Wednesday, August 16, 2006

"How do we know ...?"

... remains one of the best questions in the copyed arsenal. Feel free (no: feel compelled) to deploy it whenever a writer leads you to a fork in the road that can only be solved with an unsupported assumption. As in:

Reallystupid Waytofly, 42, of Lexington, S.C., was arrested outside a ramp near Concourse C and charged with second-degree trespassing, being intoxicated and disruptive, resisting a public officer and injury to personal property. He was released from Mecklenburg County jail on $2,000 bond.

A woman who answered the phone at Waytofly's address said he didn't live there.

Well, that settles that. She's lying. Unless, oh, his license has an outdated address, or he fibbed to the cops, or we got him mixed up with one of the other South Carolina Waytoflys -- you don't need a very active imagination to add to the list. So if the writer isn't prepared to demonstrate how we know that the address is his, don't let it by.

Yes, that means a clumsier sentence, including a hedge on the order of "the address listed on the arrest report." Which might, in turn, raise the question of what exactly this bit of data adds to the sum of human knowledge. The reader's only interest in this -- aside from passing curiosity in the Almighty's ability to look after drunks and idiots -- is in how the lad managed to stumble out to the ramp (do they still have "tarmac" at Charlotte-Douglas, by the way?). How seriously do we expect that to be illuminated by comments from the home front? Especially when we start by presuming that the person we reach is lying?

While we're here, there's an excellent example of the Two-Minute Mile to ponder. It's a Web-only hed, but if that's your face to the world ...

1 in 3 of Charlotte's residents from outside U.S.

That sounds like news. Unless, of course, the link-writer was referring to the story bearing this hed: "1 in 3 of Charlotte's newest residents came from outside U.S."

Slight difference, you think?


Anonymous Strayhorn said...

Just this morning I was listening to NPR (yes, I know: cooties) where a Canadian writer was being interviewed about his book on a condemned prisoner in the US who had been pardoned after intervention by the pope.

The writer was gassing on about his subject, who had apparently adopted religion after being convicted of shotgunning three people, and mentioned that "jailhouse conversions happen more often in American."

At which the reporter, bless him, immediately said: "How do you know this? Is that true?"

The writer backtracked and said they were "typically American." Well, that's better but I still would have cut it.

It did cause a pause in the narrative, but I was so happy he asked that question I almost sent in a pledge to my local NPR affiliate.

1:33 PM, August 16, 2006  
Blogger fev said...

I missed that tale this morning, but it's good news. Almost enough to make you forget that ridiculous line of Linda Wertheimer's, about Indiana congressional campaigns:

"It just depends on whether a wave starts, whether some kind of prairie fire is burning."

Prairie fire. Sheez.

6:15 PM, August 16, 2006  

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