Robert Price

Friday, Jul 04 2014 03:00 PM

SOUND OFF: Why does soccer trump an immigration crisis?

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    Robert Price is The Californian's editorial page editor. Email him at rprice@bakersfield.com.

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By Robert Price

Reader: You have finally done it. Please tell me why Mexico losing a soccer game ("2014 World Cup: An ouster most foul") is front page news and Obama ... spending another $2 billion to fix a border problem (received less play in the paper). Come on, folks. This (immigration issue) could have been fixed a long time ago. We have about 12 (million) to 20 million Americans with no jobs. Hey, let's make 'em Border Patrol. That'll stop that.

-- Subscriber since 1969

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This feedback forum is designed to give readers a way to voice criticisms and compliments or ask questions about The Californian's news coverage. Your questions -- which may be edited for space -- are answered here each Saturday.

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Follow Price on Twitter: @BakoEditor.

When did 'Man Bites Dog' turn into 'Man bites dog'?

We asked the people who run the Newseum, the Washington-based museum of the news, what they could tell us about the evolution of headline styles with regard to capitalization. They turned our question over to Senior Exhibits Editor Ann Rauscher. Here's her report.

I can't find anything definitive about when the style started to change from all capital letters to title case ("Man Bites Dog"), and then to sentence case ("Man bites dog"). But looking through some of our historic newspapers, it appears that the main headlines were in all capital letters until at least the 1940s, although subheads were usually in title case. Even The New York Herald's front-page reports of Lincoln's assassination in 1865 used title case instead of all caps for some of the subheads. Of course, "headlines" at that time were only one-column wide; full banner headlines across the entire page generally did not appear until the late 19th century.

By the 1940s and 1950s, more newspapers in the United States seemed to be using title case instead of all caps for headlines, but many continued to use all caps for their banner headlines. It appears that by the late 1960s and early 1970s, some newspapers were using sentence case for their main headlines, and when USA Today was launched in 1982, all of its headlines were in sentence case. By the 1990s and 2000s, more and more newspapers were switching to sentence case.

Today, I think it's safe to say that the majority of U.S. newspapers use sentence case for most headlines, but banner headlines in all caps are not uncommon for major news events. Most newspapers use a variety of styles, mixing in italics, all caps, different fonts, etc. And lowercase letters take up less space than uppercase, so using sentence case for headlines saves space.

Two prominent newspapers -- The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal -- have not switched to sentence case, and The Washington Post continued to use title case until a major redesign of the newspaper in October 2009. In a special section for readers about the redesign, the new headline style was described as giving "a more conversational look to our headlines."

Marcus Brauchli, the Post's executive editor said, "The new approach ... is more readable and allows us to write slightly longer headlines. The old headline style, in which most words were capitalized, was formal and just isn't as readable. I know some people will disagree with that, but we looked at a lot of research and the experience of other papers, and are confident of this approach."

Bear in mind that this is not a comprehensive study, just some observations primarily based on our historic newspaper collection and a quick survey of Today's Front Pages.

Price: In the grand scheme of things, a major commitment of federal funds to respond to the humanitarian crisis involving at least 50,000 Central American children and other migrants at the border is a much bigger story than any sporting event. You (and I) could make that case every day of the week, Super Bowl Monday included: No game, by any objective measure, trumps tribulations like the one we're seeing right now across the southern border. But if we held ourselves to that sort of standard in the strictest way, we wouldn't even have a sports section, much less comics or the crossword puzzle. There'd be no room amid all of the tragedy and policy wrangling.

Four points:

* One, the immigrant/refugee story did make it onto our front page. It was right below the soccer photo.

* Two, our Monday paper has been branded Sports Monday. Ninety percent of the time the centerpiece story is sports-related. For the time being.

* Three, this World Cup is smashing TV viewing records, a phenomenon that is as much an indicator of shifting demographics and cultural tastes as the immigration debate itself. Some 10.4 million viewers watched Univision's broadcast of the Mexico-Netherlands match, the most ever for any U.S.-based Spanish language network. The World Cup is a hit in English, too: ESPN's broadcast of the match drew a 4.5 in the overnight ratings.

* Four, our front page judgment was very much in keeping with that of other papers that serve large Latino populations. The Fresno Bee, Orange County Register, San Diego Union-Tribune, El Paso (Texas) Times, San Antonio Express-News, Houston Chronicle and (Tucson) Arizona Daily Star all had El Tri's defeat prominently above the front-page fold. 

I found several U.S. papers that gave more play to Obama's plan to address the immigration emergency than to World Cup coverage, but overall the World Cup was on the front page more consistently than the immigration story. We had both.

***

Reader: Many times I have read articles in the paper which have made me disappointed with your writers and editors. This morning (June 29) was it!! How could the editor let the article re fireworks ("Get the most for 4th of July bucks") be OK to be printed? A notice on the front page and then 1-1/2 pages in the Eye Street section.

Both the writer, David Dickstein, and the editor of Eye Street, Jennifer Self, apparently don't have any knowledge of the drought in Bakersfield. It would have been more appropriate for both of them to have submitted an article about the fire danger.

Behind my backyard is a dry wash with tumbleweeds. I have tried to find out who will and can remove them but without any luck.

Yes, I do enjoy professional fireworks, but even those can do harm to spectators as in Simi Valley last year. I was hoping I would be able to watch one of those professionals this year, but I'm afraid to leave my house.

-- Barbro Riffo

Price: We know about the drought all too well. We've got something in The Californian that addresses some aspect of the water shortage almost every day, it seems.

This is another one of those '"if you cover it, you must be endorsing it" issues. If we photograph kids inner-tubing down the Kern River we're glamorizing a practice that could lead to more drownings. If we send a reporter to Brews in the Village we're promoting alcoholism and drunken driving. And it goes on.

Where does our obligation to chronicle everyday life end and our responsibility to encourage risk-free behavior begin?

We have editorialized many times about the wisdom of local government continuing to allow personal, street-level fireworks. Columnist Lois Henry thinks this annual flirtation with grass fires (and worse) is absurd, as she states practically every year at this time. But so long as they're legal in this tinderbox county, consumer fireworks will be sold. And, from a consumer's point of view, like most everything else, there are good deals and bad deals.

Rating consumer fireworks' value in terms of performance, duration and distinctiveness strikes me as a good reader service. Should we start rating them in terms of safety, too? We could, I suppose, but I'd hate to see some noise maker we've rated as "safest" start a house fire. They're all capable of that.

***

Reader: Just a few words regarding the June 28 story by Ruth Brown, "McCarthy spends day serving ... sandwiches at a local business." I often wonder how many of these staged events seem to "calendar" with the local media and just how much information was allowed by the "stringer" who seemed to be biased in every aspect of the subject at hand.

I was concerned mostly by the comment and remark concerning (customer) Cary Blue stating, "I think he could go to the homeless shelter and work there." Which was followed by an "as she ate her lunch" remark. Cary is not the one staging the event, she is just merely eating lunch. No matter what kind of sandwich is being served the "stringer" was sure to mention the type, which I believe is irrelevant. If The Californian wants to print this kind of story, maybe it should consider including it in the Opinion section. As I am today.

-- Joseph De La Rosa

Price: You say reporter Ruth Brown "seemed to be biased in every aspect of the subject at hand" but offer only one example: A lunch customer who was, apparently like you, less than impressed by the soon-to-be House majority leader's Friday work shift at Sequoia Sandwich Co. Why, if Ruth was so awestruck by the congressman, did she include that customer's criticism of McCarthy's campaign-esque appearance? (And, yes, McCarthy is in the midst of an election campaign against farmworker Raul Garcia of Wasco, who emerged from a group of write-in candidates just this past week.) A truly biased reporter would be ignoring that sort of mild negativity, I would think.

I don't see how "as she ate her lunch" is apropos of anything. It's helping to set the scene for the reader and nothing more. As for the type of sandwiches served, Ruth mentioned two: "The McCarthy" (uh, I think I can see why that might have been worth noting) and a gluten-free "No. 73," which McCarthy spun into an I'm-one-of-you moment: His daughter also eats gluten-free. See, folks? He's just a regular guy.

I get what you're saying here. This was largely a made-for-media event. There were no immigration protesters on hand, for once. How many of these McCarthy events do we "calendar"? Very few, actually. But when the hometown guy returns triumphant, making his first Bakersfield visit since his latest, most impressive political ascension yet, we've got to chronicle it. We'd have been remiss not to.

You're off base calling Ruth a "stringer" (a newspaper term that refers to a non-employee contracted to write a single article). Don't blame her because of the nature of the event or the nature of her assignment. This story was never supposed to be an analysis of McCarthy's weighty political challenges. We'll do that another time, elsewhere, as we've done before.

Reader: The front pages from the past are wonderful. They are fascinating windows into the events of yesteryear, and it might be fun to allow requests for particular dates, such as birthdays.

-- Pamela Wildermuth

Price: We plan to continue publishing The Front Page but we're going to roll it back. Going forward, look for this feature only in your Tuesday paper and on dates of special historical significance. There's too much going on today to devote quite that much space to yesterday.

***

Reader: I miss the Monday column Ask The Bakersfield Californian (Ask TBC). Perhaps "The Pulse" writer could answer them -- (or refer the question to a specialist -- Roads, Caltrans, etc.).

-- Charles Poehlitz

Price: No need to farm it out. Ask TBC was merely on hiatus. City Editor Christine Bedell does 95 percent of these herself and when she gets busy, as she was for several days last month when she traveled to Washington to cover Congressman Kevin McCarthy's ascendency to House majority leader, they don't get done. But she's back and so is Ask TBC. By the way: Christine is always looking for readers' questions. Email yours to asktbc@bakersfield.com.

Executive Editor Robert Price and The Californian welcome your comments and suggestions. To offer your input by phone, please call 395-7649 and leave your comments in a voice-mail message or send an email to soundoff@bakersfield.com. Please include your name and phone number. Phone numbers and addresses won't be published.

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