Monday, October 01, 2007

Who's on first?

It's News Judgment Week here, and what better way to kick it off than a few pertinent examples from the morning's browsing? Both these serve as reminders that "news" tries not to leave the reader guessing. It's not enough to say who people are and what they're saying or doing; the connection between the who and the what needs to be clear at the outset. As not done here:

PHOENIX — The stepdaughter-in-law of the city's public advocate, found dead in a police holding cell in Arizona, was a "wonderful" woman and mother, Betsy Gotbaum said.

If you're wondering who Betsy Gotbaum is and why she's being brought in to comment on the death of someone related to some official from "the city" (given the dateline, you can be forgiven for assuming it's Phoenix), you need to hang on for another graf. Gotbaum is the New York City public advocate and thus the stepmother-in-law of the woman who was found dead (if you were wondering from the lede exactly who was or wasn't dead, that's pretty forgivable too). That's a lot of brainwork to ask of people who are still waiting for the coffeemaker to perform its magic.

This, from the local fishwrap, illustrates the tortured paths a design mandate can take you down if you aren't careful. Apparently it's some sort of policy to begin an A or biz newsbriefs package with a raised quote, labeled "he said" or "she said," that allegedly illuminates some issue or another (people who issue design policies based on wishful beliefs about what the news will yield every day also think highly of Santa Claus).

The trouble with ideas like this is that they almost mandate bad stagecraft, as in: If you need to spend 2X time explaining a joke of X length before anybody gets it, you need to get off stage and into your uncle's hardware business in a big fat hurry. Listen and attend:

"It is very romantic. It is operatic. It stirs the emotions."

Great quote, huh? So great, it could have been said by almost anybody about almost anything that went on in the 24 hours before the city edition closed and the presses began to roll. So, who said it and why?

SARAH ADAMS, granddaughter of famed photographer Ansel Adams, speaking about one of the most iconic views in the American West -- Yosemite Valley framed by El Capitan, Bridalveil Falls and Half Dome -- known as Tunnel View.

Once your teeth have stopped grinding over the syntax, you at least know what "it" is. Why are we talking about it? The Endless Tagline continues:

The celebrated overlook 2 miles west of Yosemite Valley is about to get an overhaul, even a tree-cutting.

OK, so there is a "what" in there. And how is it linked to "who" again?

The National Park Service is finalizing a $2.3-million plan to expand public viewing areas, install new interpretive signs and improve traffic safety at the spot, whose panoramas were made famous by Ansel Adams.

That's rather a long hike -- uphill both ways, in the snow -- just to find out what "it" in "it is very romantic" means and why the person uttering that timeless utter is worthy of my attention this morning. So in honor of News Judgment Week, could we suggest that the Freep post a new interpretive sign atop the Nation & World briefs column? On the order of "SKIP QUOTE: Proceed directly to potential news below"?

As in? As in the, um, exhaustive three grafs devoted to the rebel attack on AU peacekeeping troops in Darfur. (Although to give the desk credit, it managed to spell "beleaguered" correctly in that item -- unlike the one below it about Russia's "beleagured opposition coalition.") Think we could spare a gimmick or two in favor of better coverage of more than one crisis at a time?



Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

To be fair, if you know Ansel Adams, you know that photo.

Not that that's an excuse, but it might not have seemed obscure to the writer, just as it didn't at all to me. Of course, I have an excuse: I don't do this for a living.

6:58 PM, October 01, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Too right. Just tell the flippin' story. I don't have time for the Celestial Seasonings quotes.

3:31 PM, October 04, 2007  
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