The Junk Drawer: 7 random journalism screw-ups you should learn from

Every house I’ve ever lived in had a “junk drawer” in the kitchen where we kept everything that didn’t really have a place. Batteries, bottle openers, matches, a deck of cards and more were in the junk drawer. Today’s post is kind of a “junk drawer” of sorts, with a lot of little things worth noticing that don’t really have a place or merit a full post.

Consider the following leads, tweets and other bits of information:

For the audience with an interest in 19th century French linguistics:

Police in Sacramento, California killed a 22-year-old, unarmed man who was in his grandmother’s backyard last week. Consider the approach and phraseology ABC News used in its lead:

Stephon Clark was in his grandmother’s backyard, trying to get into the house Sunday night when two Sacramento police officers loosed a fusillade of 20 bullets, killing him, Clark’s family told ABC News.

A fusillade, a term with roots in 19th-century French, is “a series of shots fired or missiles thrown all at the same time or in quick succession.” I have a Ph.D. in a communication-related field and I have spent the majority of my professional journalism life covering crime, but never once have I thought to use the word “fusillade.” This is one of those cases where you want to check the author’s desk for a “Expand Your Vocabulary” page-a-day calendars and destroy it.


The Department of Redundancies Department:

Here’s an example of how you don’t need a lot of space to screw something up:


Armed gunman? As opposed to what? An unarmed gunman? Unless you literally have a man with no arms packing an Uzi in his mouth, you need not distinguish between an armed gunman and an unarmed (or armless) gunman.

Grammar counts:

It took me two reads to realize what was wrong with this, but when I did, it came back to an old nun barking something about adjectives and verbs at me:


The author of this tweet uses the adjective “burnt” to describe the structure, which means the video would simply show the presence of a crispy statue. The author meant “burned” which is the action of someone setting fire to the item and letting the fire consume it.

Point/Counterpoint rides again:


I guess I would expect nothing less than disagreement with the premise that “straws are evil” from a person whose job it is to support the straw-manufacturing-and-distribution industry.



My worst nightmare in reverse:

I always fear that somewhere in one of my books, I’ll misspell “public” and add to the laundry list of “pubic libraries,” “pubic schools” and “pubic meetings” that have dotted the news landscape over the years. In reading the Omro Herald (*Omro, Wisconsin’s Finest News Source) this week, I ran across a formal outline of a new “anti-sexting” law the city had passed, and noticed this:


“The internet” has spoken:


Of all the dumb things we’ve been doing lately in media, saying “the internet” has something to say about whatever it is we’re talking about has to be one of the worst. The whole idea behind getting attributions is to allow us to show the readers who thinks what and why. When we just grab 83 tweets and call it a set of “mixed feelings,” we’d be just as informative if we asked my imaginary cat, Pop Pop, what he thinks about it. If you want reactions, go ask people who are informed for them. If you want to use tweets as a reaction, figure out WHO these people are and WHY your readers should put stock in their opinions. The internet isn’t a source, but the people you find using it might be.

It’s on the internet! It has to be true:


A student found this while doing a search for a research paper he was doing and saved it for me. It just reinforces my theory that “Wiki-Anything” isn’t a source.


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