Can We Afford to be This Forthright?

Radley Balko linked to this article for a different reason (at least I think it was for another reason -- I actually can't figure out why he linked to it, but all those Reason guys are often too hip for me to follow).  But I thought this line was funny:

An off-duty Essex police officer could face charges for shooting his allegedly neighbor's dog after it tangled with his Pug, state police say.

"Allegedly neighbor's dog?"  Is the fact that he is a neighbor in doubt?  Or is the ownership of the dog in doubt?  Or is it the species of the animal that is in doubt?


  1. Rob:

    Actually, if you follow Balko's blog, The Agitator, with any kind of regularity, you would see that Radley has been posting "puppy-cide" stories about cops killing other people's pets for quite a while. I'm sure that was his motivation for including that story today.

    I was going to post a comment on Balko's site about that first sentence in the article but several people had beaten me to it. My high school journalism teachers (in the early 1970's) would have flunked us if we had turned in the sort of garbage that I see regularly published in newspapers and online these days.

  2. Dr. T:

    What the bad editor printed: An off-duty Essex police officer could face charges for shooting his allegedly neighbor’s dog after it tangled with his Pug, state police say. (The editor didn't even use the weasel-word "allegedly" correctly. It's supposed to go before "shooting.")

    What a good editor would print: An off-duty Essex police officer shot his neighbor's dog after it fought with his dog. State Police say that charges may be filed for the shooting.

    Reporters and editors believe that tossing "alleged" into their poorly researched articles will protect them from libel suits. They now use the word even when the facts are not in dispute. To me, it's just another proof of the low intelligence of most news reporters and editors. (That may also explain why they tend to be left wing and pro-big government.)

  3. John O.:

    I can see it being reported on CNN someday:

    "After years of decline in the ability for readers to understand what is reported, newspapers now are published at a 2nd grade level. The New York Times new guidelines prohibit words longer than 8 letters and numbers bigger than a thousand, instead large numbers will be described as really big, allot, or not enough."

    -- John O.

  4. spiro:

    Dr T,

    I've long maintained that journalists are English majors that weren't smart enough to get into the Honors classes -- and reporters are just actors that lacked the right skills/looks to make it to Broadway/Hollywood.

  5. markm:

    Dr. T: Most likely this article came from the police report, with no attempt to independently verify the facts. So inserting "allegedly" before "shooting" is just a short way of saying "We don't know but someone told us." It might be especially wise to insert it when that someone is from the police department that sure doesn't come off as competent...

    Now, how did the word wound up in the wrong place, and why did nobody notice before it went to print? In the old days of Linotype machines, operators re-typed the story on the machine, which cast slugs of type a few words long, which were then assembled into a frame. It wasn't uncommon for the slugs to be scrambled between the machine and the assembled page. There was an editor assigned to check proof sheets. 99% of the time, they'd catch all the errors. But sometimes there wasn't enough coffee in the world to keep the guy from nodding off, especially when it was just him and the printers working after midnight.

    But nowadays doesn't the text go directly from the editor's screen to the internet edition? (The print edition requires a page layout step including manually checking the line breaks, but even there, there's no opportunity to move one word out of place.) So the only way I can see this happening is:

    1) Editor decides article needs an "allegedly".
    2) Editor types it in without noticing his cursor was in the wrong place.
    3) Editor sends the story out without re-reading.
    4) Nobody else in the entire organization proof-reads it.

    All of which suggests that the newspaper has slashed the budget too far, first in what they hired as editors, and second in dropping the proofreaders.