Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Today's editing test

Are you ready to be a copy editor? Let's see:

One of the victims was Trenton resident Earl Hawley, 76. Anna May Hawley, who was pulled from the water by a family on a passing boat, was dismayed by the ruling.

"I'm very disappointed, but I guess there's nothing we could do," she said Monday, declining further comment.

Any questions for the reporter?

If you asked whether there's any relationship between these two people (which might explain why they were singled out for inclusion; after all, 20 people died and 27 survived), advance to the next level. "Well, obviously ..." and "Everybody can figure that out" won't cut it. We're not in the business of obvious, and anybody who could figure out that these two were married (they were) could figure out other plausible family relationships too. They could be siblings. Mother and son might be a stretch, but father and daughter isn't; as the NYT reported at the time, passengers ranged in age from 54 to 89.

Space is at a premium downtown these days, but there's space going to waste here. "Declining further comment" is the sort of thing you append to statements like "We stand by our story" or "I support the chairman a thousand percent" -- not to ones that actually address the question in a complete, relevant thought. And if we put the survivor first, it's clearer why these two are included:

Anna May Hawley of Trenton,* who was pulled from the water by a family on a passing boat, was dismayed by the ruling. Her husband, Earl, was among those who died.

Not perfect, but better, and sometimes a marginally better suggestion produces an even better answer from the reporter.

No story has room for every last detail, and not every question -- not even every question from the copydesk -- needs to be answered. "How long were they married?" isn't essential to this story. "Were they married?" is. Knowing the difference is part of the job.



Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

See, I was hearing Babs Bunny say "No relation!"

10:06 PM, May 12, 2009  

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