Thursday, June 30, 2005

Coffee with the Missourian

A few quick impressions from this morning's effort -- not the Web version, which isn't up at this writing, but the paper one, which miraculously landed in the neighbor's driveway instead of under his truck. But we're going to talk about content, not delivery.

COY CORRECTIONS: "A photo caption in the June 12 edition contained incorrect information." News flash. That's what "corrections" means. A correction shouldn't repeat the error it corrects, but it needs to say what the error was: date, number, name? Try something like "A photo caption June 12 reported an incorrect number." And cut it out with "the June 12 edition."

ALBOM ALERT: One of the best ways to set yourself up for a fall is to proclaim what the weather "will" do ("Short rain will bring relief from heat," 1A). You can say what it's expected to do, or what the experts hope it will or won't do, but don't tempt nature by being definite.

Farther inside but of greater importance, never -- yes, to repeat a point, that means never, never, never -- say "is being held on $200,000 bond" ("Woman faces charge," 4A). You know what was true Wednesday -- "was being held Wednesday on $200,000 bond" -- but you have no way of knowing what will be true Thursday morning. This is a really simple rule, and we need to follow it without fail.

RTFP: Speaking of "Woman faces charge of assault," what's in that headline that wasn't on Wednesday's front page? If this story's in the paper because bond was set, or to update the victim's condition, that's what the hed needs to reflect -- not old news.

SAVE IT FOR USA TODAY: "As the temperature rises, so does our desire to water our lawns" (1A). Don't talk about what "we" want unless you have some data to back it up. Come to think of it, don't do it then either. Save the "we're eating more beets" bit for your robot masters at Gannett, once you're hired there.

LONG DISTANCE, LOCAL STORY: "Taliban" is a plural noun, so don't use it with a singular verb ("Taliban claims responsibility," 3A). Since this looks so weird, better to use "Taliban" to modify a noun -- Taliban leaders, a Taliban spokesman -- that can then govern number.

Macro point: That hed might be true, but there's no way to tell from the story. When you're cutting, whether on the screen or the page, don't cut the part of the story that the hed comes from. If it's far enough down in the story to cut, you should question why it's the hed.

And yeah, that being one of the country's two Current Unpleasantnesses, I'd say it qualifies as a local story. There's more here for me, at any rate, than in another featurized lede about Mizz Thistlebottom's third-grade science class.

AND YOUR DEGREE IS FROM ...? Watch out for gee-whiz ledes like "Two MU researchers are changing the face of autism diagnosis" (1A). A statement that sweeping needs a lot of backup -- for starters, where does this step fit in these folks' research program, and how do other autism researchers characterize it? Science tends to be a back-and-forth process, and one refereed publication doesn't make a summer. There's a good story in here, but -- at least from the evidence we present -- nothing that can hold up the lede. (Time for another plug for HEADSUP-L's current favorite columnist, Ben Goldacre of Bad Science fame. Read him every week for strong bones and teeth.)

There's lots more, but real work calls. Next up?

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