Sunday, February 05, 2006
When great minds think alike
At first, you would think the Joplin Daily should be commended for offering space to each of our local legislators for their weekly columns. The Daily does not have the budget to send a reporter to Jefferson City (though its owner, Liberty Group Publishing, does have enough money and enough newspapers in the state to make it worthwhile). The Globe has only recently began increasing its state coverage with articles by staff writer Sadie Gurman. Our local television stations do not have anyone in Jefferson City. Last time I looked, KSNF and KODE do not even subscribe to Associated Press, which would give them access to some state information.
So it would seem that having reports from such legislators as Ron Richard, Marilyn Ruestman, and Bryan Stevenson, all of whom were featured during this past week, would provide some idea of what is going on in the state capital.
Stevenson's article mentioned the closing of International Paper in Joplin and offered the services of his office to those who have lost their jobs. His column did speak to his constituents.
On the other hand, a remarkable coincidence occurred in the columns offered by Richard and Ms. Ruestman. The Ruestman report begins, "No one should ever have to go hungry in this land of plenty. Our food pantries are on the front lines fighting to make sure no one has to go hungry again. That is why I am very enthusiastic about legislation that will be passed this year to benefit food pantries all over the state."
The third paragraph of Ron Richard's report reads, "No one should ever go hungry in this land of plenty and our food pantries are on the front lines fighting to make sure no one does. That's why I am very enthusiastic about legislation that will be passed this year to benefit food pantries all over the state."
Now, obviously they don't think exactly alike. Examine the subtle differences. When Richard came up with this thought, his mind processed the first part of it into a compound sentence, rather than into two sentences as Ms. Ruestman envisioned it."
Later when Ms. Ruestman allegedly writes, "That is why I am very enthusiastic," she is obviously thinking much differently than Richard, who phrased it with a contraction, "That's why I am very enthusiastic."
Otherwise, the columns are strikingly similar. Ms. Ruestman begins her fourth paragraph by saying, "A Local Food Pantry Tax Credit Program will offer a 50 percent tax credit to individuals or businesses that wish to make a donation to food pantries."
Richard begins his fourth paragraph with a different article, writing, "The Local Food Pantry Tax Credit Program will offer at 50 percent tax credit to individuals or businesses who wish to make a donation to food pantries."
Richard's column does localize the issue noting, "The Southwest Missouri Office on Aging operates 40 senior centers in a 17-county area. With community support, they have been able to keep all sites operational; however, to stay within our funding, they have had to close two kitchens this year. These locations are now catered from other locations."
Ms. Ruestman's column makes no attempt to put a local face on the issue.
The Richard and Ruestman columns come during the same week that Speaker of the House Rod Jetton addressed the issue.
And though Richard and Ms. Ruestman do not appear to have lifted any large portions of Jetton's column, Jetton's column does contain this passage:
"The Local Food Pantry Tax Credit Program will offer a 50 percent tax credit to individuals or businesses that make a donation to food pantries."
Jetton's next line reads: "There will be a $2,500 donation cap, and the program will be administered through the Department of Revenue."
Ms.Ruestman's next line reads, "There will be a $2,500 donation camp, and the program will be administered through the Department of Revenue."
Richard's next line reads, "There will be a $2,500 donation cap and the program will be administered through the Department of Revenue."
Great minds do think alike.
Some suggestions to the Joplin Daily and other area newspapers that run these capitol reports:
-Either remove these reports the second someone files to run against these legislators or offer their opponents an equal amount of space.
-Require the legislators to write their own columns and eliminate those columns the second you run into any traces of plagiarism.
-Remove the columns and set up regular interviews with the legislators. This could be done with conference calls to enable all media in the area to participate. Obviously, this would not apply to newspapers or other media outlets that are pursuing particular stories and need information or comments.
These columns have become popular, especially in smaller newspapers that cannot afford to hire Jefferson City correspondents. When it comes right down to it, however, the columns, even when actually written by the legislators themselves, are becoming more and more just an outlet for whatever talking point the prevailing political party is pushing. Their news value is highly suspect.