Saturday, May 06, 2017

The name's Mistakenly. Troops Mistakenly

Your assignment: Write the hed.

Somalia's security forces have shot dead a 31-year-old government minister after mistaking him for a militant Islamist, officials have said.

If you haven't seen it yet, here's the authoritative Ten Minutes Past Deadline on the nature and function of the claim quote: "Not an actual quote, but an allegation in reported speech placed within quotation marks to signal its contested nature." In my optimistic moments, having learned how to order OK at the neighborhood pubs, I'd like to think that I could turn out a few claim-quote heds that would pass for the real thing. And then I run across something "'Troops mistakenly' kill .." and realize how far I am from fluency.

I could see "mistakenly kill" as the contested allegation, but I can't see how "troops" is suspect in a way that "minister" wouldn't be. British friends, help: Is this one in bounds?

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Anonymous Picky said...

I trust that there will be an authoritative judgment from the subs' desk of the Tribune, but meanwhile: no, it's out of bounds.

Assuming that we trust our source on the fact that the minister was killed, and on the fact that the killing was by troops, and that what is in doubt is whether the killings were by mistake, "mistakenly" should be the content of the claim quotes.

3:44 AM, May 07, 2017  
Anonymous Ed Latham said...

I agree with Picky: this one's out. Before reading the story, I thought this might be an example of what can go wrong when rigidly trying to include everything contested within quotes, while leaving everything uncontested outside. It looked like the only certain thing was that the minister had been killed, and that it was not certain who had killed him or whether it was deliberate.

But even then, this construction – having the subject and the adverb in quotes but not the verb – would have been too weird. As with the "down barriers" last time, there's something aesthetically wrong about putting parts of verbs, or adverbs, in a quote with other parts of the sentence while excluding the verb itself. An adverb on its own in quotes would be fine, but quoting it with something other than the rest of the verb ruins the attachment.

And in fact, reading the story now, it doesn't seem the hed needs to be that complicated. The whole story has been announced as fact by government sources, motivation and all, so these I suspect are just BBC 'caution quotes' because they haven't second-sourced it. Given that 'killed', 'troops', 'accidentally' have all come from the same source, you could just go with 'TROOPS MISTAKENLY KILL' SOMALI MINISTER

1:50 PM, May 07, 2017  

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