Thursday, August 9

Shuttle Coverage

The U.S. has another space shuttle mission underway. The Endeavour took off last night from the Cape. I don't know about you, but since the Challenger blew up 73 seconds after launch in January 1986, and the Columbia disintegrated during re-entry in February 2003, I've been something of a white-knuckle observer of the space program. I keep my white-knuckled fingers crossed until the astronauts are safely back on Earth.

The Columbia disaster lingers in my memory for more personal reasons. The Columbia was passing over the western United States at about 9:00 a.m. that Saturday morning when it started breaking apart. I was home at the time, watching CNN, so I quickly learned of the tragedy: seven crew members presumed killed.

I was still EP at my station at the time—hadn't yet been made News Director—so I rushed to the station to see what we could do to advance the story locally. I remembered seeing a newspaper piece about a local college student who actually had a science experiment on the Columbia. Thanks to the hard work of the weekend assignment editor we were able to roust someone on the college PR staff, track down the student and get him to agree to an interview.

Turned out the story was even better than I had remembered. The young student had actually been on hand to witness the Columbia launch.

The reporter wrote that the student, a "sophmore," "stood in ahh" watching the liftoff from "Cape Cavernal."

What made the experiment even more remarkable was that the local student was a "Palistilian" while his "collegue" was an "Israli."

For those of you scoring at home that's [sic], [sic], [sic], [sic], [sic] and [sic].

I stand in "ahh" of writing like that.

There are some people who think you don't have to know how to spell to be in TV news. I'm not one of them. But if you don't know how to spell, please at least tell me you know how to use the spell-check function on your computer! Please show me that you're interested in communicating well, not just in looking good. (And along the way, show me you know how to properly use "good" and "well.")

We may be in a visual medium, but the words count. Need proof? Watch the first five minutes of your favorite newscast tonight with the sound off. Then watch the next five minutes with the sound on but with your back to the screen. No peeking! Be honest. Which way delivered more information?

I don't blame the reporter: she doesn't know any better, doesn't care to, and these days probably doesn't have to. She's good looking. Too bad she's not flat-out drop-dead gorgeous; then she could work for a network and a field producer would do all her spelling and most of her writing for her. Sexist? Darn right. But not me. I think the system is sexist for encouraging her to think she can get by on her looks. I blame the people who taught her in high school and college and the people who gave her jobs and told her she could report. Who am I to point out that if you spotted her three letters she probably still couldn't spell her own name?

You know the old joke: I demanded to know if she was ignorant or just apathetic and she answered, "I don't know and I don't care." Just kidding. I think. Aren't I?

Over the years I've often administered a writing test and current events quiz to job seekers. Here's a question no one answers correctly: What does "OPEC" stand for? (Hint: everyone figures the "O" stands for "Oil," and it doesn't!)

You know what I say? Ahh…aw…awe, TA-HELL-WIDDIT!