Friday, January 06, 2012

Editteach: Dissecting another fire story

This one is online today from a TV station site.* (Seems I'm specializing in fire stories these days.) Updated to also correct street name.
Columbia, SC (WLTX)--An early morning fire is smoldering at The Salty Nut Cafe in Five Points.
Not a bad lede. If you are keeping score at home and use AP style, that should be S.C., but no one says the station has to do that. One might also ask why "SC" is needed on a story from a Columbia station, but this is the "world wide" Web, so such things are in flux.

Authorites say there was heavy black smoke when they arrived at 4:30 Friday morning.
Again, not bad (not counting the misspelling of "authorities," but lord knows how many times I've done that). However, this is a breaking story, so why say "Friday"? Still, we come back to the "world wide" thing - it's not Friday everywhere. So defensible.

The fire is now under control, but the 2000 block of Green* Street remains shutdown. Authorities say the cafe suffered heavy damage because they did not have a sprinkler system.
Now we run into some problems. The street is Greene, not Green. Shutdown, one word, is a noun. It should be "shut down" as a verb. And a bar is not a "they," but an "it." That's especially confusing here because the plural antecedent is "authorities" - did they not have sprinklers? (And why not just say sprinklers, instead of the more officious "sprinkler system"?) You could also question here why the phrase "suffered heavy damage because" is needed since the next sentence is more specific on the damage. I'd delete it, leaving just: "Authorities say the cafe did not have sprinklers."

Chief Audrey Jenkins says there was thousands of dollars worth of damage and the building is totally damaged on the inside. This was a very popular spot for people to congregate and it will be a while before they reopen.
Oops. The fire chief's name is "Aubrey." The verb links with "thousands," so "were" is preferred - but "are" would be even better to keep things current in a breaking story. Phrases using "worth" get an apostrophe (thousands of dollars' worth). Even better: Chief Aubrey Jenkins says there are thousands of dollars in damage ... or ... Chief Aubrey Jenkins says damage totals thousands of dollars.
I have no idea what "totally damaged on the inside" means. Totally damaged usually means destroyed, and inside is where buildings usually are damaged, so the whole phrase does no work. Cut it. Recast the second sentence to correct the pronoun and insert a comma (and you can probably drop "very," though I wouldn't get all hung up on that): This was a popular spot for people to congregate, and it will be a while before it reopens. (Let's save the debate about attribution on that for a different time, though I tend not to like naked assertions.)

An investigation is underway and no injuries have been reported.
Again, if you are scoring at home and using AP style, that's "under way," though I have been suggesting for years that AP drop that as increasingly anacrhonistic. A comma would be useful after "underway."
*The story is being updated, so some things have changed from the original here.

**In one of those wonderfully annoying things media companies like Gannett do online to rake in more cash, "Green" in the original story was a double-underlined ad link. Clicking on it did not take you to something useful like a map but to an ad for a Prius. Gotta love it. (The correct street name spelling might have prevented that.)

(With acknowledgement and apologies to Deborah Gump, one of the world's superior editing teachers and creator of the Editteach site, I have decided to use that as the standard header and tag for these kinds of dissections. It just so succinctly sums up what these posts are about. But do visit the site if you want a rich experience learning about editing.)

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At 1/6/12, 11:58 AM, Blogger John Tompkins said...

When it comes to the 'totally damaged on the inside' phrase, my editors would opt for 'gutted.' Also if something was 'totally' damaged, we would just use 'destroyed.'

No injuries should have been higher, not in the last graph.

At 1/6/12, 12:17 PM, Blogger Doug said...

I agree to a point. Definitely on "destroyed," as noted in the post.

As for gutted - maybe, but I can't be sure, so my advice is to just drop it. I think the totality here makes clear the damage is severe.

On the initial short story like this, I don't have a problem with that last graf because the two elements together provide a certain amount of balance and euphony at the end and are unlikely to be cut.

But I can also agree that moving the no-injury info up to the head of graf three is fine, and once the details start coming in, it definitely should be up.



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