Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Life imitates art

Ah, happy day, when the week's discussion topics immediately make their way into print by way of illustration.

The copy editor's job, to reiterate, is generally* not to determine the form or purpose of the story; it's to determine that the forms chosen by the originating editors and writers are executed at peak efficiency and economy. That's no mean challenge, as evidenced on 11A Wednesday:

MU Chancellor Brady Deaton moderated a forum Tuesday night that featured three professors who discussed the merits of research. They argued that basic research is often more valuable to the community than specific applied research.

Our job isn't to determine that this event needed a subject-verb-object lede; it's to ensure that the right subject, verb and object are chosen. A good test for that category is to take the first independent clause and turn it into a hed:

CHANCELLOR MODERATES FORUM!
(The exclamation point isn't really necessary, but it does help get the point across)

Then we look at the relative and subordinate clauses -- not because we'll draw heds from them,** but to see what sort of excitement they add to the general tenor of things:

FORUM FEATURES PROFESSORS!

PROFESSORS DISCUSS MERITS!

Things, as you can see, are going downhill in a major hurry. That suggests that maybe we should shift our focus from the chancellor (who has a news bureau to publicize his good deeds), and the fact of the discussion (known from the previous edition), to what was said:

Basic research is often more valuable to the community than specific applied research, three professors argued at a forum Thursday night.

It's still a perverted pyramid and still (with a slight inversion) an S-V-O lede. But at least now the small fraction of news the event produced has pride of place.

We don't decide on form. We do help the city desk carry out its decisions effectively. Good?


* "Generally" is there for a reason. 'Tis always the season somewhere for misbegotten ledes and misshapen stories.
** Everybody's heard the sermon about heds' never coming from relative clauses, yes?

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