Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Judgment call

This one arrived at the weekend from the stalwart Fort Worth buro. It's already attracted some comment around the editosphere (at ACES and Doug's place, for example), but it's worth another go because of the sort of negotiation it's likely to set off.
The copy editor's job is easiest when we can point to some nice binary one-and-zero sort of stuff that ails the copy before us: Relative clauses don't do that; we haven't got a transitive use for that verb; sorry, that war ended when your subject was 7 years old; I know you think "'Tis the season" sounds original, but here are 14,272 headlines from the past year that have used it. Judgment calls are touchier, partly because in a battle of preferences, a lot of weight -- quite rightly -- goes to the writer's view.
Hence the calls to read the whole story, and to read some of the comments that flesh out the backstory, are relevant here. This isn't a spot-news piece (the attack is two months old); it's a featurized way into several old stories that seem to need tying together. So we can't necessarily say the concept is wrong.
But while we're acknowledging that, we can -- and should -- say that this featurized lede is wrong. The originating desk offers this justification: "It conveys how an ordinary day can become a major trauma and this is why we want people to be aware of serial rapist." To which we can say: Fine. We do too. But this one really feels like a parody ("Some days suck, and then you're raped"), and it seems more likely to stir bafflement or anger than a reasoned awareness.
At deadline, it comes down to somebody's judgment call. In this case, the worse judgment won. It isn't the first time*, and it won't be the last. Commendations for the deskers who challenged this lede on taste grounds. I hope they (and others) aren't discouraged. With a few weeks of hindsight, you'd like to think it will be clear they were right.
* If you're all very, very naughty, I shall recount the infamous condom lede sometime.

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4 Comments:

Blogger Andria said...

Fine post.

Please recount the lede mentioned in the footnote!

8:14 PM, February 19, 2008  
Anonymous rayb said...

Everybody's trying to make news more readable, accessible, it's called. While feature ledes sometimes work on hard news, the writer has to understand that the tone set by the lede carries into the reader's response. Read that lede and you think, "Oh, here's how to save some time" or "Here's another story about the harried life blues." But busting in with something from that far out of left field doesn't bring readers back. Stories like that need sympathetic or empathetic tone. Not some attempt to be snappy.

1:45 PM, February 20, 2008  
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6:18 PM, February 20, 2008  
Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

It's way too jarring. The detail about the dog food especially, for some reason. I understand what he was trying to do, but that's not a feeling I want from my newspaper.

5:35 AM, February 21, 2008  

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