Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Editing the briefs

Whenever I'm asked to evaluate a paper, I first look at the briefs. That's right, not A1 or any of the other gaudy section fronts. Where the rubber meets the road in taking care of business on the desk is in getting well-edited, well-headlined briefs. If attention is being paid to what is too often a mind-numbing job of cutting and assembling those, chances are the big stuff will look good, too.

Here's a case in point, a wire story picked up in a local paper:

CHARLESTON

Decomposed Body
found under dock

A woman found a body under a dock Sunday in Ellis Creek near James Island.
The body was too decomposed for police to immediately determine an identity, police spokesman Charles Francis said.
The dock is in an upscale neighborhood.
The woman who discovered the body said residents had been in the water playing all day when she saw a boot under the dock.

My comments and re-edit:
  1. The story probably moved on AP with a Charleston dateline. But when that was stripped, the city should go in the body of the story – even if it is the overline in the hed (I showed it to three people, and two of them missed the Charleston in the overline).
  2. This story moved in Tuesday's paper. We have Sunday in the lede. That just telegraphs "old news." So that has to be moved down. (We have got to think about this in this 24/7 world. Too many papers still let this kind of stuff through.)
  3. The lede is dull. Advance the story:
A body found under a dock in Ellis Creek was too decomposed to identify immediately, Charleston police spokesman Charles Francis says.
The woman who discovered the body Sunday said residents had been in the water playing all day when she saw a boot under the dock in a an upscale James Island neighborhood.

Short, sweet and to the point, and it doesn't say "old news." It even gives you more room to add another graf with real information. Unfortunately, the AP story had almost nothing else except that the coroner was investigating (we'd certainly hope so). But this was the actual line from the wire story: The body was too decomposed for police to immediately determine the man's race, police spokesman Charles Francis said.

So this compounds a poor edit, which could at least have told us the body was that of a man. (Put it in the second graf: The woman who discovered the man's body ...)

I've also taken out "upscale." It's an unneeded code word.

Pay attention to your briefs. They say a lot about your paper and Web site.

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