Saturday, September 19, 2009

When robots write heds

Ar ar ar! Council proposal off the port beam! Blast when ready, Gridley!

When the top hed on your second-front-type 3A has a judge "blasting," the readers have a right to expect -- if not actual fire and brimstone, at least a plume of smoke and the distant rumble of an explosion. What was the source of the explosion here? The language of a lawsuit seeking to put the "council proposal" (electing the City Council by districts, rather than at large) on the ballot is ... "insufficient"!

Well, take that.

This is what happens when editors reach blindly into the word bag and pull out the first five-unit verb that seems to be vaguely associated with the content of the story. In this case, the result isn't just wildly over-tabloidized; it's also misleading. "Blasting" isn't the end product of this exercise. The ruling has the effect of taking the plan off the table for the moment. That's worth trying to get into the display type.

Want a "blast"? Try this one, from a federal district judge's ruling in a birther lawsuit (brought to light at Wonkette, to which/whom thanks):

... [S]he uses her Complaint as a platform for spouting political rhetoric, such as her claims that the President is “an illegal usurper, an unlawful pretender, [and] an unqualified imposter.” (Compl. ¶ 21.) She continues with bare, conclusory allegations that the President is “an alien, possibly even an unnaturalized or even an unadmitted illegal alien . . . without so much as lawful residency in the United States.” (Id. ¶ 26.) Then, implying that the President is either a wandering nomad or a prolific identity fraud crook, she alleges that the President “might have used as many as 149 addresses and 39 social security numbers prior to assuming the office of President.” (Id. ¶ 110 (emphasis added).) Acknowledging the existence of a document that shows the President was born in Hawaii, Plaintiff alleges that the document “cannot be verified as genuine, and should be presumed fraudulent.” (Id. ¶ 113 (emphasis added).)

In further support of her claim, Plaintiff relies upon “the general opinion in the rest of the world” that “Barack Hussein Obama has, in essence, slipped through the guardrails to become President.” (Id. ¶ 128.) Moreover, as though the “general opinion in the rest of the world” were not enough, Plaintiff alleges in her Complaint that according to an “AOL poll 85% of Americans believe that Obama was not vetted, needs to be vetted and his vital records need to be produced.” (Id. ¶ 154.)

That, kiddies, has the makings of a "blast." Prosit!



Anonymous Andy Bechtel said...

I had a similar reaction to a recent N&O headline:

Judge blasts Bank of America


10:44 AM, September 21, 2009  
Anonymous raYb said...

This is the sort of thing I call the rampaging thesaurus. Writers want to spice up their work the easy way, with loud words, rather than strong information. So they reach for the thesaurus and out comes a word that has some of the information, but none of the connotation.

8:58 AM, September 22, 2009  
Blogger fev said...

"Aiyee! A Thesaurus!"

"Mangle," roared the monster.

11:19 AM, September 22, 2009  

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