Monday, January 18, 2010

Active or passive?

Is it just me, or am I actually seeing more transitive verbs in heds without their objects, as in "New release disappoints" or "Movie amazes"? (Mostly entertainment and features, I think, with some in sports.) Anyway, I don't usually think it's actively misleading -- just annoying.

For this one, though, I'll make an exception. With I don't see an object with "attack" in a hed, I'm inclined to assume the hed is passive. ("Man attacked with stick" = "a man was attacked with a stick.") That's how I want to read "Drunk daughter attacked with chili" -- except that it seems really strange for someone to have called the cops and told them his drunk daughter had been attacked with chili. And indeed ...

A woman was arrested over the weekend after her father told police she threw a bowl of chili beans on him.

Oops. He didn't say she was attacked with chili. He said "she attacked ME with chili." Slight difference, you think?

The second graf, alas, makes the lede seem a bit too cute for its own good:

A 20-year-old York woman was grossly intoxicated when she threw the chili bowl at her father's face late Saturday night, according to a York police report.

News structure usually goes from the general to the specific, so, it ought to be "the" 20-year-old woman, not "a" 20-year-old woman. But that's not the problem. The lede says she threw some beans on him. The second graf says she threw a bowl at his face. That's sort of like saying "she threw water on him" without bothering to mention that she put it in a half-gallon jug first. No wonder the cops noticed lacerations and bleeding.

Ruling? The corporate cousin down in Rock Hill got too coy with the cop news. But the big paper needs to be able to set its own standards on what it picks up.

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