Political correctness is bad for the news business. Cops and prosecutors give you quotes that are solid gold? Headlines, baby.
Do you want to sell newspapers or don’t you? The late Hunter S. Thompson said, “Nothing grabs an editor’s eye like a good rape.”
Here you have public officials offering Headline Gold, but political correctness prevents editors at the Chicago Tribune from making the most of this lurid and lucrative material:
A Naperville volunteer youth basketball coach has been charged with having inappropriate contact with one of her players at a sleepover, according to DuPage County prosecutors.
Bail was set Friday at $100,000 for Shakyla Wilson, 22, of Naperville, who is charged with one count of aggravated criminal sexual abuse, authorities said. . . .
(In my mind, I hear the voice of a grizzled city editor: “What the hell is this ‘inappropriate contact’ bulls–t? Stop dancing around the facts and write the g-dd–d story!”)
Wilson is charged with having sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl from Hill Middle School, where Wilson was volunteering as a girls basketball coach.
The abuse allegedly occurred Feb. 20 during a sleepover at a player’s residence, according to police. Wilson accompanied some of the girls on the team to a movie that night, and she then spent the night with them at the sleepover, authorities said. . . .
(OK, so we have now reached the fourth paragraph of the story. What then follows are another 10 paragraphs in which school officials discuss their policies for screening employees and we get all the details of Wilson’s basketball career. It is not until the 15th paragraph that we get to the good stuff.)
Naperville police Chief Robert Marshall said he was “deeply disturbed” by the allegations.
“Ms. Wilson purposely put herself in a position of influence and trust in order to prey on the innocence of young girls,” Marshall said.
State’s Attorney Robert Berlin called the allegations appalling.
“A coach’s role is to motivate and inspire athletes to be the best they can be, both on the court and off it,” he said. “Coaches are there to help athletes attain their goals, not to take advantage of the trust their position holds just to satisfy their own sickening desires.”
Read the whole thing. Never mind the sarcasm — and set aside the lesbianism for the minute — it infuriates me to see such confounded laziness in journalism. Writing is re-writing. Back in the day when I was working as a news editor, it wouldn’t have taken me maybe 20 minutes to completely re-write a story like that, which looks like the first draft submitted by a college intern. Here, try this:
A Naperville volunteer youth basketball coach satisfied her “sickening desires” by molesting a 14-year-old girl on her team during a sleepover at the player’s house, police and prosecutors say.
Shakyla Wilson, 22, “purposely put herself in a position of influence and trust in order to prey on the innocence of young girls,” Naperville Police Chief Robert Marshall said after Wilson was charged Friday with aggravated criminal sexual abuse. . . .
And so forth. Maybe the phrase “college dropout” would have appeared somewhere in the fourth or fifth paragraph. After editing the story, I would have taken a smoke break with the reporter — if I was in charge of the newsroom, smoking would be more or less mandatory — and told him to compare his original draft with the edited version. You don’t become a better writer without that kind of instruction from experienced editors when first you’re starting out. Most newsroom staffs have been stripped to the bare minimum by layoffs during the past decade, but there is no reason why shoddy efforts should be tolerated.
Now, what about the words “lesbian” and “gay” in such a circumstance? Are these words an accusation, or merely a description? Is it ethical to use such words in a headline to describe a sex crime? Ethics, shmethics. Stop pretending journalism is a Priesthood of Correct Thought. Try to remember that you are in the business of selling newspapers. Good crime reporting doesn’t have to be sensational, but there is no reason it has to be boring. The purpose of a headline is to get the reader’s attention.
Obviously, you won’t win any GLAAD awards for that kind of headline, but you might sell some newspapers. Just sayin’ . . .
(Hat-tip: Aaron Walker on Twitter.)
First published at TheOtherMcCain.com
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.