Saturday, November 04, 2006

The head's the thing . . .

. . . followed by the lede (opening sentence).  They sell stories.  So editors look to heads and ledes.  Advice to them: send your copy desk to word school.  Put them to reading verse, including blank verse such as this from Poetry for October:

Look! I bear into this room a platter piled high with the rage my mother felt toward my father!  . . . .  She — 

just kept her thoughts to herself.  She just —

followed him around the house, and every time he turned a light on, she turned it off.

Look.  If that’s not to your liking, have them read E.B. White or Joseph Addison.  Whatever you do, promote language, so that your front page does not have this for a head:

Economy's political sway shifts

followed by the (not) clipped and biting:

Seemingly positive numbers don't guarantee boost to party in power

Look, it’s not an ax murder, salable on its face.  It’s the economy, and I won’t, a la James Carville, add “stupid.”  Or is it?  Look to the lede:

With so much change sweeping America's workforce, the Republicans are discovering it is not necessarily easy to gain political traction from a generally favorable economy.

Is this what you call punching up the news?  Are discovering?  Not necessarily easy?  Political traction?  Reader, pay attention.  Your mind wanders.  It’s your daily Trib before you.  Wake up.  The second ‘graf, a logical enough follow-through:

The October jobs report showed unemployment fell from 4.6 percent to 4.4 percent, while employers added 92,000 non-farm jobs to their payrolls. Also, the government revised upward the number of jobs created in August and September.

Unemployment down, new jobs, more than we thought!  We’re getting somewhere now, except for punching down the news, which is not that the report showed something or government revised something, both subjects of their sentences when they should be add-ons: according to the report, the government said, etc.  Does the writer, William Neikirk, think the news is that a report showed or government revised?  If so, he’s been too long in Washington, whence this story comes.

Anyhow, we haven’t yet got to the good part, as apparently understood by the writer and contained in the third ‘graf:

But structural changes that have roiled the job market in recent years have changed the meaning of these numbers for many Americans, particularly less-skilled workers who are finding it more difficult to remain in the middle class.

Is this the lede he wishes he could have used, describing as it does the cloudy lining of the silver cloud?  It’s as if Neikirk couldn’t bring himself to blare forth this excellent pre-election news. 

Maybe that’s what makes his exposition weak and flabby.  He may be conflicted, poor fellow, desiring but not quite willing to announce to his readers that this excellent economic news doesn’t matter, because this year it’s not the economy (stupid), which it used to be when Democrat James Carville said it was.

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