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By Robert Price
Welcome to my first Sound Off column as executive editor. Regular readers of this weekly feature, in which the newsroom manager explains, brags about, apologizes for and defends editorial decisions and direction, will know that I've been showing up in this spot fairly regularly anyway, since the Opinion page (my previous stop) generated a fair amount of fan mail and not-fan mail.
So what controversies am I asked to sort out in today's debut column? World-changing stuff, starting with high school football postseason accolades and finishing with a cartoon cat:
READER: I was reviewing some of the information your staff used to determine the Bvarsity all-area football awards and found very interesting some of your decisions. One main concern was your offensive player of the year. While (Garces running back) Sheldon Croney was a very good competitor, he was not nearly a comparison to (Bakersfield Christian quarterback) Brandon Jones, who broke CENTRAL SECTION RECORDS. That, to me, is a way bigger accomplishment ... than just breaking school records. And ... you stated in his bio that Brandon Jones "had the most prolific passing season in Central Section history." How does that not come across as an offensive player of the year? ... (Croney had) 2,377 yards (rushing) and 23 touchdowns and Jones (had) 4,360 yards (passing) and 54 touchdowns ... AND leads his team to (the) state (championship game). (This) has made me lose respect for The Bakersfield Californian as a whole. The credibility of your awards has completely been lost. It is obvious to me that there was some bias here. ...
-- Kristen Self, Bakersfield
PRICE: Kristen makes a pretty good case, but then I've seen these guys only on our Bvarsity Live broadcast. Prep editor Zach Ewing has seen them both plenty of times, in the flesh, so I asked him to answer her.
EWING: Hi Kristen. Let me preface by saying that both Brandon Jones and Sheldon Croney had wonderful seasons. Either would have made a fine choice for offensive player of the year (or, many seasons, overall Player of the Year). Please don't take any of this as a knock on Brandon. He had a terrific season, one of the best in Kern County history, and we rewarded him for it with a first-team quarterback selection. But we also believe Sheldon Croney was a very worthy offensive POY. Allow me to explain our rationale.
First of all, comparing yardage totals between a quarterback and a running back is comparing apples and oranges. It's much easier to rack up yards through the air than on the ground, particularly when quarterbacks get credit for yardage receivers gain after the catch. Most football fans will tell you that a 2,300-yard rushing season is every bit as prolific as a 4,300-yard passing season. It's also worth noting that Brandon played in two more games than Sheldon did, so he had two more chances to rack up yardage.
Another factor for us was strength of schedule. Garces played a schedule about 15 percent more difficult than Bakersfield Christian, according to CalPreps/MaxPreps ratings, and that includes BCHS' games in the state playoffs. Croney had some of his best games against the Rams' toughest opponents. He rushed for 274 yards in the section semifinal against Kingsburg, and he carried Garces to back-to-back wins against Tehachapi. Brandon, meanwhile, threw for a season-low 102 yards against Huntington Beach and threw three interceptions against Mission Oak, the two best defenses the Eagles played.
And while I'd be the last person to minimize the records Brandon set this season, it's also worth noting that Croney set several Garces school records this season, including total yardage and touchdowns.
So, with both guys putting up awe-inspiring numbers, Jones a bit more prolific but Croney against a tougher schedule, how did we decide? For me, it was the eye test. I believe Brandon Jones helped Bakersfield Christian win a section championship and reach the state-title game, but I also believe the Eagles would have been a very good team without him. Garces, on the other hand, relied extremely heavily on Croney, to the point where I believe the Rams would have been a .500 team without him. He clearly was the best player on his team and in his league, and the best running back in the county. I'm not the only one who believes this; he had been offered several major college scholarships before his junior season was complete.
Again, this is no knock on either candidate and there wasn't a wrong choice here. We decided after a fair and complete analysis to go with Sheldon. I hope you see now that this choice was not made lightly or by playing favorites. (In fact, our choice of Grant Bouma as defensive POY and of three other Eagles as first-team all-area players should make any accusation of bias seem totally baseless.)
Please let me know if you have further concerns about this or any other matter. I would be happy to discuss.
READER: Just a friendly observation and constructive criticism follows.
I keep seeing misspelled words, incorrect grammar and/or misused words in your publication. The latest occurence was what appears to be a misused word in the headline "City-county riff could cost more than money" appearing in "Our View" of the "Opinion" section of the Jan. 18, 2014, edition.
The word "riff" is a noun generally defined as "a short and usually repeated pattern of notes in a song." I could not find any other definitions of the word that would be applicable in the context in which "riff" was used in the headline of your Opinion piece.
The word "rift" is also a noun meaning "a crack, split or break in something" or "a serious break in friendly relations," which, I think, is the word that should have been used by the author in place of "riff."
I assume that "Our View" is intending to make a case for your point of view on particular issues. However, when words are misused, misspelled or incorrectly constructed in your publication, I doubt that it lends credibility to the story, the opinion, the author, the editor, your newspaper or the cause you are attempting to promote. In fact, I suggest the opposite is true.
If this was a singular occurence I wouldn't bother with pointing it out. Unfortunately, it seems to be a frequently repeating pattern that you might want to be concerned about.
-- Ernest Rice, Bakersfield
PRICE: You're absolutely correct, Ernest. It should have been "rift" (a crack or split) or even "tiff" (a quarrel). And you're right -- such errors can have a negative cumulative effect and may even detract from the point the editorial is trying to make -- especially if the topic is literacy or vocabulary improvement or some such thing. We will keep working to improve. By the way, your next-to-last sentence is what's known as a speculative conditional sentence and should therefore have been "If this were a singular occurrence." Can we agree that nobody's perfect?
READER: I am a weekend subscriber who enjoys solving Cryptoquips. Occasionally there is one in Saturday's issue that I get stuck on. Maybe I am the only subscriber with this problem, but I doubt it. Can you please start including the answers to the Saturday Cryptoquips in one of the weekend editions?
-- Linda Welch, Bakersfield
PRICE: The Saturday Cryptoquip answers run on Monday. That obviously does not help you if you subscribe only to our weekend editions. (Cryptoquip doesn't run on Sundays, and the answers to preceding puzzles always run with the new puzzle.) I'm not sure what to do except drop Cryptoquip on Saturday, and that's probably not the sort of thing you had in mind. We'll take this under advisement for now.
READER: Just wanted to call in to say I'm missing Garfield, I don't really get anything out of that Wumo thing. There's no laughs there at all. I really miss Garfield. I just wanted to go on record as another one that wishes Garfield was still around.
-- Josie Pinkston
READER: I want Garfield back. I only read four cartoons: Peanuts, Bizarro, Sherman's Lagoon and Garfield. Wumo is too similar to Bizarro and not as funny. We want Garfield back.
-- Prudence Covey
READER: I'm calling about the Garfield comic strip; been reading Garfield forever. I wake up to it, I read the comics. For you to take out Garfield is unamerican. I believe you should put the comic strip back into the paper. Take out another one that I hardly read like Pickles, or even Hagar. Garfield is American and should be kept in the paper. I am not too happy about it being taken out. If it can be put back in the paper, I would really appreciate it.
-- Al Lujan
PRICE: And there were a few more, including the Pool family, one of whom called to say "nobody likes that stuff," and a reader named Bill, who seems to think we may have violated the U.S. Constitution. They are all referring to Wumo, the Danish single-panel comic by Mikael Wulff and Anders Morgenthaler that's so popular among the Danes it became a TV series (as did Garfield).
The problem as I see it isn't that Garfield is funny (or not) and Wumo is unfunny (or not), it's that one is comfortably familiar and the other is foreign -- literally. We've replaced a so-called legacy comic with an interloper, from Europe no less.
Comics are funny things, no pun intended. They rarely prompt actual laughs; mostly the attraction is seeing an old friend in a reassuring, reoccurring scenario. It is always amusing to see that snarky, chubby cartoon cat trying to shove a huge slice of lasagna into his mouth -- even if it's for the hundredth time. Personally, Wumo has not yet won my heart, but I'm giving it a chance. I hope our readers who enjoy the comics will too. It's only been a couple of weeks so far.
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