Sunday, February 12, 2017

A date which will live in ... wait, what?

Here's the paragraph as it appears at the Herald's website:

Lawyers at the Guantánamo war court had wanted military judges to obtain and preserve copies of the report for use in the Sept. 11 and USS Cole death-penalty cases of six men who spent years in the CIA prisons called Black Sites. The chief judge, Army Col. James L. Pohl, refused but eventually ordered the Pentagon to safeguard one of its copies.

Shakespeare's job is safe. There are no early entrants for Clause of the Year here, and that's fine.  Reporting is less like a first rough draft of history than a first rough draft of furniture. Reporters go into the forest and return with freshly hewn lengths of news, which the factory then shapes, sands and polishes -- with an eye on demand, space on the assembly line and the like -- into finished journalism. There's a lot to learn from what happens at different stages of the assembly line: in this case, a story's transition from the wires to the individual paper (here, the Freep, though I can't find the story on its website).

I'm glad Black Sites was lowercased, though I probably would have put it in quotes as well, under the old "words as words" concept. I'd want to  unstack the noun pile* in the highlighted sentence, too. But since even the AP Stylebook says "Sept. 11" (or "9/11") can stand by itself, it's hard to see what exactly was improved by inserting the year after "Sept. 11." Particularly if -- just a suggestion here -- you insert the wrong year.

It's worth noting that none of the grisly battlefield photos from the War on Editing are unique to this particular stage of industrial upheaval. The same mistakes showed up when we were plucking and sharpening our own goose quills, and they'll be around when we edit with eye-mounted lasers. That's one of the reasons no single mistake can be blamed on any particular change to the process. But the really glaring ones do contribute to the steady erosion of the assumption that the assembly line adds value just by being there.

* Should we start a pool on when "nounpile" becomes one word?

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