Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Appalling heds of the (still-young) month

Yet more evidence that the answer to the question "How low can you go in the race to discard all those pesky journalism basics so you can put stuff online faster?" is on the order of "No! Lower!"
Where to start? How about the second of the two "may" statements? Here's the lede:
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police believe the man charged with killing two officers was drinking brandy, smoking cigarettes and listening to music -- possibly a Pastor Troy song called Murda Man -- before the shootings, according to court documents made public this morning.
Hmm. He may have been listening to music, and it may have been "Murda Man."* Any further support for this?
... The documents also say police searched a Timber Ridge apartment on Friday looking for compact discs, alcoholic beverage containers, Newport cigarettes, drugs, drug paraphernalia, and evidence of firearm possession relating to a .32 caliber weapon. Police believe Montgomery had been in the apartment before the shootings.
And this, under a subhed:
The lyrics
Police searched an apartment Friday in connection with the killing of two police officers. In addition to other things, they searched for a compact disc containing the song "Murda Man" by rap artist Pastor Troy.
So there may (or may not) have been a CD, and it may (or may not) have included the said ditty, and the suspect may (or may not) have listened to it. Notice how far all of that is from the bigger "may": the bizarre assertion that the song "may have influenced" the suspect? (And no, we're not going to go into the media-effects literature here.)
Left hanging is what the song "may" have "influenced" the suspect to do. But the deck makes that clear: Use a .32-caliber gun! If you're going to declare him guilty before trial, why bother with "suspect"?
Judging from the report, this set of legal documents doesn't seem to have produced a lot of surprises. Granted, it gives you a chance to say "this morning" on a development in the big local story of the week. But earth-shattering? Nah. And there, again, is the core of the issue.
If you recall the "blow up the copydesk" idiocy of the 1990s, you'll recall that the tedious old writer-stifling rim-and-slot system of editing ultimately survived as, if not the best, clearly the least worst available method of distributing attention among stories. It ensured that even a low-bore five-graf update on the release of search warrant affidavits would get at least a few minutes of cursory copyediting -- enough to clean up the elementary style errors (composition titles and preposed number compounds), if nothing else. And for a story that really is a big deal, the system piled on enough attention to put the copy into play in a hurry while avoiding** inane, unfounded slop like "Song may have influenced suspect."
PS: And there's this, on a sidebar from the paper's TV "news" "partner":
Lawyer plans defense of accused killer
Regardless of your stance on "accused killer" (barred in most quality shops), the hed is flat wrong. As the story points out, the longtime defense lawyer doing the speculating in the story isn't the one defending the suspect.
* I may have too! Does it go sort of like "Tiptoe thru the Tulips," only the bridge is in the relative minor?
** Well, most of the time.


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