Sunday, February 08, 2004

SJ-R.COM - Education tops spring agenda

I'm going to comment first about the subject of the article, mainly because it deals with the upcoming spring session of the state legislature. Ol' Blaggie wants more money for public education and direct control over education administration throgh a cabinet-level Department of Education. This is nothing new for the governor, and raising fees for voluntary things like fishing licenses and FOID cards is his way of taking care of the budget crunch. The umbra of increased sales and income taxes has also passed over budgetary brainstorming sessions. I can see raising fees for FOID cards and fishing licenses IF AND ONLY IF those monies go directly into the funds for maintaining those programs, and not into the general fund. It keeps the fees lower and prevents a governor from hiking fees on a program he doesn't like in order to pay for a program he does like. There are a few other items on the agenda as well, such as more legalized gambling in the state and the potential of doctors to leave the state due to malpractice insurance costs. Each subject has its own merits, but I'm done highlighting my areas of concern in the article.

My next comment on this article has to do with the reporter. I'm sure that Christopher Wills is a dedicated AP journalist, and I bet he's champing at the bit to get away from the Springfield news beat in pursuit of bigger stories in bigger cities. If anything, he'd probably like a more cosmopolitan city with a 24-hour public transportation service, more snotty waiters working at trendy bistros, and vibrant urban enclaves of various ethnic groups. Springfield isn't the place to be if you're searching for pad thai at 2am, that's for sure. My advice to AP is to send him to that larger city. This is not (completely) because he does a bad job reporting what people said, this is because the State Journal-Register, the city's paper of record with its own staff of statehouse reporters, should be writing and publishing articles from in-house reporters. Instead of sending a reporter from the SJ-R to gather information and write the article, they print an Associated Press report about the subject. This is as lazy as you can get for a publisher. When covering a local story, why not send a local reporter to do the job? Is it really that tough to send someone eight blocks from the SJ-R building to the Capitol? The editors should be ashamed for using a wire service report as the sole source of information on a local event. Publish your own reporters' work. And if Mr. Wills is a reporter for the Journal-Register, he should be using the SJ-R as his byline, not the Associated Press.

Then again, the way that Mr. Wills submitted his report, maybe the editors should allow him to use the AP byline instead. Look at the structure of the story. Each "paragraph" is one or two sentences long. To make matters worse, some of the sentences start with "and" or "but," errors which would have sent my English teachers into a tizzy. I can see using structure like that if you write in a stream of consciousness manner like I occasionally do on this blog. I'm not getting paid for it, so I write in a very informal voice. Mr. Wills is a professional reporter and doesn't even stick to basic rules of elementary and middle school grammar! How is this possible? Does the AP manual of style allow for this? Where is the simplicity of opening, body and closing? Where are the three rules of "Tell your audience what you're going to say, say it, and then tell them what you just said," the writing and public speaking rules that even noncommissioned officers in the armed forces must learn? Mr. Wills uses the first rule only in the vaguest sense, as his first paragraph gives only a basic view of what is coming up next. The last paragraph has no summary yet it hints that budget and legislative issues will be used in political campaigns, which should be a subject for another article. If this form of writing is what passes for educated writing in modern newspapers, then I fail to see how I haven't been snapped up by one of the better papers or magazines. This writing style of two-sentence paragraphs is horrible. It's like the reporter was deliberately padding his work to make it look like a substantial report.

In closing, the opening of the state legislative session is too important for local reporters to take a pass on reporting it, and the writers who are assigned to the story need to write at a greater depth in their articles. The State Journal-Register should be ashamed for running a statehouse article that isn't produced by an in-house writer since it is the paper of record in the state capital. Finally, the state should try to deliver more information on how it expects to pay for its programs. I hope have made myself abundantly clear on these subjects.

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