Friday, September 01, 2006

Attribution

Somebody's always figuring out something silly to do with it. Most of these have showed up with dismaying regularity through the decades, so let's make these the last of the semester.

First, heds:

Iraqi forces moving toward takeover (3A Thursday)
Tuition: Increases drive students away (8A Thursday, and for those who don't recall the style, the latter is Missourian style for jump heds, hence the colon and the change in weight)

In both cases, the hed turns an assertion from the text into a wholly different one in big type. It's undoubtedly true that the top U.S. commander in Iraq "expressed optimism Wednesday that Iraqi forces are making enough progress to provide their own security within 18 months." But that's a long way from turning that progress into an independently established fact, which the hed does. Similarly, in the second, a college president contends that tuition increases here are driving students to attend schools out of state. It seems sensible, to the extent that intuition is sensible, but he doesn't offer any evidence to support, and we don't seem to have any on our own.

Broken record time: Reporting the comments of public figures on public issues is part of the job. So is making sure the audience can trace the comments to the authority that made them. Sometimes missing attribution just looks silly. Other times it looks like propaganda.

Here's the graf the second hed is based on:
Nietzel pointed out that the decreases in state funding for higher education, and the resulting increase in tuition rates, are driving students to colleges and universities in other states.

The verbs you need for attributing direct or indirect quotes are twofold, and two shall be their number, for they are "said" and "asked" (it's OK to use transitive verbs with direct objects -- "she suggested bringing back the ducking stool" or "he explained the party's position on witch trials," but those aren't really attribution). "Added" is sometimes acceptable for variety, but beyond that, you're risking trouble. "Pointed out" (which appears twice in the story quoted above) and "noted" (in the story above it), for example, both give the weight of TRVTH to the assertion they're attached to and thus -- intentionally or not -- put the writer on the side of the source.

And finally, don't be led down the garden path of trying to declutter your lede by saving the attribution for later:

Boone County residents need longer hours of public transportation operation and geographically larger service areas.

That’s according to the Boone County Coordinated Transportation Study.
(1A Wednesday)

The rain last weekend wasn’t enough to help farmers with corn and soybeans, but it did help restore topsoil moisture and provide relief for drought-parched pastures.

That was the assessment on Monday by climatologist Pat Guinan of MU Extension.
(8A Thursday)

James Thurber made the folly of that clear some decades ago:

Dead.

That's what the man was when they found him.

If you can't top that, don't try.

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