Deathly Journalism

by 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 Web site. Three days later the correction hadn’t made it to the newspaper’s Web site.

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% 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.

6 Responses to Deathly Journalism

  1. Grant says:

    That is ridiculous! Just amazing that a little “fact” like that could slip through the cracks. I guess it’s to be expected when so many veterans are let go from the newsroom and there’s hardly anyone left to mind the store …

  2. Molly Harper says:

    That obit is still there, and is the first item that comes up if you do a Google search for Roosevelt Holloman. Any thoughts on how to get it removed?

  3. reese Holloman says:

    first off leave my grandfather alone he did nothing to any of you we wrote the obit so why would we include that his family and friends know who he and was no need to bring up all your faults when you’re being laid to rest i pray for your souls you are a group of sick twisted individuals may God be with you .

    • anni says:

      Your grandfather affected ALOT OF PEOPLE. You were not there the day he shot at Mrs. Brown who was running from your grandfather and his gun, tripped, and the bullet he shot, thank God, missed her. You were not there when over 1000 students found out the VICE PRINCIPAL SHOT OUR PRINCIPAL. We didn’t have that kind of violence in schools back then! And to find out that it was because he was caught in an affair with an underage cheerleader. Your grandfather was NOT a great dude. He filled students with dread, this was 1978. He also was a bully. He made me go back to the end of a line to let one of his “chicks” in front of me, even under her protest (she WAS a nice girl) – I had to go to the end of the line for no reason, big bully. He was a huge, scary man who wore a 6 inch scare down his facel His lack of moral compass ensnared a child then killed an adult; all out of self gratification. Take a look at the West Orange Football Stadium still named after the slain Mr Screws. No, he was not a friendly teddy-bear to other than maybe you and your family. Be glad a person in a position of authority didn’t shame you into sex in a closet.

    • anni says:

      Honey, his ”retirement” was ”incarceration”. He died in prison. I don’t say this to be mean, but you are only looking at one side of this story. If my grandfather, who was by no means an angle, had shot and killed an innocent man, I think I wouldn’t give him such a shining and brilliant obituary. I know you love your Grandpa, but please have respect for the rest of us he traumatized.

  4. anni says:

    Find a black man who was a student in 1978 at Winter Garden, FL and ask him how the murder made him feel? A new school, such hope….and then such a let down by a brother of power. A man others looked-up to, a man who broke barriers such as Rollins College and an Air Force alumni. His final deed was heartbreak for an entire community. We were all SAD he did this, not MAD. Just so, so sad for our new school and its positive dream. Our new football field was then a blight for us with our dead principals name on it. Mr. Screws was a nice guy.

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