Monday, June 05, 2006

Critiquing the Times -- from the inside

At Newthinking, Bob Baker has two revealing posts.

The first is a rundown of an internal critique of New York Times writing by 10 of its staffers. Summary: Too-long sentences; dense, sometimes impenetrable writing; formula and cliche.

The second is a response from Times staffers critiquing the critique. Their response is varied and not as easily summed, but while many are complimentary of the original comments, among the points they make is that cliches can be a useful shorthand (and that the original critiques were cliche-ridden themselves -- and that even just the journalistic story form is one giant cliche) and that the Times' rigid policies promote dense writing.

I love this comment from one of the "worker bees":

There is an old joke about Times writers. When they want to write "A gorilla ate a banana with a far-away expression, as if daydreaming of better times" we write "A gorilla, a large primate found in Uganda and parts of Eastern Zaire, ate a banana, an elongated yellow fruit from the tropics, with a far away expression, as if daydreaming, a wakeful state in which a person fantasizes, of better times, according to a witness, who insisted on anonymity, because he was no authorized to be in the gorilla cage.… No wonder our bloody sentences go so long.
RTWT (read the whole thing). It's worth it.


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