Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Unmuddling a sentence or two

Found this group of mangled sentences in an Editor and Publisher story this week on the travails at Tribune (including the funky way it structured its buyouts). If you haven't read it, I recommend it.

But to the point at hand where an editor should have gotten out the untangling wand:

Between them, Charlotte Hall and Earl Maucker have more than 50 years of combined newspapering experience. But both editors, who run the Sentinel and Sun-Sentinel, respectively, admit the changes in the past few months exceed any they have seen in their long careers.

"It is the most profound change in my lifetime in journalism," Hall, the Sentinel's newsroom boss since 2004, says of the current newspaper climate. "It is a very hard time for staff, we try to be as fair as we can and move as quickly as we can."
There are three yellow flags. First is using "respectively." That's not a good idea in almost every circumstance. It forces readers to go backward to match things up. Readers going backward are also readers more likely to back entirely out of your story.

Second is using "admit." It's a word loaded with all sorts of negative connotations best avoided unless a true admission is taking place.

Third is the tortured attribution of the quote. The verb (says) has to be moved so far from the name because of the almost-always lame practice of using the "says of the ......" attribution. If you have to explain to your readers what she was talking about after she's said it, either find a better quote or set up the one you have better. In this case, is there any lack of clarity of what she's talking about from the previous graf? So let's try this:

Between them, Charlotte Hall and Earl Maucker have more than 50 years of combined newspapering experience. But Hall, who runs the Sentinel, and Maucker, who oversees the Sun-Sentinel, say the changes in the past few months exceed any they have seen in their long careers.

"It is the most profound change in my lifetime in journalism," said Hall, the Sentinel's newsroom boss since 2004. "It is a very hard time for staff, we try to be as fair as we can and move as quickly as we can."
I'd use a semicolon in that last sentence, too, but I know the increasingly common practice is to allow the comma splice in quotes. Such untidiness is easily fixed if you look for the warning flags.

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5 Comments:

At 10/2/08, 1:55 AM, Blogger Craig Lancaster said...

In your first paragraph, did you mean to make "its" a double possessive by throwing an apostrophe on the end of it?

 
At 10/2/08, 2:45 AM, Blogger Craig Lancaster said...

I hate to pile on, but in your excellent point about the attribution, you refer to "he" when the speaker is clearly a "she." And you have a stray quote mark in your final graf.

Untidiness is easy to fix, yes, but it also easily slips in.

 
At 10/2/08, 8:14 AM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

Mea culpa on the he/she. Was actually thinking in the abstract when writing in the specific. (This is why everyone needs an editor, especially when trying to dash off something between classes instead of taking the usual time; problem is, I assume the E&P article had one.)

Don't see the stray apostrophe and quote in my original when in edit mode. Not sure what's up there. When I called up the entry this morning, I didn't see them, either. So whatever gremlins were about seem to have left the premises.

 
At 10/7/08, 4:43 PM, Blogger terrycollmann said...

"Between them" and "combined" is tautologous. And an editor is surely more than just a "newsroom boss" - at least here in the UK, where "newsroom" doesn't include features, sport, production and so on.

(ohhh, it's a bad idea to throw open something for copyediting coment ...)

 
At 10/7/08, 6:30 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

Good point. The "Between them" can be dropped

I don't have a great problem using "newsroom boss" as a second reference. I think the sense is clear, though I would prefer "editor."

Sometimes I don't change everything because I want my class to concentrate on a few points in the example; I've found in teaching that if they get the bigger stuff, the smaller stuff such as this comes along.

And not a bad idea to leave things open to copy-editing comment at all. The give and take is how I learn; I trust many other do too.

 

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