Saturday, October 08, 2005

Stamp out "Police responded to ..."

Here's this week's example of why any paragraph containing "Police responded to..." should be boiled until the offending words disappear:

Police responded to a call from a motorist at about 8 p.m. Wednesday reporting that a person in a gray truck had tried to run the driver off the road in the area of Stadium and Forum boulevards.

Let your readers infer from the lede, which says there was a high-speed police chase, that the cops must have responded to something:

A driver called police about 8 p.m. Wednesday to say someone in a gray truck had tried to run the driver off the road in the area of Stadium and Forum boulevards.

It's not a lot shorter, but it would save a line (and eight lines is an inch, and an inch less foam is an inch more beer). And it puts the emphasis on the events, rather than on the routine of the cops' doing their jobs.

Some autopilot writing in the lede needs attention too. When the story begins "Columbia police ended a high-speed chase," you've provided what amounts to a first reference to the jurisdiction. That means you can save two more words (and another line) by identifying the officer as "Sgt. Dan Beckman," rather than "Columbia police Sgt. Dan Beckman."

Regular readers will recall that the best prescription for a cops lede is often the passive voice -- again, on grounds that in nearly every case, the events are more interesting than the fact of a police response. In this case, you can keep the sentence active and still shift the focus from cops to events. Start the sentence with "A high-speed chase ended" and end it with "Columbia police said"; you have a stronger lede and at least one, maybe two, more lines of type to play with.

Go forth and stamp out robot cop writing.

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home