Saturday, June 14, 2008

Keith Kicked Kathy

When Sean McDonough broke the news early in Game 1 of the College World Series that Stanford's baseball administrator for the past two decades, Kathy Wolff, had died suddenly a few days ago, the news was like a punch to the stomach for a lot of people.

From coast to coast.

As a result, a game between Stanford and Florida State which, at the time, was serving as little more than TV background noise for those of us with loose ties to the Stanford baseball community suddenly had meaning.

Yet, for those of us who made the mistake of doing a Google search to obtain some details of Kathy Wolff's passing and happened upon info from something they call "Palo Alto Online Sports" ... well, talk about a hard kick to the crotch.

It's one thing when one of your ex-colleagues is reporting on a Girls Private School League water polo match which 17 people/readers slightly care about.

It's another matter entirely when that ex-colleague attempts to report something which truly matters.

Such as the death of somebody with far-reaching charisma.

As we came to learn, Kathy Wolff died in her sleep sometime early Wednesday morning. Three days later, somebody they call Kieth Peeters (sic) was providing more questions than answers:

Uploaded: Thursday, June 12, 2008, 8:50 PM
When the Stanford baseball team takes on Florida State on Saturday in the opening round of the College World Series, it will be with heavy hearts following the death of one of the most beloved members of the program.
Kathy Wolff, who worked in the Stanford athletic department for 23 years, including the last 21 as an administrative associate to the baseball and women's volleyball programs, passed away unexpectedly in her sleep on Wednesday.
"She was Stanford baseball," said Stanford coach Mark Marquess. "The team is taking the loss of Kathy Wolff hard. All the players were really close to her, and she worked for me for a very long time. We'll be thinking of her as we play in the College World Series."
Stanford players wore "CW" patches on their sleeves Saturday when they took on Florida State in the CWS. Wolff's picture was shown during the ESPN telecast and commentators talked about her contributions to the program as well as what she meant to individual players.
"She was the glue to this program," Stanford junior Cord Phelps was quoted.
Wolff's association with Stanford dated to 1976, when she worked in the Tresidder Student Union in various capacities until 1981. She returned to Stanford in 1985 when she was hired as an administrative assistant in the marketing department, a position she held until 1987 when she began working with the baseball program. She later added adminstrative duties with the women's volleyball program.
"Everyone in the Stanford family is deeply saddened by Kathy's passing," said Stanford Athletic Director Bob Bowlsby. "She was an integral part of the Stanford family and our condolences go out to her family, friends, colleagues and the student-athletes whose lives she touched. She will be deeply missed."
Wolff was still working on final details for the College World Series at the time of her death. Funeral or memorial services are pending.
-- Keith Peters

What makes this story particularly confusing is a time-element which seems askew.

A story which begins with a quasi-future tense (Thursday the 12th) is then thrust into the present tense with an update -- the paragraph highlighted in blue (which appears as though it was hastily plugged into the existing test).

We say "hastily" because, holy smokes ... we'd just seen the KW patches which McDonough had talked about ... so the CW reference is "unclear," to say the least.

In summary: Keeth Peeters (sic) didn't kill Cathy Wolfe (sic).

He merely killed his credibility -- proving, once again, that the InterWeb works best when it functions as it was designed to ... with sports stories which are incompete and inaccurate "uploaded" and with photos of naked, 14-year-old girls on MySpace and Facebook which are "downloaded" by 42-year-old pastors, janitors and regional managers, be they married or not.

For a 30-some-odd-year vet of quote-unquote "traditional journalism," Keeth Peeters (sic) did his readers (all 52 of 'em) a disservice by violating some of the cardinal rules of Journalism 101.
The sad part is that it's the children who suffer ... children who once believed in newspapers, the newspaper industry and top-notch journalism in general.

Those children might never know what the difference is between "a writer" and "a reporter."

For those of us who play watchdog to such matters, this isn't the first time that Keeth Peeter (sic) mishandled a Stanford-related death. During the massive overhaul/renovation of the football stadium a few years ago, a worker fell from a beam and died.

In the lengthy feature story which followed soon after the completion of the renovation, that dead worker was never I.D.'ed. Maybe "the dead worker with no name" was humanized in subsequent stories, but the point is: HIS NAME SHOULD BE IN EVERY STORY (just as Keith's name appears on 98 percent of his copy).

Are these minor oversights (innocent mistakes?) -- or a failure to adhere to the tenets of accuracy and integrity, not to mention sensitivity.

Nowhere did we learn if Kathy Wolff was 87 years old when she died ... or if she was 32 ... or if she was 63 ... or 45.

Personal nitpick: The phrase "Wolff's picture was shown during ESPN's telecast ... " might suggest that Kathy Wolff had drawn a picture with charcoal or crayons -- but when it's worded as "a photo of Wolff was shown," there is no ambiguity ...

Anyway, journalism which is incomplete and amateurish isn't journalism at all.
It's beyond "slipshod."
It's freakin' B.S. -- a description which works better when it's allowed to blossom into full, profane bloom.

Effin' bullsh*t.

It's why some of us walked away from that profession almost exactly 14 years ago ... when some of us jokingly referred to the pre-Palo Alto Online entity as "the Shallow Alto Weakling."

If the six or seven or eight stages of grief in this Kathy Wolff memorial is rage, it seems as though Rick Eymer's stab at competent sportswriting provided quality material (to mock):

Uploaded: Saturday, June 14, 2008, 7:30 PM
Ratliff ... delivered the death blow, driving in two with a single. The rest of the inning seemed like overkill ... Milleville delivered Florida State's eulogy ... The Seminoles aren't quite dead just yet ..."

In the span of six sentences, Eymer pushed the envelope of tacky, uncouth references all over the place.

Then again, it's tough when nobody cares enough to edit the copy which will, in turn, be glossed over by readers who don't care about the copy.

Apparently, the hackneyed cliches in Eymer's glossary which didn't make the cut were: a lifeless body on a cold slab at the morgue downtown ... FSU's toe tag ... shovelfuls of dirt tossed on the coffin ...

While this "journalistic" treatment is not surprising, it is disappointing in the sense that Peters and Eymer have evolved so very little since the days of the early '90s when they were the middle-of-the-pack, general-sports assignment reporters at the Peninsula Times Tribune and the San Mateo Times.

Their improvement is negligible ... their reporting negligent.

For those of us who are are married to somebody who was buddies with Kathy Wolff in the early '90s, it became abundantly clear that the reporters best-suited to handle the story departed that local news-gathering entity 15 years ago -- which only goes to show that ya get what ya pay for.

Hence, when half-assed, quasi-professional "journalists" are called upon, the result tends to be something half-assed and quasi-professional.

Kathy Wolff probably deserved better.
Which MAYBE the ex-Weakling will furnish in the days ahead (if the motivation is there to be the Alpha dog in local news rather than a press-release, re-write specialist).

Until then, long live the blogsphere and message boards.

And, hearty condolences to anyone who spends more than three minutes with the Palo Alto Online jigsaw puzzle.

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