to allow voters to express their choice.

Instead of emphasizing or even reporting that- as the SCCG did- Azambuja chose to stress what the committee insisted did not influence their decision at all writing:

“The large majority of people didn’t see it as a desirable necessary change from the current situation,” said Patrick Stack, who chairs the three-member committee. North Shore resident Joel Guy and former reporter Jan TenBruggencate are the other members.

From there the writing itself becomes a bizarre exercise in trying to write about something Azambuja didn’t quite get, as evidenced by his incorrect lede. He “writes”:

If the commission approved the proposal, voters would decide at the next election Nov. 2 if the mayor should be replaced by a county manager.

That tortured bit of the mother tongue mixes the future looking “if” with the past tense “approved” returning to the future “would decide”. The correct way to express the thought might be to say:

"If the commission HAD approved the proposal, voters would HAVE decideD at the next election Nov. 2 if the mayor should be replaced by a county manager."

In addition this indicates that somewhere he did understand that it was the full commission not the SCCG that acted last week although he could have just conflated the committee and the commission. Either way it’s particularly mis-informative in any number of ways.

One of the rookie mistakes made in J-School is the unattributed opinion over which the prof usually scribbles “Sez who?”. And skipping down a little further is this language-challenged, unattributed “Azambujism”:

If the measure would be adopted, it would likely be stricter to meet qualifications for the county manager than for the U.S. president.

We won’t even attempt to dissect or diagram that one.

One of the things a newswriting class teaches is to avoid negative characterization of the person you are quoting. There’s noting wrong with the neutral word “said” but, unless it’s well explained and under extreme circumstances where it’s called for, reporters should avoid using pejorative terms like “claimed”, “boasted” or “admitted” or use of prejudicial adverbs. But in characterizing a quote from Glenn Mickens. a proponent of the county manager proposal, Azambuja wrote:

He admitted the county manager system wouldn’t be a cure for all, and if it didn’t work, the island could return to the mayor system of governance.

You get the idea.

Back in the 90’s our solid waste mess was almost as bad as it is today and then-Mayor Maryanne Kusaka was called before the council to explain why, given the “crisis” she insisted on having the bumbling, bungling, uneducated and inexperienced Troy Tanigawa in charge of the Solid Waste Division of the Department of Public Works- someone activist and original “nitpicker” Ray Chuan used to characterize as one of the “protecteds”.

Even when, after council interrogation, it became apparent Tanigawa- who is still in the position today- was incapable of handing the situation Kusaka wouldn’t give up on Troy telling the council she was willing to “send him back to school” rather than replace him.

Though we all rolled in the council chambers isles at that one perhaps if Editor Nathan Eagle won’t look for someone with basic newswriting skills from among the many out of work journalistic casualties of the Honolulu newspaper “merger” debacle- and pay them more than the local paper’s notorious starvation wages- at this point we’d even settle for the “Tanigawa Solution”.

Or at least spring for a textbook Nathan.

2 comments:

FactCheck said...

"Though we all rolled in the council chambers isles at that one perhaps if Editor Nathan Eagle won’t look for someone with basic newswriting skills"

the glass house rock thrower strikes again.

You might have been rolling in the aisles on the isles............

damontucker.com said...

Newspapers are shortening their headlines to 140 characters and less so they can feed them to Twitter with a URL linking back to their sites.

Don't know if that's the case here.