Friday, November 19, 2010

Inch less foam! Inch more beer!

Where do people get the idea that they ought to write like this? And why do otherwise reasonable adults let them get away with it?

Who was that masked man I saw you with last night?

That was no masked man; that was first-time officeholder and political outsider Gov.-elect Rick Snyder!

Someone downtown seems to have decided that "style" requires not just the official "Gov.-elect" before the name, but everything else you can throw into tight apposition as well. You'd like to think that one of the main points of having "editors" around is to gently move bad writing toward the Dumpster while reminding the perps of why bad writing wasn't a good idea in the first place. But alas.

There's other work for editors to do here, and it suggests that this flavor of 1A billboarding isn't getting the level of attention it needs to function  effectively. Notwithstanding the bastard measure, we have something like 34 lines, or four and a quarter vertical inches. Without much work, it looks like we can squeeze a couple lines out of the lede. And elsewhere?

Snyder acknowledged earlier this week that there will be costs associated with his decision. News flash: That's why we have a past tense! "Acknowledged" can't be now, and it can't be later in the week, so "earlier" is about a needless a word as  you can get.

Snyder ... said he'll factor the costs in when he makes a decision on whether to accept one of the other perks of office, its $177,000 annual salary. Free tip: When you can turn a verb phrase ("makes a decision") into a single word ("decides"), there's a good chance you can save a line in the process.

Look at the fourth and fifth grafs and you'll notice that we're probably up to four lines now -- about half an inch, or about 10% of the story's length. And in the favorite maxim of J110 gone by, when you serve an inch less foam, you can serve an inch more beer. Why do the folks downtown seem to think their customers prefer foam to beer?

There's a different sort of inane overwordiness downpage:

Every day, for four weeks in October, De Mayo and her former husband, Edward De Mayo, came to Wayne County Circuit Judge Linda Parker’s courtroom at the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice in Detroit, as Peter Dabish stood trial in the brutal torturing and killing of their 23-year-old daughter.

Torture is brutal by definition. There's no genteel form of torture, any more than there's a polite form of murder. That's one of the reasons why, when stylebooks tell you to avoid the plague of euphemism, they suggest words like "torture" and "murder." Here's another eighth of an inch wasted -- sacrificed to the paper's inability to believe its actual human readers know what torture means without an emotional reminder from a reporter.

A reminder to the S&W-bashers out there: "Omit needless words" isn't at heart an evil idea. When you're fighting over fractions of an inch, it's actually a rather good one, and it plays out in a number of ways. One, be comfortable enough with your own language to know when you've said something, regardless of what the robotic style of news suggests. Two, give your readers at least partial credit for being human. If they don't know already that torture is a pretty brutal sport, perhaps you don't want them as customers after all.

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Blogger John Cowan said...

I thought it was "an inch less foam, an inch more beer commercial."

Anyhow, terseness isn't everything: there's a reason the front page (or any other page) isn't all headlines.

(Oh wait, that's radio and TV news.)

10:21 AM, November 19, 2010  
Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

The only problem with "Omit needless words" is that many of its adherents don't know which words are needed.

9:55 PM, November 19, 2010  
Blogger fev said...

Terseness isn't everything, but the no-jump policy is a cruel master, and if you're aiming at a word count, I'd rather lean things out by trying to show people what makes things needless -- when yur tense makes yur adverbz irrelevant, for examples.

@ridger, yep: way too many people come out of that lecture convinced that "omit needless words" is just a wordy way of saying "omit words."

12:00 AM, November 23, 2010  

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