Mark Whicker, a sports columnist with the Orange County Register, wrote a column
(some are calling it the "worst sports column in history" and it has my vote) relating sports to the Jaycee Dugard kidnapping. It showed poor taste. Sometimes a journalist will come up with an idea that seems clever but it does not work; these misguided attempts at over-the-top gravity or immature humor usually only see the light of day in college newspapers or on blogs. At major daily newspapers there is usually a system in place to check stories, or at least there is the ability to run an article by a colleague. Whicker's article should have been spiked. An editor looks after the integrity of the paper and tries his or her best to bring readers the most lucid coverage. With the implosion of the newspaper industry, there are fewer editors. Without good editing, newspaper writers do not always elevate the discussion, which is their mission, and there is a creeping sloppiness in our papers. Humor can be difficult to pull off, especially in a daily newspaper. So the Orange County Register ran the column, which really missed the mark in many ways, and readers were mad about it. They wrote outraged letters. Whicker apologized, kind of. In an interview
with the Poynter Institute, he did not blame himself, bad editing, or weak judgment. It's the Web's fault! According to Poynter, "...in a phone interview, he defended the premise of his column and suggested that the fast-moving, quick-to-judge culture of the Web was behind the wave of criticism."
In the column, Whicker noted all the sporting events and activities Dugard missed as she was confined to a shed behind her kidnapper's house. "She was not allowed to spike a volleyball. Or pitch a softball. Or smack a forehand down the line. Or run in a 5-footer for double bogey," wrote Whicker, who's been in the business for 35 years. "Now, that's deprivation." And here is Whicker's baseball-inspired kicker: "Congratulations, Jaycee. You left the yard."