Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Credit vs. content

Latest in a series on how to be an effective wire editor. Collect them all!

This one's going to be called the Fallacy of Proximity when the Official HEADSUP-L Big Book of Editing comes out:

Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES -- George Weller, who drove his car through the Santa Monica Farmers' Market, killing 10, was sentenced Monday to five years' probation and will not serve time in prison.

This might be an adequate lede for Los Angeles readers. But if you're a few hours' drive from the beaches of the Atlantic (as is the major Southeastern daily whence this is drawn), you could be forgiven for wondering what a George Weller is and why you should care about him. Note how deeply the major elements of the story -- 10 people dead, no prison time -- are buried. If the paper is trying not to get my attention, it's doing a heck of a job.

The AP writes -- OK, it writes like the AP, but at least it has a national audience in mind:

An 89-year-old man whose car hurtled through a farmers market, killing 10 people, was let off on probation Monday by a judge who said he believed the defendant deserved to go prison but was too ill.

Why not use that or something like it? Because the paper in question (like many others) operates under a couple of wire-editing fallacies. One is that big papers are by definition better than general news services. Another is that variety in creditlines is by itself a virtue. A third is that the locals always know best. None are true, but the last is the point of today's sermon.

The very George Wellerishness of the story probably has some appeal for LA readers. That's a call for the LAT desk to make. But assuming the entire nation has been gathering 'round the old Philco every night for crackly updates on the Trial of the Century -- that's just dumb. As long as newspapers reward editors for using creditlines rather than judgment, though, it's going to continue.

(There's lots of good wire conversation going on these days, particularly as murmurs grow about centralizing or offshoring desk operations. Feel free to chime in here, of course, but keep an eye on the doings over at Doug's and Andy's.)


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