Get over the "over" thing

I have both praised and thumbed my nose at the AP Stylebook in Ninja Journalist - here and here. Now I get to thumb my nose at the faithful followers that believe the book is infallible. I never thought the day would come, but AP Stylebook announced it is now acceptable to use “over” referring to a greater numerical value and some writers are throwing themselves on their swords over the move.

Many believe you can’t say or write “The tickets cost over $50” or “There were over 500 people at the festival.” They believe “The tickets cost more than….” and “There were more than 500 people….” is the only correct way. The funny thing is, I have not heard a sensible reason why it must be that way.

Comments on social media show how incredulous some are at learning that AP has given in to the over with distraught cries such as “I may never get over this,” “No, no, no, NO!” and “Boo! Wasn’t expecting AP to dumb down.”

The argument is that “over” is a physical location. I say yes, and it is a numerical value as well.

How silly it would be for us in journalism to claim to be experts in the language of numbers, like numerologist, mathematics professors, scientists and bankers. Those professionals often use “over” in reference to a higher numeral value and they are the experts in numbers, not us and not the Associated Press.

When a banker has too much money represented on the sheets at the end of the day, they don’t say “We have a more-than-age.” No, it is an overage. An OVERage.

Consider this: The word “out” is a physical location. However, just like our special word “over,” “out” is numerical as well, such as “You are out of money” - the number of dollars you have is zero. Out is also used as an adverb, adjective and preposition. Surprise!

I used/wrote “more” when I could get away with it and when I became an editor-reporter I gleefully did every chance I could.

There are over 40 negative comments on the Face Book conversation I saw and only three positive ones, counting my own. My favorite is from Gary Kircherr of the Erie Times-News, saying “This crotchety bellyaching over the removal of a silly style rule that should never have been there in the first place exemplifies perfectly why copy editors are always the first newsroom employees to be laid off. You whiners are giving the rest of us a bad name. Get over it already.”

Indeed, Gary. They need to get OVER it.
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My hardest story II

I wrote a post “The Hardest Story” in November describing how I handle the sensitive subject of student death and suicide in small market papers.  You can read it here. I promised to later tell my hardest story as far as footwork, research and rejections, and here it is.

The teaching point I would like to share is sometimes you have to do an assignment you don’t want, aren’t experienced in, are intimidated by, or in my case, all of the above. When these occur you have to lean forward and first consider it you job and duty and later be glad for the opportunity to learn.

Several years ago my county commissioners court was corrupt and four of the members then were buddies and many county decisions were made in a cafe on the south side of the square – a violation of the Open Meetings Act and a tough accusation to prove. It got so bad that one time a commissioner did not vote the way he was supposed to and the others glared at him until he awkwardly changed his vote.

A new fleet of sheriff deputy vehicles was purchased and rumors came to me that an under-the-table deal had been made for a particular dealerships to “win” the bid. Knowing the type of men involved I figured there was substance to the rumor.

In community journalism you don’t have the staff or time to devote a week to just one story, but I was as diligent as I could be while handling my other story responsibilities. I spoke with the commissioners for their side of the story, which spread the word I was investigating the rumor and reselted in the county purchasing agent refusing to meet with me. I was finally allowed to interview the purchasing agent but with a commissioner leaning in a folding chair outside the office door within earshot.

I finally got a copy of the bids without using the Freedom of Information Act and interviewed the loosing car dealerships involved in the bidding and spoke with the sheriff and a couple of sheriff deputies.

The information I could document and write about was:

Of the six bids, the local dealership that “won” was tens of thousands of dollars higher than the rest.

Other dealerships specialized in law enforcement fleet sales and the dealer that was given the contract did not.

The other dealership's prices included delivering the vehicles “road ready” with police radios, security cages, emergency lights, sirens and other essential equipment. The vehicles of the local winning bidder came naked.

The biggest discovery was a local pager store was to purchase the essential equipment and have it installed after delivery. Do you remember pagers? Those were the things worn on belts that beeped to tell you to call your office. Anyway, I documented that the owner of this pager store was the exclusive provider of all county owned equipment right down to each computer and telephone in every office. I investigated the pager store’s billing to the sheriff department and learned the equipment was not only far over market price but also inferior, cheaper, and different than that listed on the bill. One deputy sat me in his new cruiser and pointed out the discrepancies.

I worked hard on this story and it was  intimidating for me to do things like wait for someone in the morning for outside their office because they would not returned my calls. It was uncomfortable but I did it.

I wrote the story, dismissing additional information I learned that the winning dealer was having acres of land prepared for an auto mega-mall by a construction company owned by the son of a county commissioner. I had to quit somewhere and I did not want another piece of information to fight to verify. Besides, I was becoming weary and running out of time.

To my disappointment, the editor did not give me the cover but put the story on the bottom fold of page three.


Through the efforts of others of whom I do not know, about six months after my story the incident was investigated at a state level and the owner of the pager store went to jail for a bit for multiple shady business dealings with the county. However, the commissioners’ actions were described simply as “poor decisions.” On an up note, the leader of the group, who referred to himself “the senior commissioner” lost his reelection try for a fourth term. Two of the other “Three Stooges,” as I liked to call them in our office, also lost their seats on the court when their terms were up.

Some reporters enjoy intense investigative reporting, but I hope I never have to do a story like that again.

I would like to hear and possibly post your hardest story and how you handled it.

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