Friday, October 22, 2010

Time experts like an arrow

Today's quick hed quiz: What kind of experts, and what are they saying?

The Edna Buchanan lede isn't much help:

It may have been the water that worked against him.

Or he might have split up or he might have capsized -- what's "it," and who's who? (Thursday's lede, for comparison: "It was the family’s autopsy that found what the investiga­tors’ could not — a bullet and evidence that banker David Widlak was shot in the back of the head.")

As Macomb County Medical Examiner Dr. Daniel Spitz examined David Widlak's badly decomposed body, the damage caused by its submersion for nearly a month could have contributed to his missing the contact bullet wound on the back of the banker's neck, Wayne County Medical Examiner Carl Schmidt said.

Whatever the case, Oakland County Medical Examiner Dr. L.J. Dragovic, who performed a second autopsy on Widlak at the family's request, said suicide was highly unlikely.

If you've been keeping up with the story, you might have been able to track all the players so far (though you might also wonder why Schmidt isn't also a "Medical Examiner Dr.," given that both the Freep and the News have indicated in the past that he qualifies).

Owing to the Freep's bizarre no-jump policy, this graf becomes the lede of a separate story in 13A:

Forensic experts said what evidence a crime lab finds on the bullet, bullet fragments and .38-caliber revolver registered to Mt. Clemens bank president and CEO David Widlak is critical.

That's one thing if the bullet has already been introduced. It's quite a different thing if it hasn't.

At the very least -- could we please be a little more careful with the heds at the top of the front page? (At the Web site's front page, someone kindly added the missing comma: "Water, time, experts say.")

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Blogger John Cowan said...

As you say, the fault in the headline is the lack of a comma after "time". What we have now is "Water, time experts say", leaving the reader to wonder what a "time expert" may be. (I know what Time Lords are, and there are indeed time experts at various observatories around the world — but what do they have to do with anything?)

But there is nothing wrong with the it in the lead. It in this context is a dummy subject taking the place of the true syntactic subject, which is "that worked against him". For example, "That he's an idiot is obvious" means the same as "It's obvious that he's an idiot". So, the extraposed version of the lead would be "What worked against him may have been the water", but that is poorly worded, because "water" is the important point and should be as close to the beginning as possible. So: "It may have been the water that worked against him."

Putting all that aside, him in the lead is the second fault, because it has no antecedent either express or implied. I'm okay with implied antecedents — "I'm a very judgmental person, and I just HATE that about myself!" doesn't need an express antecedent for that — but this case goes way too far.

3:39 PM, October 22, 2010  
Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Because of the break, I read the headline correctly the first time - which was before I read the post. After reading the first paragraph, I was wondering about "time experts" ... And I agree with John Cowan: it's not the "it" but the "him" that's the problem. Cataphoric reference is all well and good but not in a lede, please!

11:38 AM, October 23, 2010  
Blogger fev said...

I should have clarified: I'm not bothered by the "it" grammatically. Dummy subjects are fine, and I'm still trying to break students of the belief that "It was John at the door" should always be corrected to "John was at the door." It's the succession of "it" ledes that seems to result from the unreasoning fear of writing a straight-up first-day story.

11:46 AM, October 23, 2010  

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