Monday, July 13, 2009

The Yankeesinterns are coming!

Gather 'round, kiddies, and we will tell stories about the good old days, when people called "editors" read things called "stories" until late in the night.

What did editors do? Well, they made sure writers were using the right words:

Buried where he lay, Carr, a Union casualty, somehow escaped re-internment at the Marietta National Cemetery.

I think what he missed was "re-interment," which is also known as "reburial." If I'm recalling it correctly, when troops are "interned," they're usually (a) still vertical and (b) in the hands of a neutral power* (though I'd want to look that up if time allowed). Whether he "escaped" internitude or not -- that's an ear call. Good writers are likely to get the ear call, bad writers are likely to lose it. Though if the Yankees had him fetching coffee and making copies all summer, maybe it's appropriate.

Editors looked for wasted words. Since we've already noted that he was serving in the U.S. Army and that he's dead, "a Union casualty" adds exactly nothing to the story. Needlesser words could hardly be found.

And editors recalled stuff from third grade:

His great-great grandfather, a Union soldier from Indiana, fought in the siege of Vicksburg in 1983 and, due to bad weather that ruined necessary paperwork, his ancestor wound up buried in an anonymous grave on the battlefield.

Look. I'm from the land of "Forget, Hell" license plates too, but -- 1983? Isn't that carrying the past-isn't-past thing a little far? The editor who thoughtfully provided a link to the Atlanta weather conditions but allowed the War of the Northern Aggression to extend into the first Reagan term needs to rethink some priorities. And whose ancestor is "his" ancestor -- the story subject's or the great-great-grandfather's? (Please remember all the hyphens while you're at it.)

Then there's the lede. Normally we're wary of whacking them too hard, but when the fluffs start to pile up in the text, the lede gets a second look:

Private Mark Carr, U.S. Army, sounds like the kind of guy who’s the backbone of any military unit — the loyal, consistent grunt who does the heavy lifting.

How did that discussion go in "Scoop" again?

"But you do think it's a good way of training oneself -- inventing imaginary news?"
"None better," said William.

Atlanta, like many (if not most) papers, has been hammered pretty severely by the iron ball. Good journalists lost jobs. Other good journalists are left to cover those gaps and whatever new ones are created under the let's-do-more-stuff-with-fewer-people philosophy. That said: Please, can we take at least one set of eyes, brain and hands away from updating the weather, writing minor cop briefs and feeding the Twitters (or whatever you kids do with your internets) and direct them back toward critical assessments of the actual copy in the for-real publication? Because if you can't even get the Civil War in the right part of the wrong century, you have issues beyond the ability of a multimedia platform to fix.

* "Sweden?" "Orr!" "Orr?" "Sweden!"

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Anonymous raYb said...

You think they could be billed for cleaning tablecloths and spousal clothing for coffee spit across the table after reading that the Civil War was 1983 and beyond? It's hard to put that one on overworked desks. That's just "get it outta here."

11:08 PM, July 13, 2009  

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