Deathly Journalism

Pynn Rogerby Roger Pynn

During the 2008 presidential election, many were decrying the death of journalism. Over a period of just two days, the Orlando Sentinel seemed hell-bent to prove them right … prompting one of, if not, the most bizarre clarifications ever and making anyone who ever sat on a city desk wonder who is minding the store.

Here’s the scoop:

On Friday, Feb. 20, the Sentinel Death notices included one William Grant Conomos, 77.

Appearing above those death listings (one-line acknowledgements that give the departed their last bit of ink), was a glowing feature about Roosevelt Holloman whom the headline said “devoted himself to helping others learn.” Frankly, it was a moving tribute to an apparently spiritual man … sharing his daughter’s description of a gentle giant, a professional educator who encouraged people to be their very best “throughout his retirement.”

On Saturday, Feb. 21, the Sentinel‘s Corrections & Clarifications pointed out that said featured obit failed to note that in 1978, Mr. Holloman had been convicted of first degree murder … he shot his boss to death. Turns out that Holloman was employed as assistant principal of West Orange High School when he murdered Principal Raymond Screws. In fact, Mr. Holloman was a guest of the Florida Department of Corrections at the time of his demise. Interestingly, the featured obituary extolling the virtues of the late Mr. Holloman appears to have been stripped from the Sentinel website. Three days later the correction hadn’t made it to the newspaper’s website.

The Sentinel‘s feature obituary this day, however, was devoted to a man who would roll over in his grave at such an error.

Bill Conomos had been editor and publisher of the Sentinel for a decade in the ’60s and ’70s, following in the footsteps of his mentor Sentinel Publisher Martin Andersen. “He had the most fabulous memory of anyone I’ve ever met,” said former Sentinel News Editor Bill Summers (himself a man with a memory like a steel trap).

Now here’s an equally disturbing coincidence: at least 50 percent of Page 1A of the Friday Feb. 20 edition was devoted to a featured headlined “Did These Men Escape Justice?” … an article explaining that “in Florida, the death penalty doesn’t always mean death by execution. Heart disease, fatal ailments and suicide are just as likely to kill.”

Along with the story were color mug shots of 26 killers who died in prison before they could be executed. Fifty-seven other Central Floridians got one line death notices and no picture that day.

There was a time when an editor’s job was too be sure that reporters had fact-checked what they submitted … looking, for instance, in the old news clips to be sure that you weren’t ignoring someone important or paying homage to someone undeserving.

I feel somewhat qualified to make this comment because I sat in the slot on the city desk at the Sentinel myself in the late ’60s and learned from guys like Bill Summers and Bill Conomos. They taught you never to take anything for granted and God help you if you did. Getting one of Conomos’ fabled early morning phone calls because of an error he detected was all it took to break a bad habit.

Rest in peace, Mr. C.

Category: Roger Pynn, Taking Aim Tags: , , 6 Comments

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