Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Desk notes (a slight return)

Notes and comments from recent edns. Subscriber-only service will resume sometime soon, honest.

13 WEEKS INTO THE SEASON and we're still allowing ledes like The Boone County Sheriff’s Department and the Southern Boone County Fire Protection District responded to a series of fires late Friday night and early Saturday morning in southern Boone County (5A Monday) into the paper? No, no, no. This is not an option. Destroy all "responded to" ledes on sight. Who knows? With a bit of effort, you might even be able to work the likelihood of the fires' having been set into the first few dozen words.

TEAM IS AN ...: The Missouri basketball team didn’t advance to Madison Square Garden for Wednesday and Friday’s NIT games, but if they had, its highly improbable that they would have traveled by train. (1B Sunday) Cue up the band, maestro: "The Missouri basketball team" is an "it." "The Tigers" are a "they." Ray made the T-shirts so y'all would stop this stuff. Please honor your former sports editors. And, for pity's sake, I-T-APOSTROPHE-S. But pronoun antecedence has pride of place because ...

COME BACK, WILE E. COYOTE: Hearing the crack of one body smashing against another, followed by the whoosh of air that escapes the checked hockey player’s lips as they slowly slide face-first down the boards and onto the slush-covered ice is almost too much for some to bear. (4B Tuesday) OK, grammar fans, what's the only plural noun in this whole awful sentence that "they" could possibly refer back to? Correct. "Lips." Sit back and let the picture form in your mind. On second thought, don't.

FORBIDDEN VERB: Kansas State's Jordy Nelson, left, and Allen Webb celebrate after a touchdown in the fourth quarter sealed a victory for the Wildcats in coach Bill Snyder's last game (9B Sunday). Enough said. No C-word in cutlines, ever. On the bright side, though, we were spared another photo of Carl Edwards' backflip.

MORE CUTLINE FOLLIES: Kashmiri earthquake survivors wait at an evacuee camp in Pakistan on Saturday, as nations pledged $3.4 billion more in aid (8A Sunday). Can the kid in the foreground sit down if the aid gets there in the next week? Better yet, can someone explain why "refugee camp" in the original became "evacuee camp" in the Missourian?

SCHUUUUUULTZ! "We were shocked," the German official said. "Mein Gott! We had always told them it was not proven" (8A Sunday). Uh, right. LATimes creditline or no LATimes creditline, one is entitled to one's armchair doubts about whether the BND-nik in question switched so fast into such classic movie German. The ellipsis is your friend. Use it. (And while we're at it, follow the AP's far more sensible practice and make the ex-secretary of state "Colin Powell," not "Colin L. Powell.")

EXPLAINING TOO MUCH: One or two words is about as large as you want a parenthetical clarification in a quote to get. Beyond that, it starts to look clumsy. Here are two examples from Monday and some ways an editor could tease a better solution out of the writer:

“(The Navy’s culinary specialists) have the experience of feeding 3,000,” said Dan Meyer, one of the MU team. Try tweaking the graf to work in the antecedent; an indirect quote about Navy cooks leads naturally into "They have the experience of feeding 3,000."

“(The parade is about) holiday spirit, being a community, and love, peace and joy,” she said. You can also set up the quote with a question of your own: What does the parade mean to Easton? "Holiday spirit, being a community ..."

If all else fails, fall back on the partial quote. Better that than a full quote that's as much the writer's as the source's.

Thoughts, complaints, huzzahs? Back to hauling up the data on the Xerox line.


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