Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Verbs gone wild

Rough night for verbs downtown, as this cutline suggests:

Traffic is ground to a standstill on I-94 near Harper Avenue as police keep an eye on an inmate who jumped out of a police van Tuesday.

Oh, admit it. You really, really want to put that one into the active voice, don't you?

The story comes complete with the sort of lede that reminds us why briefs need to be written simply. (Yes, technically, it's a separate, with a two-column hed and a photo, but in real life it's a three-graf brief; the fourth graf just lists all the cop shops that "responded.") As a general rule, if you can't write a subject-verb-object-type hed from the first independent clause of a briefs lede, you have the wrong lede. If you have trouble deciding, try hollering "Extra! Extra!" Like this:

A handcuffed and shackled inmate escaped serious injury Tuesday afternoon after he kicked out the window of the moving St. Clair County sheriff's van he was being transported in and hurled himself into traffic along westbound I-94 at Harper in Detroit.

"Extra! Extra! Inmate escapes injury!" I mean, legendary was Xanadu.

Fortunately for the writer, there is actually a worse lede on the same page:

The former prosecutor of Ogemaw County got a harsh lesson Tuesday in what happens to public officials who buy machine guns and silencers for personal use.

Official use only for those machine guns, you public officials! You heard it here first.


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