Sunday, June 25, 2006

Adventures in logic 1

This came from a recent AP story by religion writer Rachel Zoll involving the election of Katharine Jefferts Schori as bishop of the Episcopal Church.

Lede: Nevada Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori became the first woman picked to lead an Anglican province Sunday when she was elected presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, a groundbreaking and potentially divisive step that comes three years after the denomination ordained an openly gay bishop.

Fourth graf: Only two other Anglican provinces New Zealand and Canada have female bishops, although some allow women to serve in the post.

So let's see:
  1. First woman bishop to head an Anglican province in the lede, but, wait, three grafs later we find that two others have female bishops.
  2. And then there's that annoying bit about how can there be only two others, if "some allow women to serve in the post"?
The distinction in No. 1 seems to be that Jefferts Schori is the first elected leader of a province. That needed to be carried over into the fourth graf with perhaps something like this (adding the commas for the appositive phrase also helps): Only two other Anglican provinces, New Zealand and Canada, have female bishops, although those women are not elected leaders of their provinces.

It's called "connect the dots for the reader"-- don't make that reader have to go backward in a story and then figure it out. (Since the story is bereft of much explanation, there's a bit of guesswork here. But a check of Lexis/Nexis shows the Rt. Rev. Penny Jamieson of New Zealand apparently was the first Anglican woman bishop with her election as bishop of Dunedin in 1990. At her retirment in 1994 she noted that no other women had been elected bishop in that country. Eleven others had been elected to head diocese in Canada and the United States.)

But No. 2 continues to baffle me and others I've asked, including some in the church. If some other Anglican provinces "allow women to serve in the post," how can the story say "only two other"? Is Zoll trying to say only two others have elected bishops? If so, say so. The reader should not be forced to tease meaning out of a story because of inadequate bolierplate in the name of brevity.

----
From the same thread:

From today's story by AP's Brian Murphy, a slightly different, more mundane thing -- helping the reader by not using pronouns when the pronoun must skip back over a confounding noun. The paragraph in question:

The Episcopal delegates made it clear they relish their independence. The assembly rebuffed Anglican demands to temporarily halt electing gay bishops. Instead, they approved a nonbinding and vaguely worded compromise resolution ...

Problem: Once you have "the assembly," the marker in the reader's brain is to a singular noun, while "they" (we'd hope) refers back to the plural delegates. Help the reader and avoid the pronoun:

The Episcopal delegates made it clear they relish their independence. The assembly rebuffed Anglican demands to temporarily halt electing gay bishops. Instead, delegates approved a nonbinding and vaguely worded compromise resolution ...

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