Friday, November 12, 2010

Rule of thumb

Here's the Rule of Thumb for ledes: If you can put your thumb over the lede with no effect whatsoever on the story that follows, you can (and probably should) just delete the lede.

Owing to its strange incarnation of the no-jump policy, the Freep's capital buro managed to come up with, in essence, two disposable ledes on the same story* in one day. At top is the 1A version:

This time they stirred the drink -- added a twist -- and it came out just right.

And for 5A, a Forbidden Lede steps in:

What a difference a month makes.

Neither of which does any good if you're interested in finding out what went on (and, despite the newspaper industry's widespread fear of the first-day lede, there's actually a good chance that lots of the readership hasn't heard of the previous day's doings in the statehouse). For that, the second graf of the 1A billboard or the second graf of the featurized version inside would do just fine.

There'd still be plenty of bad writing to go around -- the concluding graf on 1A, for example:

The new bill eliminated the provisions the governor object­ed to and the compromise shot through the Legislature like beer at a Detroit Lions game.

I don't have a problem with the clause-final "to" (though I don't see a particular reason to flout the standard of putting a comma before the conjunction introducing the second independent clause**). I do think the simile is incomplete. It looks like the writer is has in mind something like "beer through football fans," since beer doesn't generally shoot through football games; the reader is left to fill in the blanks.

It's also clumsy in a way that suggests the tin ear of the stylebook. If this is meant to be pitched to football fans, it's by definition aimed at fans who know good and well it isn't the York Lions or the B.C. Lions; why spend part of the alloted five grafs telling us it's the "Detroit" Lions? Coupled with this from 5A:

He said it especially will help resorts -- a Sunday morning Bloody Mary will now be a legal sale -- and those that serve patrons before Sunday sporting events, such as Detroit Lions, Tigers or Red Wings games.

... it sounds like there's a rule downtown demanding that the local teams require a "Detroit" on first reference. That, friends, would be one dumb rule. "Beer at a Lions game" and "beer through a Lions fan" fall into meter; busting a dactyl in the name of the stylebook*** is the sort of thing that gives copy editors a bad name.

Speaking of rubbing it in: Having said "booze" in the 5A hed and twice in the first three grafs of the story, you don't need to do this sort of EyeWitlessFiveLive stuff in the fifth graf:

And, faster than your favorite bartender can draw a draft, the Senate and House approved a liquor sales bill that restaurants, grocery stores and the beer and wine industry have sought for years.

My favorite bartender(s) might take exception to that.

A bogus miracle sneaks onto on 5A: "Miracles, like 'em or not, do happen." No, like 'em or not, they don't -- or, put another way, business interests finding a way to lubricate passage of a favorable bill is no more "miraculous" than a surgical team doing what it was trained to do.

Copy editing is supposed to be the invisible craft. Sure is visible when it doesn't happen well.

* Both ledes make it to the online version; the part after the first subhed is the 5A story.
** Or with coordinating the lede better. Ahem.
*** Sounds like a promising idea for a costume drama, eh?

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Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

But they're fun! They make you smile!

10:15 AM, November 13, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree, Ridger.

2:33 AM, November 24, 2010  

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