Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Big News! Read 5th Graf!

The headline doesn’t tell the story, but why should it? The lead doesn’t either. Readers who make it all the way to the seventh sentence in a story that’s only a dozen sentences long will learn thieves took eight high-powered rifles from a pawn shop last night. Lest there be real concern, however, DeSoto Sun ’s Ace Reporter eases readers into the story.
ARCADIA – The yellow tape surrounding Arcadia Pawn was upside down outside, but its message to the curious public was loud and clear Tuesday: Police line, do not cross.
The message the curious public might want to hear is that burglars stole eight high-powered rifles and fled, but Ace isn't ready to share. Instead, he uses the second graf to develop the drama of the yellow tape with speculation about destructive appetites.
Arcadia Pawn was violently burglarized early Tuesday morning. Its metal-bar reinforced-glass doors were torn apart by burglars with a stolen pickup, a chain and an apparent appetite for destruction – and loot.
Again, the news is an unreported number men who stole eight high-powered rifles remain at large, but readers don’t know that yet. Ace continues to describe the scene for us:
The pawn shop is filled with a veritable pirate’s bounty: Guns, gold, diamonds; not to mention power tools and myriad electronics.
The curious public might pause to consider the bounty of editing errors in the sentence or wonder about pirates who treasure power tools, but there’s a third graf coming up that will surely alert Our Town to the news that men with high-powered rifles remain at large.
But thankfully for Arcadia Pawn owner Martin Reback, the burglars did not have much time for their raid. As soon as the doors were yanked off, Reback said his alarm system alerted police, who arrived in a matter of minutes – but the burglars were already gone.
Whew. The curious public is relieved that nothing much happened; it’s time for Ace to get a quote from the distressed pawnshop owner. Fourth graf:
“I would have given them a generator or whatever they wanted – they didn’t have to rip the doors off,” Reback said.
Yes, let’s make a deal. If burglars knock nicely, they get a generator. Meanwhile, an unspecified number of violent burglars with an appetite for destruction are on the loose with eight high-powered rifles. How does the curious public know this? Well, actually, they don’t. At least not until they read the fifth graf, which is coming up any minute now.
Later, an inventory revealed eight high-powered rifles were taken in the raid, Arcadia Police Capt. Matt Anderson said.
Finally, the news! But editors will notice Ace's soft prepositional pillow muffling the news and his passive voice, both devices that cushion the blow for the curious public. But never mind the writing. Ace is ready to follow up this all-important fifth-paragraph lead with some hard facts.
The pickup used to rip the doors off was stolen Friday in Palm Beach county then left behind the shop after the burglary. Investigators are not sure if the burglars used a getaway vehicle or made a run for it.
Well, facts mitigated by speculation. Next graf:
Anderson said police were “dusting everything that can be dusted” and have accumulated plenty of evidence, including videotape of the burglary, which shows the burglars were wearing masks.
Ace forgets to report how many masked men, which would properly alert the curious public to the number of criminals who are running around Our Town armed with eight-high powered rifles. Ace neglects to tell readers that “dusting everything” doesn’t mean the cops are using Lemon Pledge. But he doesn't leave out the shame-on-you finger-wagging at the bad guys.
Police have not identified any suspects yet, but Anderson said whoever is caught in connection with this burglary could face armed burglary and grand theft charges, just to name a few.

Some weeks back, someone asked Old Word Wolf to remember the Sun’s staff is “a bunch of hard-working folks, trying to do their jobs.” Old Word Wolf regrets those jobs don't require knowing how to write or edit a basic crime story.

In fact, being cranky about a poorly reported story is being charitable. The uncharitable explanation is the police chief said something like, "Now son, let's not alarm the folks; don't make a big deal of the fact that high-powered rifles are missing, truck thieves from the east coast have come to town, and we don't know where these guys are." And our Ace Reporter agreed to play it softly

1 comment:

  1. Eight high-powered rifles, you say?

    Does this mean we have to recalculate the whole damn "partridge in a pear tree" bill again for this Christmas?

    And if there are hints that the hardworking Sun hands are actually paying attention to informed comment about their journalism, then this is no time to ease up.