Newspaper companies arent as direct as they should be about one fundamental: They are private businesses. The fact that they operate as independent enterprises is fundamental to their constitutional role, in fact.
By DEREK DONOVAN
The Kansas City Star
But theres also a built-in tension between the news and commerce sides of the business, and Im appreciative when readers point out instances where they think one side oversteps its bounds.
The Kansas City Star solicited photos for a Mothers Day contest over the past few weeks. The prizes were a $75 gift card, a Star Dining Club card, and $50 of flowers from the Fiddly Fig nice, to be sure, but not exactly big-bucks stuff.
I hadnt voted in the contest myself, nor would anyone in the newsroom. Employees of The Star arent eligible to win, and obviously shouldnt participate in the companys own contest in the first place.
So imagine my surprise when I got this message late last Thursday evening via Facebook: Can you tell me why you have to pay to vote in the Mothers Day photo contest? Who does the money go to? I cant find anywhere that it tells you why you have to pay and who gets the money.
I was very much taken aback by the question, because the idea of The Star charging to vote in a contest is without precedent, at least as far as I know. And while I cant say such an arrangement would be unethical per se, theres something about it that simply feels wrong.
I asked the senior online editor about it, and she shared my surprise. Upon investigation, it turns out that it was an error in how the contest was configured. The site that The Star uses to tabulate the votes offers pay-per-vote as an option, but it should never have been enabled here.
The contest was working and votes were coming in, but someone from the newsroom should have done a test vote just to check the mechanics. That would have avoided the problem in the first place.
The editor overseeing the contest extended the voting period to the end of Mothers Day and put a note on the main contest page explaining the mistake. She will also institute a policy in future contests for a Web editor to cast a test vote, which will then be immediately removed from the tabulations.
As always, readers have been calling my attention to recent instances where The Stars language has been ungrammatical or unclear.
Seems to me about the easiest thing in writing is getting a singular subject with a singular verb, or a plural subject with a plural verb, emailed reader Judy Hansen, noting a sentence in a May 2 Sports Daily story: Nobody, not the Chiefs and not Breaston, know how he would handle it.
Nobody is singular, she pointed out. It should take the verb knows, not know.
Emailer Don Homrighausen made a different point about language usage, singling out a double negative he found unnecessary in a May 9 story: Missouri hasnt been irrelevant in presidential politics in decades. Thats likely to change this year.
Im no English major, he wrote, but wouldnt have been clearer to just say, For decades Missouri has been relevant in presidential politics?
In this one, I think a case can be made for either construction. To my ear, the sentence as published puts an unquantifiable emphasis on the import of the possible impending change. But then again, avoiding double negatives is generally sound writing advice.
Regardless of whether its a simple grammatical error or a question of style, its clear to me that readers expect The Star to hold itself to high standards of writing and copy editing. These arent exactly matters of accuracy or fairness in news reporting, but theyre part and parcel of delivering the message, and they matter.
To reach Derek Donovan, send email to >email@example.com or call weekday mornings at 816-234-4487.