Magazine article The Quill

Make Wire Copy a Good Match

Magazine article The Quill

Make Wire Copy a Good Match

Article excerpt

We sometimes see in newspapers a great difference in the quality of staff and wire copy. This is especially true of newspapers whose writers and editors are trying hard to write as clearly, precisely and conversationally as they can. Whenever such a difference between staff and wire stories appears, we can be sure of one thing: The standards for excellence are being unequally applied.

The reason a newspaper's wire editors may fail to refine and polish the copy they handle is threefold. First, they often assume that since the copy has been written and edited by professionals, it should be ready to go into the newspaper as it is. Second, they are typically under heavy deadline pressure and may feel they haven't time to attend to copy that should be at least OK, especially since the writers aren't available for query. Third, they see a steady stream of journalese and journalistic formula day after day - in such circumstance, taste tends to blunt and standards to drop.

Whatever the reason, the result is the same: Inferior work is passed to readers who have every right to expect a high and uniform quality among the stories in the newspaper.

Consider this lead from the wire services of a large and important newspaper:

Racing against the specter of tighter regulation, many of the nation's largest food componies have agreed to specify whether the foods they sell contain even tiny amounts of everyday ingredients that can cause potentially fatal allergic reactions.

The two largest food industry groups are issuing voluntary guidelines for nutrition labels on processed foods. The guidelines will put more information on the face of hundreds of products eaten by millions of consumers and go well beyond what the law does to prevent allergy-provoking ingredients such as milk, eggs and nuts from appearing in foods without being identified on the label.

This is poor writing. That we see such work daily in newspapers across the country does not make it better. It's choked with the structures, density, artificiality and bloat of journalese. It presents unimportant, unclear and uninteresting material while relegating important, clear and interesting details to the last half of the story - deep in the jump. Some major problems:

* The lead begins with a breathless and inflated backing-in clause: "Racing against the specter of tighter regulation ... " Let's say that regulation could, in metaphorical logic, be a "specter" - could we, should we, also race against it? Image hash aside, such backing-in clauses displace the subject - a lead's most vital ingredient.

* The first and third sentences are too long: 37 and 47 words. Studies show that readability begins to break down between 22 and 25 words. (Sentences containing lists are exceptions if the list follows subject and verb and in effect doses the sentence. …

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