What do readers think? They’ll let us know
|Larry Lough is executive editor of Sauk Valley Media. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.|
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Readers do a lot for this newspaper.
They keep us honest.
They set us straight.
And, most important, they keep us in business.
This editor is always happy to hear from readers, even when they are not so happy.
We also enjoy sharing the feedback we get, even when it’s critical.
So we will open up the old mailbag this week to let you know what is on the minds of your fellow readers.
KATLYN SENT AN EMAIL on a recent Saturday evening.
“The SVN website has ‘habitat’ misspelled,” she wrote. “Thought you’d like to know.”
She was right – on both counts.
Worse, the misspelling was in a headline, with an extra “t” inserted into “habitat.”
The editor went online and fixed it. That’s the magic of digital publishing.
Not so easily fixed was an error that Joyce pointed out when she called this past Monday morning.
A photo caption on the front page included this sentence: “The clinic opened it’s doors Dec. 19, ...”
“That’s a fourth-grade error,” she said of the misuse of the contraction “it’s” when the possessive “its” was needed.
Although an apostrophe can indicate a possessive, that is not the case with pronouns.
The editor figured it was actually a middle school error, but maybe fourth-graders are more grammatically sophisticated than they used to be.
We did agree with Joyce, however, that grammatical gaffes have no place on the front page of any newspaper.
JOYCE ALSO ASKED whether we had a problem with verb tense in this sentence:
“Lynch said many services were now being offered at the site.”
Shouldn’t that verb be the present tense “are”? Joyce wondered.
That is a newspaper writing affectation, the editor explained.
When “reported speech” starts a sentence with attribution in the past tense (e.g., Lynch said), the tenses of subsequent verbs in that sentence are affected.
The “sequence of tenses” calls for present tense verbs to become past tense, future tense to become conditional, and past tense to become past perfect.
Joyce said that made the sentence sound awkward. She was right.
We could have put that sentence into “parenthetical speech” – that is, moved the attribution to the middle or end of the sentence, set off with commas. That way, we could have used present tense in the primary verb of the sentence.
“Many services are now being offered at the site, Lynch said. ...”
Not many writers – even newspaper writers – understand or follow the sequence of tenses.
But it provides an objective grammatical basis for determining the correct verb. Otherwise, the writer must make a subjective judgment about whether the condition (e.g., “services being offered”) is ongoing or a thing of the past.
But then, that was probably more than you wanted to know about the sequence of tenses.
IN A RECENT COLUMN, the editor wrote about the real bias of the media – not conservative or liberal, but a bias for conflict.
We defended the Associated Press, which is constantly criticized by the political right for being liberal. The column pointed out a story in which Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi was smeared by the AP’s bias for conflict. We could have cited other similar stories that also defy conventional conservative wisdom.
“Your Sat. article on AP really misses the point of their Liberal bias completely,” Richard wrote. “I suggest you research Brent Bozell’s Media Research Council and publish some of his numbers and comment.”
Bozell, a favorite guest of Fox News commentators, has a clearly conservative bias, and his “research” council exists to support the political right’s contention of “liberal media bias.”
Liberals have their own advocacy group in Media Matters for America, which reliably takes the side of the political left on matters of “conservative media bias.”
Respectable journalists, who monitor bias from the left and right, have to keep all that partisanship in perspective.
CHRIS WROTE ABOUT Court Call, our Monday morning preview of the coming week’s judicial hearings.
Those summaries recently included a photo of Steve Sandholm, who sued various folks after he lost his jobs as basketball coach and athletic director at Dixon High School.
“I opened the paper to see Steve Sandholm’s photograph among those of individuals accused of murder, sexual abuse, child abuse, selling drugs, etc.,” the letter said. “In case you hadn’t noticed, he is the alleged victim, not perpetrator, in a civil, not criminal case.
“... At the very least, I believe Mr. Sandholm deserves an apology. ... In addition, if the Telegraph chooses to continue coverage of his case, I hope you will have the decency to separate the content from that of the criminal cases.”
Court Call, as the name indicates, is billed as “A roundup of some of this week’s Sauk Valley court cases.”
It does not distinguish between civil and criminal matters, except in the bold-face words that introduce each preview. This past Monday, two civil cases were included: “Crundwell lawsuit” and “Sandholm lawsuit.” Criminal matters are labeled as “burglary case,” “drug case,” etc.
Our weekly preview of court hearings also makes no judgments regarding guilt, innocence or liability.
And because civil litigants argue before the same judges in the same courtrooms in the same courthouses as criminal defendants, further “separate” listings in the Monday summaries seems unnecessary.
“WHAT HAPPENED to investigative reporting?” John asked in an email. “Are you running a newspaper, or you just a propaganda sheet for the powers that be?”
“Do some digging,” HP wrote in his email. ‘I heard from a friend who talked to someone in the ‘know’ that ...”
Edward suggested in an online post that the financial scandal in Dixon City Hall had occurred because the local press had not been “vigilant.”
Readers have been, understandably, hungry for details about the case of ex-Comptroller Rita Crundwell since the FBI arrested her on April 17. A $53 million fraud can really get people’s attention.
Our staff has tried to ask – and answer – the right questions in our comprehensive coverage of the matter.
You can check our work at saukvalley.com, where you can click “Arrest at City Hall” to access more than 50 articles, nearly two dozen documents, 11 videos and more than 20 editorials and columns.
Maybe sometime in the past 20 years, a reporter – whose beat has included all of Dixon, not just city government – should have uncovered what local accountants and auditors and state finance officials did not.
But those kinds of reporting revelations almost always grow out of a tip from a confidential source with the knowledge and guts to expose such wrongdoing.
In this case, it seems, that person did not exist.