Tuesday, September 18, 2007

You talkin' to me?

If I were pope of journalism, the first thing I'd do (after instituting a holiday for St. Subjunctive) would be to remind believers worldwide that news is written in the third person. Forever and ever amen. Not in the first person, even if you bring your own tapeworm, and not in the second person, which is today's topic.

Several pitfalls await the sinner who addresses the reader in such a wise. One is the grammar thing. The understood imperative can't change persons just because you close your eyes and wish really hard, as in this example:

The understood subject in both cases is "you": If you're wearing Crocs, you should watch kids' toes. Bad idea for a couple of reasons. One, in many states, the cops take a dim view of underage toe-watching. Two, your Crocs aren't the point of the story. What the hed wants to say is that if your progeny are wearing Crocs, you need to look out for their toes. Send hed back for rewrite. You can torture grammar all you want to, but you can't make it confess to this sort of thing.

The other pitfall arises from deliberately offending your readers by assuming certain kinds of group membership:

So you think that fancy navigational system in your SUV is smart?

Consider the mighty osprey.

Nope. Don't have SUV. Don't have fancy navigational system. Not prone to thinking wires and lights are particularly smart on their own. (Do have visions of osprey rolling out toward unsuspecting writer's liver and lights, if that helps.)

Please. Third person only. If you're talkin' to me, stop.

5 Comments:

Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

I'd have stopped reading both of those.

7:57 PM, September 18, 2007  
Anonymous mtarnowski said...

Second person can also introduce factual errors. A local "editor" recently composed a lede along the lines of: "If you live on a fixed income, then a new program to pay taxes quarterly is for you." In fact, payment program was available to all citizens, regardless of their income category. ...mtarnowski

3:44 PM, September 19, 2007  
Blogger fev said...

Indeed. Any time you venture into "you-" or "we-" land, you raise the possibility that you'll fence somebody in or out who shouldn't be.

9:54 PM, September 19, 2007  
Blogger Denise said...

Unless we work for a shop in which we are ordered to write more heads that "speak directly to the reader."

10:46 AM, September 20, 2007  
Blogger fev said...

Them's the kind of orders we want to see stamped out. There is no "the reader." Whenever you rule some of them in, you're ruling some other ones out. I don't think we have enough of the damn things to spare.

12:19 PM, September 20, 2007  

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