Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Why we (used to) have editors

Let he or she who never let a chunk of "memo mode" -- or notes mode, depending on what your shop called it -- go into print cast the first stone, but we have an awful lot of the usually hidden stuff of daily journalism on display here. That's all the things, starting with about "Monday 1/24 night" in the lede, that look like decisions made but not completed or signals between and among reporters and editors.

(If you're familiar with this part, go on and skip ahead.) A shop might have a rule calling for reporters to mark any source's name with a capital CQ, to indicate that the spelling has been confirmed. (That's what the "1/24" is doing after "Monday" here.) It doesn't take much finger-slippage to let one of those into print, but it's unusual to see as much, with as many stops and starts, as here. Hence it's an interesting look at e
diting values and decisions at the heavily understaffed and undergunned outpost that is today's copydesk.*

Nothing unusual about the lede; except for the "1/24," it's as ordinary an example of straight-up, three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust news writing as you can get. If anything, it's a reminder of how readily writers use the passive voice when nobody's yelling at them about it. The second graf is mostly interesting because of the way jargon is negotiated. It avoids "police responded to" but falls for "in regard to." And you get a good idea of how attribution is expected to work; if your first solo shift on night cops was coming up later in the week, you have a good cue for when the attribution is supposed to wait until the second graf.

Third graf's a little more interesting. The commas could be random, but the first one looks like someone gave some thought to deleting "at the scene" (fine; that's the sort of breathless EyeWitness9News stuff that -- whatever you think of Strunk and White -- reminds you that some words are really, really needless). And the space between "man" and the comma before "armed" in the third line -- maybe we tried to avoid repeating too much information while squeezing "armed with a shotgun" down to "from a shotgun." Why that needs the qualifying "reportedly" and the events in the following graf don't (he pointed the shotgun at the neighbor, and that's when the cops shot him) is another signal about how attribution works.

Evidently the editors understand that, because there aren't any signs of tinkering. And from the next graf we get another clue that public-safety argot isn't high on the worry list: The guy the cops shot (the "suspect") was "transported." Yes, the relative clause ought to be set off by a comma.

Don't know what "this tagging wrong" means (that's apparently some relic from after my time), but END NU means that something -- my guess is the last graf -- was added after the story had moved to the desk. Again, it didn't get much attention there.

It's interesting to see the sort of stuff that just slips by, too. How do we know (and why is it relevant) that it was a 42-year-old man who fired the shotgun? If we know how old he was, we know something about who he was; why not his name?

Deride the assembly-line model of journalism as you will; at least it made sure there were people at all the positions along the line. Expecting the copy to edit itself is like expecting the wheels to jump up and bolt themselves to the axles.

* As of this writing, it's pretty much unchanged at the Web site, which ought to be more worrisome.



Blogger John Cowan said...

Hey, the more times they repeat it, the quicker it fills up the news hole, hey?

11:49 PM, January 25, 2011  
Blogger Tybalt said...

Did he have a gun?

12:41 AM, January 26, 2011  

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