Thursday, September 18, 2008

Stenographers and journalists; there's a difference

What's the worst thing you can call a journalist?

A "stenographer."

We all know what stenographers do: they transcribe, or type, material which is dictated to them.

But the derogatory form a "stenographer" gets used in official Washington quite a bit. In this case a "stenographer" is a journalist who goes to press conferences and writes down whatever is said-usually by a government spokesperson-and then writes their story without a whole lot of follow-up or checking.

But "stenography" doesn't always happen in Washington.
We had some blatant "stenography" occur right here in Miami over the weekend.

The Herald ran a short item about the theft of a purse from the wife of Miami police chief John Timoney.

The item appears to be a rewrite of a police department press release. Here's the item in its entirety:

Noreen Timoney, wife of Miami Police Chief John Timoney, had her purse stolen from her car at a Miami gas station last Sunday morning.

It happened at 10:30 a.m. at the Sunoco gas station at 54th Street and Miami Avenue, said Delrish Moss, a spokesman for the Miami Police Department.

He said Timoney had just finished pumping gas in her car.

When she went inside the station to pay, someone opened her car door and snatched her bag.

Inside her purse were cash and other objects, Moss said.

She was not harmed in the incident.
Some cynics, myself included, immediately started wondering how much effort police would put into finding the thieves who took Noreen Timoney's purse. The Herald sure didn't provide any answers beyond the rewrite of the PD's press release.

I started thinking: Did Timoney order all-out manhunts, roadblocks, helicopters over the crime scene and perhaps a call-out or two of the SWAT team?

I channeled that cynicism into the form of a spoof of a Miami Herald front page that speculated on the "what ifs."

It looks like my fantasy front page wasn't too far off the mark. As a matter of fact I was downright clairvoyant!

Yesterday CBS4's Jim Defede proved once again that he's not just another pretty face with a poofy hair-do on Miami's TV journalism landscape.

Defede eschewed "stenography" and committed some old-fashioned eye-opening journalism that we don't see a whole lot of these days. He used the press release as a starting point to focus on the real story.

Defede did a little digging and discovered that in fact the Miami police did handle the theft of Noreen Timoney's purse a whole lot differently than the similar theft of another woman's purse at a Biscayne Blvd. filling station 24 hours earlier. The woman, Majorie Sheppard, had her purse stolen and couldn't even get police to take her seriously. See for yourself. Make sure you watch the video report that shows a platoon of Miami police showing up at the gas station where Timoney's purse was stolen!

But here's the kicker...Defede learned of the theft of Sheppard's purse because it was mentioned in the the Miami police press release. So Jim wasn't working with any info that the Herald didn't have. However, the Herald chose to practice stenography, Defede chose journalism.

Defede's been doing some kick-ass work lately. He broke the story exclusively last week of the Miami Dade School Board buying out Rudy Crew's contract.

Thanks Jim, for showing us that journalism is still alive in Miami.

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