Saturday, June 24, 2006

The bizarre world of the featurized lede

Submitted for your consideration: Perhaps the strangest bit of cop-shop featurizing to barrel down the pike so far this millennium. At a guess, it's an editing failure, meaning someone, or some two people, obviously thought it was a good idea, and nobody had the time, rank or inclination to stop it before it hit the dead pine trees. Prosit!

Cell phone signal helps nab suspect
Ohio man traced to Boonville.
Although many will debate the ethical dilemma of using cell phones to track their users, Area Woman would toss the arguments out the window if she’s in trouble.

"If I’m stolen or kidnapped or something, I want someone to come find me," said Woman, a Columbia resident. "I think to find a criminal," cell phone tracking "is the greatest thing."

Let's ignore (to the extent we can) the "nab" hed and the clanky grammar in the lede's main clause. Have we perhaps a feature on what local residents think of the merits of tracking cell phones?

A cell phone was used to track down a 37-year-old man in Missouri who is accused of abducting and raping a woman before stealing her car.

Uh, guess not. It's a news story. So -- was Area Woman a witness or a bystander? Is she some sort of expert on the legal or ethical issues in play? Relieved relative of the unnamed accuser? If any of the above, we can't tell from the text, leading one to speculate that her role in the story was Walking Down The Sidewalk Past The Trib. Indeed, she now disappears from the stage, unless you count this sideswipe in the penultimate graf:

Local Man, like Woman, agreed that tracking a cell phone to help someone is a good idea, but the 43-year-old Columbia resident worried how far such cutting-edge technology could be taken.

"Tracking a criminal is one thing, but where’s the privacy come in?" Man said. "There’s too much gray area in my opinion. Who’s to say what’s right and wrong?"

Well, that certainly clears things up.

Let's see if we can find some usable suggestions for the future here (other than Fix That Bizarre Stylebook; as you'll notice if you read the thing regularly, the paper in question has limits on the sorts of proper nouns it capitalizes and won't use parenthetical qualifiers in quotes -- even inane ones). Copyeds, to the barricades. The paper you save from embarrassment could be your own.

One, people in news stories should comment on stuff they can shed some light on. A man-in-the-street about Friday the 13th, teeth-grating as it is, at least stays within the limits of man-in-the-street expertise. Hypothetical speculation is right out.

Two, for the vast bulk of the population, this question raises some tautology issues. Put simply, if you ask your street intercepts whether they'd like to be tracked down if they're kidnapped, what the hell do you expect them to say? Try it this way:

Many people would have second thoughts about masked ninjas stalking the streets and snicking heads off at random, but Buffy Resident would be happy to see one if she was in trouble.

"Like, if I'm being held at gunpoint by some ravening Satanist crackhead and all of a sudden he goes down with a throwing star in his eye, I'm totally OK with that," Resident said.

Three, "many people would..." ledes in all their flavors are permantly disbarred anyway. But let's get the big stuff first. Spread light, not hilarity.


Blogger Doug said...

Of course, if one must resort to parentheses in quotes, it usually means the quote could have been set up better. The onces that grate on me are the parentheses that begin quotes "(But) if I weren't being kidnapped, then it wouldn't be OK," she said.

6:50 AM, June 26, 2006  
Blogger fev said...

Doug: Here's the said paper's quote style in all its glory:

But Walker contended she filled out a victim impact statement, requesting Gaddy receive anger-management therapy. "The prosecutor had an opportunity to lock" Gaddy "up," she said.

I'm with you on the (But) at the beginning of a quote, tho. "And the 10-word relative clause (that goes at the end of a badly written quote)," he added.

11:03 AM, July 09, 2006  
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