Saturday, December 29, 2018

A county far, far away

This is a strange sort of prepositional phrase to encounter in a newspaper whose first name is "Detroit," don't you think?

The estate is being audited by the IRS, which filed a claim this month in a county probate court north of Detroit.

In addition to having Canada to the south, Detroit has quite a few counties to the north of it -- perhaps this would mean one of the far-distant ones where they're still upset that they didn't get to vote for Wallace again in 2016? Here's the eighth graf:

... At the time of her death, Franklin owned a home in Oakland County's Bloomfield Township. The IRS filed the claim this month in Oakland County Probate Court in Pontiac.

So a county "north of Detroit" is actually "the one you hit as soon as you cross 8 Mile on Woodward going north"? About one weak single up the middle away from Detroit? The sort of point you might want to make at the outset for your local audience when editing a story that appears to have been meant for a national audience?

That's one data point, but when you come to this feature* three pages later, it starts to be a pattern:
I wouldn't expect even an unusually obsessive rimrat to add an "8 1/2 hours southwest of Detroit, give or take," and to be fair, "just a couple hours from Rosine" won't help very many of you out there.** But -- assuming you actually don't want the space to go to waste -- could you maybe locate the dateline city in relation to Louisville or St. Louis or even (given the subject matter) Fort Campbell?

The space thing is worth mentioning because, counting the open page for national and international news (three border/immigration stories, five briefs and an Amos Oz obit***), this story takes up a third of the news hole for stuff outside Michigan. Since you can't go back in time and unmake that decision, you might as well put some time into making the story accessible to your audience.

That, after all, is the point of editing -- not to see whose stylebook is the more excruciatingly trivial, but to make sure that your readers can get to the stuff they need by the most efficient route (which is also the argument against thumb ledes, POVs and other things that are still worth disputing). 

The Guild's complaint about the latest sad news from Cleveland -- "Local news will suffer if the people editing and fact-checking it don't live here" -- has never been a perfect defense against offshoring. Indeed, if you can't be bothered to look at a map while editing and the editor at the faraway hub can, it's not much of a defense at all. But it does suggest that careful people applying smart principles on behalf of a specific audience are, on the whole, going to make decisions that are both more palatable and more valuable. There's a Cleveland equivalent of being reasonably confident that your Detroit readers know where Pontiac and Oakland County are, and the local paper needs more people like that making decisions, not fewer.

 * Not on the site, so the link is to the originating paper.
** You know who you are.
*** Good call.

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