Write a Little Gem

Journalists love headlines that seem fine when published but provoke gasps or giggles the next day. Classics come from a suburban Minneapolis weekly -- "Beauty queen has bit of tomboy in her" -- and

Apr 5, 2006 at 2:06 pm

Journalists love headlines that seem fine when published but provoke gasps or giggles the next day. Classics come from a suburban Minneapolis weekly — "Beauty queen has bit of tomboy in her" — and Cincinnati's American Israelite: " 'Quickies' provides opportunities for local singles."

Cincinnati journalists aren't content to collect these missteps. They created Little Gem News Service (LGNS), where they write fictitious stories reflecting the double entendres. I was reminded of LGNS by a page 1 headline from a recent Cincinnati Post: "Was Christ Headed to Suburbs?"

Celebrate LGNS with a very brief story that plays off the Post headline and send it to [email protected]. I will publish the winner next month.

For LGNS origins, I asked Grady DeCamp. He was a reporter and editor with both Cincinnati dailies who now writes the Dining In/Dining Out in Northern Michigan guides with his wife, Sherri. He responded:

"Little Gem News Service was a product of the fertile imaginations of some staffers at Cincinnati Post in the late 1950s or early 1960s.

The founders were Ed Halloran, the assistant city editor, (and) Jim Feldman, a crack reporter. They were the same odd couple who regularly serenaded one another on arrival each morning with 'Good morning to you. Good morning to you. Good morning, dear Catholic. Good morning, dear Jew.'

"LGNS was cityside's vengeance on the copy desk for misleading or ambiguous heads. One of the early classics was a sports headline about a golfer who won a tournament by holing out from the fairway with a 3-wood. The head was 'Sinks Wood Shot for Eagle.' Halloran concocted a bogus news story that read something like this:

" 'Veteran golfer Charles 'Sinks' Wood was shot to death today as he climbed a tree to play an errant ball that had lodged 10 feet off the ground. A farmer in a neighboring field mistook him for an eagle that had been preying on his livestock and drilled him with a single round from a 12-gauge shotgun.'

"It just grew from there."

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Curmudgeon Notes:
· Cincinnati's Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) marks its national Ethics Week with a free public program, "Are We Telling the Truth?" The panel presentation, plus time for audience questions, is "the public's chance to put the spotlight on Cincinnati media," according to chapter president and Enquirer business reporter James Pilcher.

The program will be 7-9 p.m. April 24 at Hebrew Union College's Mayerson Hall Auditorium on Clifton Avenue. Joining me on the panel will be Bob Morford, WCPO (Channel 9) news director; Chris Graves, Enquirer assistant managing editor for online and content director for Cincinnati.com; MaryAnn Zeleznik, WVXU (91.7 FM) news director and reporter; and Courtis Fuller, weekend anchor and reporter for WLWT (Channel 5). Dan Hurley, historian and WKRC (Channel 12) reporter/host, will be moderator.

"This idea came out of national media scandals that included Jayson Blair and Judith Miller at The New York Times, as well as Jack Kelley, the international reporter at USA Today," Pilcher said. "And of course, The Enquirer still is known for 'Chiquita.' We thought it would be a perfect opportunity to try to lift the curtain on what goes on to produce a story or broadcast in this town, as well as discuss the new pressures created by the Web."

· Think of Cassandra when you hear recently retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor; she speaks truth and no one hears it. Or almost no one. Only NPR's Nina Totenberg covered a recent Georgetown University speech in which O'Connor excoriated (unnamed Republican) partisan critics of the federal judiciary. No one seems to have transcribed or recorded the talk, so I quote from Totenberg's story:

" 'I,' " said O'Connor, " 'am against judicial reforms driven by nakedly partisan reasoning.' Pointing to the experiences of developing countries and former communist countries where interference with an independent judiciary has allowed dictatorship to flourish, O'Connor said we must be ever-vigilant against those who would strong-arm the judiciary into adopting their preferred policies. It takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship, she said, but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings."

· The financially troubled National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is a model of what goes wrong when the town's best and brightest screw up and the dominant news medium, The Enquirer, opts for advocacy rather than scrutiny. Even Cliff Peale's recent page 1 post-mortem is marred by booster headlines: "Strategy to Save Freedom Center: 'Fundamental miscalculation' means millions in taxpayer dollars needed."

It should be a dispiriting campaign for tax money if The Enquirer can't shake its biases.

· Read Peggy Kreimer's thoughtful, humane March 18 Cincinnati Post stories about people with Parkinson's disease. Among them is photographer Gordon Baer, who is interpreting his illness with his camera.

· The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Bill Sloat scooped Queen City news media after UC President Nancy Zimpher's Wikipedia bio was changed anonymously to say — falsely — that she is a prostitute who practices witchcraft and is interviewing for the top job at Northwestern University.

· Stand proud, Tristate; Reuters plans to base a journalist in Cincinnati through the 2009 inauguration. As that British news service says, the reporter will cover Ohio, Appalachia, the southern Midwest and the mid-South, "where options are shrinking: unions face out-sourcing, high school kids face the Army, baby boomers face an American dream under assault." Reuters wants to know, "How is the heart of the heartland beating?"

Ben L. Kaufman teaches journalism ethics at Northern Kentucky University. Contact him at [email protected]