JohnC drops in with a writing lesson. The lede from the Freep’s mainbar on the Kilpatrick story:
Shortly after Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick wakes up in jail this morning — still reeling from becoming the first sitting mayor in Detroit’s 307-year history to spend a night behind bars — Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox is expected to charge him with felony assault.
John points out that when a story is this dramatic, you don’t have to overwrite it: Just let the facts speak for themselves. And while this isn’t a terribly turgid passage — you have to go to TV for that stuff — there’s just a hint of it there:
I’m talking about the phrase “still reeling from.” Not to take anything away from those guys, who’ve done a fantastic job on that story. Never mind the fact that the reporters have no idea whether the mayor will be “reeling,” one of my pet peeves is over-writing a story that pretty much tells itself. Take that phrase out, and you have a much, much stronger top.
Yes, I agree. If ever there was a case for letting the facts speak for themselves, it’s this. I was pleased to see my friend Ron French’s byline (one of three) on the News’ contribution. Ron’s hallmark as a writer is a keen eye for the ironic detail. Let’s see if we can find it here:
Kwame Kilpatrick’s lips quivered. He sat in silence, his hand pressed to his face, as 36th District Judge Ronald Giles cut another string of the thread by which a once-promising political career hung. “If it was not Kwame Kilpatrick sitting in that seat, if it was John Six-Pack sitting in the seat, what would I do?” Giles asked the mayor. Bond is revoked, Giles said. Then, the man who already was the first sitting mayor in Detroit’s 307-year history to be charged with a crime became the first to be locked in a jail cell in his own city.
It’s hard to teach this stuff. You have to have the eye and the ear and the perspective to know when the facts need no additional underlining. A very good reporter I once knew was struggling with a story about a nursing-home company in Chapter 11, while its owner lived like a pasha. He asked a colleague, also a good reporter but a very skilled writer, to take a shot. The second writer examined the facts for a few moments and came up with something like this:
As the XXXX chain of nursing homes slid closer to bankruptcy, owner XXXX knew he had to do something to stop the bleeding. He cut staff. He trimmed services. He lowered thermostats and curtailed extras. But he didn’t give up his private company plane, owned by the corporation but used exclusively by XXXX and his family. Nor did he sell the company retreat, which served as XXXX’s summer home. Nor did he…
It was a thing of beauty. In a just world, Mr. Moneybags would have shit his pants and died when he saw it. As it was, he probably just lit a cigar with a $20 bill and thought, “Good thing this rag won’t be around to bug me in a few more years.”
That concludes today’s writing lesson.
JohnC gets the Freep home-delivered; we get the News. Both were a little, eh, excited today. BEHIND BARS, the News’ front page shrieked, in a font size suitable for a stadium’s Jumbotron. I’ve ruminated here how the traditions of print journalism are being adapted by digital media, mostly in the widely imitated, rat-a-tat-tat phrasing of Drudge, who ripped it off from Walter Winchell and others from the golden age of print. Amusingly enough, you see this most often in gossip columns: “Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake are back together! The former flames will record a duet for her new album, OK! can exclusively reveal…” But nothing will replace the screaming headline. Especially not Drudge’s ambulance light, or whatever that thing is.
OK, something will replace it. But we don’t know what it is yet. This seems as good a time as any to reveal that I’m now in a new digi-media space. Among the casualties of Saturday’s kayak trip was my old pink Razr cell phone, which disappeared sometime between 5 p.m. and 6:10 p.m., during which time I was out on the water. I have no memory of it going plop into the drink. In my last memory of it, it was sitting on the dock, which suggests it was either stolen, eaten by a duck or kicked down the boat ramp, but it doesn’t matter now because it is gone, gone, gone.
That was bad news. Until it turned into good news:
Alan accused me of losing my old phone on purpose. I did not. But that is my new iPhone 3G, it has a near-broadband connection and web browser, and I’ve been spending some time reading news on its index-card screen. I have news for all of you journalists: This is a game-changer. I’m trying to see where it leads me, not impose my habits upon it, and so far, it’s telling me that breaking news is going to be cell-phone news in the future. They’ll clip “still reeling” from ledes for space reasons, not for the esoteric ones discussed above.
Busy day today, so on to the bloggage:
Coozledad on his dual roosters, Sid and Nancy. See what a good writer can do with both white and dark meat.
Jim at Sweet Juniper goes shopping in Ann Arbor. Finds some toys, but not for the kids.
Every Thursday night, as I reach the end of my editing shift, I check to see what TBogg’s bassets are up to. Satchmo is sick (sad story), but Fenway, that irascible pup, is on the roof. Funny story. Reminds me of when Spriggy discovered he could climb onto the dining room table.
Roy, in a contemplative mood.
And me, outta here.