A Letter to USAToday: You Had One Job, and You Botched It.

To Whom It May Concern:

Every day I go to USAToday, either on my phone’s app or on my web browser, to read the news. And I find myself more and more disappointed with both the content you choose to feature on your front page (e.g. an article about ISIS murdering dozens, right next to an article about some actor naming their child Countertop L’Granite), and also the quality of writing—more specifically, the editing.

In the piece that is currently (at the time I am writing this) your site’s feature, “Georgia governor vetoes bill denounced as legalizing anti-gay discrimination,” I found many errors that, in my opinion, should have been easily addressed in even the most cursory of edits. I’m happily taking a half-hour out of my morning to point some of them out to you.

First, this sentence: Deal said the nation’s founders thought it unnecessary to enumerate in statue or constitution the definition of religious liberty.

Unless I missed a day in history where the FF denounced engraving an enumeration of our religious liberties upon a statue (presumably of a bald eagle draped in an American flag, holding with one set of talons a cross, and with the other, a musket), then I can only guess that your writer meant statute.

Later on, you cite a recently-passed law out of NC: Meanwhile, North Carolina, where last week a bill barring cities and countries from trying to protect gay and transgender people, was signed into law, is now going to have to defend it in court. 

As a first-year law student, I admit that I don’t know too terribly much about federal v. state governmental powers, but I am pretty sure that NC doesn’t have the power to bar multiple countries from trying to protect gay and trans people. I grew up in Texas, where I was frequently (falsely) told that we retained the right to secede when we joined the Union; but not even in Texas was I ever told our state legislature could pass laws that were binding and enforceable in other countries.

Also, are you telling me that your staff of professional writers and editors couldn’t make that sentence less of a comma salad? How about: “Meanwhile, North Carolina signed a bill into law last week barring cities and counties from trying to protect gay and transgender people. The state is now going to to have to defend that law in court.” Man. Whew.

Lastly, the inconsistent tone of this paragraph is really misleading to your readers: [1]“It  sends a purposeful message that LGBT people are second-class citizens who are undeserving of the privacy, respect, and protections afforded others in the state,” the complainants said in a press release. [2]They argued that the law violates the Fourteenth Amendment because it discriminates on the basis of sex and sexual orientation and is an invasion of privacy for transgender people. [3]The law also violates Title IX by discriminating against students and school employees on the basis of sex.

I took it upon myself to number the three shifts in structure/tone up there (easy enough to follow, as each shift is a new sentence). In [1], you have a direct quote from the complainants, which clearly communicates their problem. In [2], you shift from a direct quote to a paraphrase, I’m sure for space related reasons, and this is fine, because you begin that sentence with, “They argued that…” My real problem is with [3]. Now you’re apparently paraphrasing, but you’ve abandoned the objective journalist POV and gone straight for the jugular of NC’s law. No longer are you reporting the complainants’ argument; now you are stating, as a fact, that “[t]he law also violates Title IX by discriminating against students and school employees on the basis of sex.” I understand that this may seem clearly true, but if it were that simple, then I don’t believe there would be any basis for litigation of that point. This is what they must argue before the court. You don’t get to tell readers what does and doesn’t violate aspects of the law until a court rules on it. You’re better than Nancy Grace. Or at least I pray to God that you are.

I send you this today because, as an undergraduate, I wanted to be a journalist. Then a professor all but discouraged me when he told me of the decline of the profession, both financially and in quality. The news is an important aspect of life in our supposedly free and transparent nation, and I believe we all should expect the highest quality of investigation, reporting, and writing when it comes to the media to which we choose to subscribe.

I realize a few grammatical errors and structure issues seems petty—but it’s your job not to make those errors. I write this in the hope that the article is fixed, and that it may be a grain of sand on the side of the scale that encourages good and honest reporting and writing, the side that is struggling to regain balance with the opposite side that demands you churn and churn and churn out content at the speed of light.

All the best, and still your loyal reader,

Quinton S. Gregory

Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, J.D. Candidate 2018


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