Monday morning, Pat Rybolt got a bit of a shock when her customers began calling to find out whether she closed her piano shop.
The callers were concerned for Rybolt. After all, the Music Suite has been around for 25 years, and Rybolt says she still “loves it.”
She assured customers that Music Suite wasn’t going anywhere. Then she called me.
The Sunday/Monday print edition of the Missourian carried a lovely feature on pianos by Lisa Appleton. Lovely, that is, except for one sentence: "Hennessy and Sons Music, owned by Frank Hennessy, is the only store in Columbia still selling acoustic pianos."
Look in the phone book, Rybolt said, and you’ll see the Music Suite listed right there with Hennessy’s. (I did. It is.)
“Only,” in this instance, falls right in with first, best, oldest, youngest, never and always. There’s nothing wishy-washy here. They declare, in concrete terms, the nature of the actor. They are dynamite in the hands of a journalist: powerful, but with the ability to explode in your face.
That’s why the correction to the story in Tuesday’s print edition simply said there is more than one store selling pianos. The phone book affirms there are at least two, but it couldn’t be confirmed that there weren’t more than two.
Two journalism values are in conflict here. Good writing is specific. Detail offers a compelling picture, and specificity dispels ambiguity and confusion. And words like newest or unique make for more newsworthy copy.
But the desire for the specific should never trump accuracy.
Thus the old saw: When in doubt, leave it out.
Ironically, ColumbiaMissourian.com did.
It seems that some sharp copy editor Saturday night caught the mistake and deleted the sentence before it was put online. But the story had already been copied for the print edition, and the correction wasn’t made to that version.
I suppose the new edict should be amended: When in doubt, leave it out – everywhere.
A word-related footnote:
I had a long drive over the weekend and listened to a lot of radio. One program featured a couple of reporters in Europe who talked about how residents of that continent viewed the health care debate here.
“Confused” was the reply of one reporter.
He noted that some critics have accused President Obama of trying to create communism through a proposal for a government run health insurance option. Others, citing the same proposal, have likened Obama to Adolf Hitler.
The Europeans know that fascism is about as far from communism as right is to left. What they don’t understand is how one politician or proposal can be both.
I guess it doesn’t have to be only one or the other. In fact, I’m not sure what it is, but neither most likely fits here.