Saturday, April 21, 2012

When nouns collide

Perfectly normal hed -- until you get to the lede beneath:

A Canton woman who smelled smoke while baking a cake for her grandson's first birthday Friday said she and her mother ran out to find a neighbor in flames on the deck of the house next door.

By standard news logic, "a Canton woman" in the lede should be the "Canton woman" in the hed. Shortly after the relative clause, you can conclude that they're neighbors, rather than being the same person, but that's really not soon enough for the coffee-deprived brain.

Because the editor bats after the writer, this one is a desk fault; reporters can't go back and straighten out the ambiguity if they don't know it's there. It's nice to know the obsessive house style on hyphens is followed in "burning lawn-furniture cushions," but on the whole, I'd rather that time went into making a good -- or at least a not-misleading -- first impression.

I'd also wonder where the bar is set for random-seeming gossip in news stories these days:

"What I heard is, her husband had stayed home from work today to be with her, and she had sent him to the store" before setting herself ablaze, Young said.

... but that's a different discussion at a different pay grade.


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