Errors & Omissions: Sometimes it's better to get straight to the point
Saturday 19 June 2010
The "drop intro" is an ancient journalistic device, and none the worse for that. Dropping the main news point down to the second or third paragraph roots the story in daily life and leads the reader on with the feeling of a mystery unfolding.
Since the dawn of time, news reporters have been beginning stories along these lines: "It was an ordinary morning in suburban Blanktown. John Dull kissed his wife goodbye and set off for the office. Little did he know that lurking behind the privet hedge was a ..." It makes a change from beginning the story with "A Blanktown man suffered leg injuries yesterday when he was bitten by a ...".
The foreign correspondent's drop intro is a familiar part of the furniture not only in newspapers but on radio. Here the emphasis is on the exotic setting: "The sun blazed down on the dusty village street. The old man, sitting at the door of his squalid hovel, spat a stream of betel-juice into the dust and growled: 'Things have never been the same here since ...'"
The following is from Wednesday's paper. "In an alleyway in Delhi choked with flies and neighbours in mourning, Devindri Devi held up a photograph of her nephew. 'We had agreed to the marriage but her family had not,' she said, as she looked at the picture of the soft-faced young man. 'It was because he is from a different caste.'"
The report continued: "In a case that has stunned India's capital, Mrs Devi's nephew and his teenage girlfriend were tortured and murdered in a so-called honour killing." The next two paragraphs gave graphic details of the crime. When the facts of the case are so dramatic and distressing, it seems perverse to start off with the usual bit of local colour.
Watch the birdie: Here is a picture caption from Wednesday's paper: "A nomadic hunter tends his pet golden eagle in the Tsengel Khairkhan mountains of Mongolia."
I've never heard of anybody keeping a golden eagle as a pet, which sounds like a dangerous thing to do. But I have heard of the tradition in Mongolia of hunting with these magnificent raptors. They are definitely not pets.
Turn around: A science feature on Monday was accompanied by a mocked-up photographic image of a giant meteor hitting the Earth. On the surface of the stricken planet was a pattern of islands and an indented coastline, as if seen from space. Closer examination revealed that it was in fact a picture of part of Greece and the Aegean sea. But it was a mirror image.
Any reader who has spotted this odd little manipulation is left puzzling. Was the reversal of the landscape within the picture deliberate, with the intention of making it look like just anywhere? Or was the whole picture reversed for reasons connected with the page design? In the latter case, did those responsible not notice what they had done to the landscape, or did they notice and not care? They seem to have had a rather low opinion of readers' geographical knowledge.
Grounded: "Army chief to step down as Cameron prepares for challenging times," said a headline in Monday's paper. The "Army chief" turned out to be the Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup. It is true that Sir Jock's role encompasses all three services, but there are no air marshals in the Army.
How very true: "Greater clarity of labelling will stop consumers being misled." That headline, which appeared on a news page on Tuesday, illustrates a danger that lies in wait for all those who write headlines for comment pieces – stating the obvious.
Less is more: Gyles Cooper writes in to point out this example of the double negative trap, from our World Cup coverage on Monday: "Asked if Green would be the goalkeeper in ... Green Point stadium, Capello could not have been less equivocal. He said: 'No – yes – we will have to wait.'" The writer meant to say that Capello could not have been more equivocal.
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