Wednesday, April 20, 2011

First, do no harm

Out there in the cold and cruel world, we're still trying to make the case that the lack of editing is a Bad Thing. (Naysayers would do well to check out The Ridger's sample of what goes wrong when an Actual Book sails past the detail-editing dock altogether.) Today's example is a bit different: when happens when editors set out to help and end up leaving the patient in far worse condition than when the ambulance arrived.

Behold a garden-variety Middle East tale -- nothing you'd call deathless prose, but the sort of day-to-day thing that a wire service does to earn its keep. Here's what the AP wrote:

The Palestinians insist they will not resume peace talks until Israel stops building settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem — lands it captured in the 1967 Middle East war and which the Palestinians want for their future state.




And the version in the Freep, shown above:

The Palestinians insist they will not resume peace talks until Israel stops building settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem -- territory the Palestinians captured in the 1967 Middle East war and which they want for their nation.

"Nation" is pretty definitive; stuff happened to this sentence downtown. (The Freep stylebook bars using "state" to refer to nations, but this isn't the place for the talk about how bizarre language whims become matters of newsroom law.) The real killer, though -- sheez, if you can't identify the antecedent of "it" in the original, do you think maybe you could at least find someone in the newsroom who's heard of the 1967 war before you go around rewriting the outcome? Didn't it even seem a little strange that somebody might be building settlements on land that someone else had captured?

This ought to be embarrassing. It's not as if there aren't (ahem) demographic reasons for a Detroit paper to pay attention to the Fractious Near East; a decade ago, the Freep was proudly distributing its "100 Things You Don't Know About Arab-Americans" pamphlet at conferences. But even more directly, editors are supposed to fix stuff, not make it worse. We're trying to make the case that running wire copy untouched is a bad idea. When stuff like this happens, it looks like leaving the copy alone is the safest bet management can make. And that's far more damaging than the occasional bogus mandate about what words mean.

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3 Comments:

Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Wait a minute. Someone thought that a plural noun was a plausible antecedent for it?

6:45 PM, April 21, 2011  
Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

ps - that link is broken. You want this one

6:47 PM, April 21, 2011  
Blogger fev said...

Oh, bother. Fixed now, thanks.

11:59 PM, April 21, 2011  

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