Sunday, April 19, 2009

Out-of-tune lede of the month

It's the new(!) improved(!) AP, covering the talk shows with wit, creativity and a direct phone link to the Planet Mxyzptlk:

Damn the tea bags. A top adviser to President Barack Obama takes a dim view of last week's anti-tax "tea parties," promoted by organizers in the spirit of the Boston Tea Party.

As a general rule, the lede isn't a good place to be cleverly ambiguous. "Damn those tea bags!" is one thing. "Damn the tea bags, full speed ahead" is another.

"The thing that bewilders me is this president just cut taxes for 95 percent of the American people. So I think the tea bags should be directed elsewhere because he certainly understands the burden that people face," David Axelrod said Sunday.

OK. I think we're at Door No. 2 (full speed ahead). And if that's the case, the AP has grossly overshot its mark. Adm. Farragut didn't complain that Confederate anger was misdirected. He took his fleet through the minefield. Could we have just a touch, maybe, of reckless defiance or bring-it-on daring somewhere in the interview? Or if no one wants to go quite that far, could we at least jaywalk a little on the way home from the studio?

This wouldn't be so worrisome if the wholesale bloodletting in U.S. newsrooms hadn't made wire editing -- in most cases -- a quaint relic of the past. It doesn't take much time or effort to fix this one. (Select the first sentence and hit "delete." Wasn't that easy?) But if your favorite news source has decided those units of time and effort are needed elsewhere,* then consarn those teabags! You're stuck with 'em.

* I'm not saying this is a wrong or unreasonable decision. A wire story isn't going to get you sued; a novice reporter on the cop beat might. DTFM.

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Blogger Denise said...

Slightly unrelated, but your last note makes an interesting point. Why do we always put the youngest, most inexperienced reporters on cops, the trickiest and most libel-prone beat? The beat which requires expert ability to network with hostile sources? Is this a "sink or swim" type of instruction? I can't help but think that papers are poorer for lack of reporters who have the maturity to really understand how that beat works.

6:15 PM, April 21, 2009  

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