Monday, April 02, 2007

Shooting the wounded

Gather 'round for another installment of Journalism Blunders that Won't Go Away. This week: the Post-Accident Execution.

Many of the Blunders that Won't Go Away are actual errors of "grammar," meaning misapplications of the wiring diagrams that make words go into sentences and sentences into meanings. If you can't pick the prepositions out of a phrasal verb accurately, you get the Cop-Shop Magic Wand ("turned himself into police"). And if you misread the chart that comes with a preposition, you get the Post-Accident Execution ("20 killed after plane crash"). Two examples from the past few days:

2 wounded by police after shots exchanged
Two men were taken to a hospital early Sunday after being shot by police near a nightclub on Independence Boulevard, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police said.

Hmm. That'd be "after" as in "behind in time, later than." So the lede is correct: They were taken to the hospital after they were shot. But the hed's wrong. They were wounded during ("at some point in the entire time of, in the course of") the exchange of shots. As it is, we're accusing the police of shooting 'em while they're down. And when your lede story is about the killing of two officers in a separate shooting, that's a pretty tasteless thing to imply. (See *note below, and while we're at it, avoid ill-formed jargon like "As is routine in officer-involved shootings." Officers don't involve shootings; shootings involve officers. Nothing wrong with "shootings in which officers are involved," unless we want to restrict it to "cases in which officers fire their weapons").

Want another one? Oh, all right:
Pedestrian dies after being hit twice
A 39-year-old pedestrian was killed early Friday after she was struck by two vehicles, according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

The hed's plausible but uncertain; if we don't know when in the sequence she died, we shouldn't specify it. But the lede is the real problem. Again, we have a killer operating independently from the event that actually did the killing. Why not stick to what you know: "struck by two vehicles and fatally injured" or "pronounced dead after being hit by two vehicles"?

Points off for ignoring style on highway numbers and titles. Credit the writer, though, for not using "police responded" -- and for not putting an irrelevant gender mark in the lede, as the fishwrap across town did:

A female pedestrian was killed early this morning on Highway 763 just north of Columbia after being struck by a minivan and dragged underneath a second vehicle.

Another post-accident execution! And every bit as easy to avoid as the others.

* On a mildly related parting note, a candidate has arrived for Clueless Lede of the Year. Gaze on this, from a column about the killings of the two officers mentioned above:

Charlotte isn't Mayberry. Perhaps it never was.

Wow. No kidding?


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