Saturday, August 09, 2008

Editing lesson

Ready for an editing lesson? Don't worry, it's short:

Whenever you edit a story that mentions more than one place, have a map open and ready.

That's not just true of stories about militarized interstate disputes in the Caucasus (if you still have copy editors who remember a time when the Soviet Union was a going concern, you're lucky). It's painfully true of local stories, which are supposedly the unbreakable line: We can't outsource editing, because editors in Bangalore don't know the terrain the way we do.

Well, news flash. If "look at the map" isn't part of your routine but is part of the Bangalore editor's routine, you're going to lose that fight too. Let's have a look:

Chase and crash ends in Dilworth
(They does? I can see pointing out where the chase ended, but don't crashes usually end pretty near where they began, anyway?)

A chaotic scene unfolded in Dilworth as a police chase ended in a car crash Saturday morning. (By the way? All rules about editing are doubled for people who write ledes like this one. They're doubled again for spot news pieces from TV reporters).

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police were first called to the Park Road Shopping Center at the intersection of Park Road and Woodlawn Road for a reported armed robbery. By the time officers got there, the suspect took off in his car, heading north on East Boulevard.

Ready for the e-mail from Bangalore, city deskers? You can't go north on East Boulevard from Park Road Shopping Center (see map). You can't go anywhere on East Boulevard from Park Road Shopping Center, because that's not where East Boulevard is.

A short time later, police say the suspect, driving a blue Mustang, ran a red light at East Boulevard and Scott Avenue. "It was pretty incredible how fast the Mustang was going,” said one witness. At the same time, witnesses said a minivan was traveling on East Boulevard and crashed into the Mustang.

OK, so the suspect went north on Park Avenue, stayed on Scott (practical of him, as Kenilworth is one-way south at the intersection), then ran the light at East Boulevard and hit, or was hit by, someone else.* Makes perfect sense, as long as you don't read the story or anything.

“The van started spinning out of control," said another witness, who was drinking coffee outside a Starbucks at the intersection. The van ended up crashing into a brick barrier at the coffee shop. “That’s when everybody started running, because we didn't know how fast the van was going to spin out of control," said the witness.

Enough geography for a moment. Gaze on the breadth of expertise put forth by the reporter. Ponder how long it takes for a minivan to spin across the intersection.* Almost takes your mind off the commas, doesn't it?

The robbery suspect in the Mustang ... ran into a tree on the side of the coffee shop. He was rushed to Carolinas Medical Center for critical injuries. "His left eye looked like it was about closed, and it looked like he was having difficulties breathing,” recalled one witness. (Thanks, Dr. Witness!) The scene rattled the nerves for many in the neighborhood. "God forbid if I happened to change the time I was coming here, and I happened to turn the corner when that guy was coming, it could've been me.

And thus it ends. We've heard from "one witness," "another witness," a second "one witness" and somebody who might or might not have been another "another witness" (it's customary to put quote marks at the end of the quote too). "Rattled the nerves for many" is the sort of distinctly nonstandard thing a TV reporter might improvise; people who edit stuff for print are supposed to sandpaper those out.

Notice that we've handed something besides the map to our TV reporter? There's that policy -- should you be interested in one -- on when and whether news sources are granted anonymity.** There's the degree to which you let nonprivileged sources, named or unnamed, comment on potential criminal guilt or on medical conditions. (If, at this point, you dimly remember some grizzled editor or J-prof asking where either you or your "witness" went to med school, wave.) In all, the Brave New Online World seems to be a great place to get news, unless you like the sort of news to which somebody offered a moment or two of thought about accuracy, relevance, fairness and basic writing skills.

Seriously. If your goal is to make a case for keeping journalism jobs here, rather than shipping them overseas, running unedited babble from a TV reporter isn't a very auspicious start.

* Full disclosure: The previous HEADSUP-Lmobile was totaled by some clown in a pickup truck who ran the same stoplight. Plus ca whatever.
** Watched an outstanding panel discussion on the broader anonymity issue -- at least, until it drifted back to the source question -- at AEJMC last week. Further comment likely at some point



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