Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Get rid of the cop speak

From The State today, a good example of how cop speak creeps into stories and how we can get it out. Also, there are questions about using an unidentified "spokesman" and some other suggestions. My comments (for my editing class) are in bold:

A 23-year-old jail guard has been arrested for allegedly shooting his pregnant girlfriend and then burning her body in woods near Eastover.

A 23-year-old jail guard has been arrested on allegations he shot his pregnant girlfriend and then burned her body in woods near Eastover. "For" still tends to convict, even with "allegedly." And it's a simple change.

   Tristan Gist, a former detention officer at Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center, is charged with murder and death or injury of a child in utero due to the commission of a violent crime, the Richland County Sheriff’s Department reported Monday. Gist was fired from the detention center over the weekend when he did not show up to work, according to a spokesman in the Richland County public information office.

… according to a county spokesman (who?). Why do we need to get into the anonymous source here if the person is a spokesman - leave the fake skulduggery to inside the Beltway. And if the person is a spokesman, do we need "public information office"? Is there a danger we might think it's a sheriff's spokesman? (And, although minor, it would be better as at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center.)

   Gist is being held at the Lexington County Detention Center. He must appear before a Richland County circuit court judge for a bond hearing.

The paper can use what style it wants, but in many styles (including our local style) Circuit Court is capped. But it could be written just as circuit judge. Might also be nice to explain why he's being held in Lexington County (assume it's for safety since he used to be a guard at Richland County's, but why make readers connect the dots).

   The victim has been tentatively identified as Dierra Fisher, 22, of Columbia, said Richland County Coroner Gary Watts. He said he was 99.9 percent sure Fisher was the victim but was waiting on medical records to be certain.

… said he was almost certain Fisher was the victim but was waiting for medical records to be sure. Why do we need the false-precision figure?

   Gist is accused of shooting Fisher once in the head and then driving her body to woods off Screaming Eagle Road Extension, east of Fort Jackson, and then burning her.

A small thing, but ditch the first "and then" for a comma.

   Gist brought Fisher’s two small children with him in the car as he drove to burn her body, said Sheriff Leon Lott.

Another small thing, but for brevity with him can be deleted.

   “It’s probably one of the more vicious crimes I’ve seen,” Lott said. “I keep saying that over and over. When I don’t think I can see worse, something like this happens.”   

Firefighters responding to a brush fire in the 3800 block of Screaming Eagle Extension Thursday afternoon discovered the burning body in the woods. The victim was burned so badly that the firefighters who discovered the burning body could not identify the gender.

The body was burned so badly the firefighters could not tell whether it was a man or woman.

   An autopsy determined the victim was a woman who was about five months pregnant. She died from a single gunshot to the head, Watts said.

An autopsy determined it was a woman about five months pregnant. She died from being shot once in the head, Watts said.

   But Watts had not been able to identify the woman until sheriff’s deputies arrested Gist Monday afternoon.

So the mere fact of the arrest made him conclude it was Fisher? Seems kind of tautological. Did anything else lead him to that conclusion?

   It was unknown Monday who took custody of the two children who rode in the car with Gist, said Deputy Curtis Wilson, a sheriff’s department spokesman.

It was unknown: Does that mean the sheriff's department did not know, or does it mean Wilson said he did not know, or did the kids just disappear into thin air? Avoid the passive that diffuses responsibility. And you can delete who rode in the car with Gist; those are the only two children mentioned in the story and it already establishes they rode with him.

   Gist was the father of one of the children, according to reports. It has not been determined whether Gist was the father of Fisher’s unborn baby.

Whose reports? Police? Media? Twitter? Message in a mayonnaise bottle? And who is doing this "has not been" determining. Another passive that diffuses things. Who said this?

   No one had reported Fisher missing or called the coroner’s office about the victim when the burning was first reported, he said. She has family in Orangeburg, New Jersey and Kansas, and those relatives have been notified.

Who is the "he" here - Watts or Wilson. Who said they have been notified? And why use "the victim"? Just say "her."

   Investigators received a tip Monday morning from someone in the community that Gist might be a suspect in the shooting and burning. From there, the investigation progressed quickly, Lott said.

From someone in the community - what community? Better yet, unless it came from Mars, the default is it's probably going to have been in the community. Is that really needed? If he won't say who, just say that. Same thing with in the shooting and burning. Have we been talking about anything else?

   Several officers went to Gist’s home to make the arrest, and he was apprehended without incident.

Officers went to Gist's home where he was arrested without a struggle. If it's plural, we can assume "several." That adds nothing. And if these were sheriff's "officers," wouldn't "deputies" be more correct?

   Gist admitted to the shooting death and burning, Lott said.

   Gist has no prior criminal record, according to a rap sheet from the State Law Enforcement Division. He was hired at the detention center on May 14, 2012, according to a county spokesman. Other details about Gist’s employment, including his certification as a jail guard and his educational history, were not available Monday.

Gist has no criminal record. Or, if you want to be absolutely on the fine point: Gist had no criminal record. (He obviously has one now.) "Prior" isn't really needed. We can debate whether you need according to a rap sheet from - is the form important or just that it's according to SLED.
He was hired at the detention center May 14. Since it was last year, 2012 isn't needed.
And there's that ghost county spokesman again.

   Fisher’s killing was the third deadly incident of domestic violence in the past week in Richland County.

Fisher's killing was the third death related to domestic violence … 
I'd also suggest during the past week just to change up the prepositions, but that's small potatoes.

   On Feb. 25, Percy Williams, 31, was charged with murder after he allegedly shot and killed his girlfriend, Tabatha Priester, 35, the sheriff’s department reported. On Feb. 26, 28-year-old Adam Jurgen died in a hail of gunfire after he got into a shootout with sheriff’s deputies who were searching for him after he allegedly beat his girlfriend.

If you're keeping score, that's Sheriff's Department under AP style because it refers to a previously named department in the story. But that's the least of our worries, and the newsroom is entitled to its own style.

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At 3/10/13, 9:14 PM, Anonymous Sarah Lim said...

This is an interesting post! I never thought about analyzing a news article like this. It gives a new perspective on the way sentences are formed. I especially thought it was interesting when you pointed out the reports. It is very vague what the source of the report was.


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