Monday, August 20, 2012

Ditch the cop speak

Why do we as journalists reflexively go into "cop speak" mode? Are we afraid of deviating from the script for some legal reason? Do we think it makes us sound more important or that the cops will see us as more of their buddies?

You routinely read and hear things like "airlifted" when "flown" is just as good and much less pretentious. Or "ejected from the vehicle" when "thrown" works just fine. (And thrown from the "car" or "truck" or "SUV," if you know the details.)

So I found this brief story interesting (I've changed a few small parts to what was in the paper instead of online. The printed version, mercifully, got rid of cliches like "opened fire."):
A man fired shots inside a McDonald’s restaurant along Broad River Road in Columbia late Friday night after getting into an argument with an employee at the drive-through window.

No one was hurt.

According to the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, a man and a woman got into a verbal altercation with an employee while in a car at the restaurant’s drive-through window at about 11:40 p.m. The man and woman then entered the restaurant, the man carrying a gun. They continued the argument, and the man fired a shot into the floor.

The couple left the scene, but deputies found their vehicle several blocks away from the restaurant that’s located at 1729 Broad River Road, according to sheriff’s department spokesman Curtis Wilson. Deputies are seeking two persons of interest.
Why use the nice simple argument in the lede but then switch to the ponderous verbal altercation? I've made a few other changes in the story below as well just to suggest some cleaning up:  
A man fired shots inside a McDonald’s restaurant on Broad River Road in Columbia late Friday night after getting into an argument with an employee at the drive-through window.

No one was hurt.

According to the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, a man and a woman got into a verbal altercation began arguing with an employee while in a car at the restaurant’s drive-through drive-thru window at about 11:40 p.m. The man, with a gun, and woman then entered the restaurant at 1729 Broad River Road. , the man carrying a gun. They continued the argument, and the man fired a shot into the floor.

The couple left, the scene, but deputies found their vehicle car several blocks away from the restaurant, that’s located at 1729 Broad River Road, according to Sheriff’s Department spokesman Curtis Wilson. Deputies are seeking two persons of interest.
Notice also the discrepancy between the lede and the third paragraph. The lede says "shots"; the story later says "shot." It needs to be clarified, but for now I've elected to choose one.

As for the "persons of interest," I've written before how I dislike it. What's wrong with "Deputies have the names of two people they want to talk to"?

(AP style notes - Yes, it's now "drive-thru," much as it pains me. "Sheriff's Department" should be capped in that last sentence under the "Police Department" rule. But feel free to differ on either of those.)

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