Tuesday, July 22, 2008

First, biggest, only: Cut it out

Remember, editors, you can never go wrong by asking for some documentation that some event or person is the first or only of its kind. And when a reporter declares that something is the biggest, baddest or hairiest of anything, you're within your rights to demand a copy of the scorecard and a list of the runners-up.

Why do writers insist on doing this? Well, it makes copy sound sexier. It makes reporters sound more "authoritative." It's a factola that the other guy doesn't have. Unless it turns out to be either (a) wrong or (b) so baffling as to leave the readers scratching their heads.

McClatchy writers (specifically, the ones representing the former K-R empire) have long been especially prone to these failings, and again today, they're setting the pace:

AMMAN, Jordan -- As Barack Obama heads into the world's most complicated region in a bid to establish his foreign-policy credentials as a presidential hopeful, Israelis and Palestinians are voicing a mixture of hope, skepticism and curiosity.

Most complicated, eh? And how exactly do we propose to measure that variable and test your proposition? I could buy "highest ratio of words to clues in popular news writing," but otherwise -- wow, suppose you tell people he's headed for the Fractious Near East and leave it at that, eh?

And here's one that -- I think -- began at MCT and seems to have migrated into the wider news world:

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — - The judge in the first American war crimes trial since World War II barred evidence on Monday that interrogators obtained from Osama bin Laden's driver after his capture in Afghanistan.

No. It isn't. Go look it up. This is the first trial of a Guantanamo "detainee" in the "war on terror." It might be the first time the American military has run a war-crimes trial of someone from another country since World War II. But it isn't the first American war-crimes trial since then.

There's always a first, a biggest, and an only. But it's so rarely the one identified by the reporter that you might as well just challenge them all.


Blogger Wishydig said...

Nicely said. This is the first, best and only post I've read on the issue.

7:29 AM, July 23, 2008  
Blogger Denise said...

I just LOVE the look on reporters' faces when I say, "Oh, this is No. 1? Go get me Nos. 2-5." Then I smile, and when they can come up with no evidence, I cut it out, then they bitch some more. Then I keep smiling. :-)

5:22 PM, July 26, 2008  

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