Sometimes, knowing where to look can't find all the details you need for a story
Oh, the things we do in the name of accuracy.
Whether on Zoom or, as in those old days seemingly hundreds of years ago, in person, the afternoon news meeting of Daily Herald editors rarely makes for a scintillating viewer experience. But, for an inordinately long time last Friday, it would likely have provided a few laughs.
The topic? Reports of an animal messing up traffic on Randall Road near Elgin. The story itself was straightforward enough -- if somewhat delightfully offbeat. Social media posts were blowing up about reports of the animal in traffic and safety officials' efforts to remove it safely before it or a motorist was injured.
If you've read this far, you've already gotten a glimpse of what became a dilemma for editors hearing about reports of the animal and looking at low-resolution images taken from Facebook.
"Do we know it was a bull?" asked Executive Editor Jim Baumann.
No one could say for sure. Even the police, we were told, had been a little vague and could only say they thought it was a bull because, as our Rick West would later write, "you couldn't see any udders." Editors at the news meeting noted that that alone couldn't be assurance of gender. The animal, for one thing, could be a steer.
Travis Siebrass, deputy managing editor for digital news and a native of rural Nebraska, joked that he would have no problem telling if he could get a close look in the right place on the animal. But editors were already scouring for that place in the grainy photos we had available or in the clear-but-face-on shot provided us by the South Elgin Police Department. The simple fact was none of us could be sure.
The peculiarity of devoting a decent portion of our serious news meeting to the effort to distinguish the gender characteristics of a particular bovine was not lost on the editors and, I must acknowledge, provided a welcome respite from discussion of the other news of the day, including considerably more somber topics of murder, mental illness and COVID-19. Baumann finally brought the issue to a close.
"Let's attribute it to the police department and let it go at that," he said.
And that's what West did, though his entertaining story Saturday did include references to the pending uncertainty.
Gender, of course, was of almost no real significance to the story itself. The story was about an unusual, potentially disastrous situation on one of the suburbs' busiest thoroughfares and the efforts required to contain the beast at the center of events. But it was definitely difficult to describe the situation without knowing this detail. A cow is a specific thing. So, is a bull. They are both bovines, of course, but now, really, would you not think it weird to read a story in which an animal was referred to repeatedly as a "bovine?"
West found a clever way to deal with the issue and managed to provide a lighthearted piece that didn't disregard the several potentially serious complications that could have occurred.
Fortunately, gender was never a question for our Russell Lissau, who had the task for today's paper of describing yet another bovine on the loose in the suburbs. Authorities have known from the beginning that an American bison roaming Lake and McHenry counties is female. Tyson the Bison, as she has come to be known on social media, has been eluding capture since she escaped in September while being unloaded at a farm near Route 176 and Darrell Road, She is occasionally spotted and even photographed, but the experts think their best hope of tracking her is to wait for a decent snowfall.
That is, of course, unless she too winds up on Randall Road, in which case editors at our news meeting will have at least one less detail to worry about.