Wednesday, August 15, 2007

More editing tips

Tnx to the contributors to date on One Thing You'd Tell Future Editors (as alert readers may have noticed, "one" is sort of like shorthand for "somewhere between zero and 20," which is fine*). More are eagerly solicited (see "Editors of Christmas Future" below). We do actually talk about this sort of issue in class (you colleagues over there in the sidebar can chime in too), and sometimes it sinks in.

Meanwhile, in honor of our first entrant (take a bow there, The Ridger), let's have a look at how to make heds match stories,** courtesy of the local blatt (or we can just have some more parentheses).

Padilla defense finishes
Dirty bomb case goes to the jury

MIAMI -- Jose Padilla, dubbed the "dirty bomber" by the Bush administration, didn't fill out an Al Qaeda application, didn't train with the group and didn't plot to kill anyone in the name of Islam, his lawyer said at his federal trial Tuesday.

The takeaway rule on making heds match stories is easy: Any fact stated in the hed needs to have a corresponding fact in the story. As a test, run your finger down the story. If you get to the end without reaching the fact in question, you have a mismatch. That's not necessarily a bad hed; it could mean the story is missing a key component. But it's a hed that can't run until either hed or story is fixed.

The case at hand combines stuff that's clearly stated -- "defense finishes" in the main hed comes from "Making his closing arguments" in the lede -- with stuff that's implied, which is where we run into trouble. The deck says a case has gone to the jury, which is true, but it also specifies what kind: the "dirty bomb" case. Let's apply the finger test and see if that's true.

Oops. Lurking at the end of the fourth graf (it's Gannett, so a seven-graf story is darn near a news analysis) is the tipoff: "the purported dirty bomb plot -- allegations that later were dropped." Meaning the "dirty bomb case" can't have gone to the jury because there is no "dirty bomb case." BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZT. False hed.

At a guess, this is a simple RTFS violation. Alas for The Meedja, it's the sort that's impossible to tell from flacking for the govment. So eat those Wheaties, kids. Watch between-meal treats, brush after eating, and always (always!) RTFS.

* Really. Sometimes one thing leads to another. If "one thing you need to know about stats" turns into five sub-things that stem from the original, no problem.
** Making heds match the truth is a trickier proposition, which we'll try to work around to off and on as time goes by.


Blogger Denise said...

Ah, the dreaded AP Slug Disease, where AP slaps on a slug when something's breaking and it sticks forever and ever. Like Florida's infamous "Xbox Murders," when AP thought 6 people in Deltona were killed for their Xbox. (It's our coverage area, so it was always "Deltona Mass Murder" for us.)
Hence AP forgets that Padilla isn't about dirty bomb anymore. . .

1:53 PM, August 16, 2007  
Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Oooo. Continuity! How can people keep track of things if we keep changing nicknames? (maybe not use them? Perish the thought!) How can they look things up in archives? (ummm, on "Padilla"?)

I actually saw a headline today reading "Dirty Bomber found guilty"

9:52 PM, August 16, 2007  

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