Magazine article St. Louis Journalism Review

A Rule of Journalism: Don't Assume

Magazine article St. Louis Journalism Review

A Rule of Journalism: Don't Assume

Article excerpt

The byline in the Post-Dispatch read Bryan Burwell. The dateline read Glendale, Ariz....

But where was Burwell?

His Sunday column, on the day after Mizzou lost to Connecticut and was ousted from the NCAA tournament in its quarter-final round, pointed out that the team had just suffered the pain that was on the verge of being intolerable (which meant it was still tolerable), the kind of pain that accompanies a sudden death.

Burwell went on, "The Connecticut Huskies, not the Missouri Tigers, were still out there on the basketball court, cutting down the nets, laughing and hugging and high-riving themselves silly...."

Again, where was Burwell, because the Huskies didn't cut down the nets, which means Burwell was somewhere else, and just guessing that the Huskies were not only cutting down the nets, but also deserving of a cheap shot. When I read that in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, I remembered that on the night before, while reading about the game on an Internet site, the Huskies said they ignored the net, waiting, perhaps, to do the snipping a week later after they won it all. In an effort to make certain, on Sunday morning I also read The New York Times coverage of the game.

Its staffer wrote: "Connecticut didn't cut down the nets after the game, a sign of unfinished business.

"'Hopefully, we'll have a chance to cut them down somewhere else,' guard A. J. Price said."

Again, where was Burwell? After all, the Post sent three writers and a photographer to the game and there were supposedly editors back home to make sure that the writers got things right. The game ended early enough for someone to see the same story on line that I did, and there was plenty of time to make necessary corrections. And it's an editor's job to check these facts. Obviously, no one was watching Burwell's back.

Or perhaps someone on the copy desk did it deliberately. It would not have been the first time in Post history. Many years ago, the newspaper's classical music critic was Frank Peters, a splendid writer who won a Pulitzer Prize for criticism. But he was extremely sensitive to corrections made by the copy desk, and spoke his dissatisfaction in no uncertain terms.

Anyway, one night Peters made an egregious mistake with a misplaced modifier. His sentence, a review of a piano soloist with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, read like this: "The soloist (I don't remember his name) played the encore on his feet. …

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