Do Newspapers Have Monday Morning Hangovers?

By Jack Limpert

Three ledes from page one of today’s Washington Post:

The city Marion Barry inspired, infuriated and disappointed is gone, replaced by the city he always said he wanted to build — solvent, solid, sizzling with life. And the city Barry commanded for longer than any other mayor remains saddled with the same woes he sought to eradicate — poverty, racial division, hopelessness.

As President Obama moves forward with his plan to shield millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation, an existing program to protect young illegal migrants demonstrates the life-changing promise of executive action but also its profound shortcomings, according to experts and government documents.

A year after the Obama administration temporarily shelved an unfinished part of HealthCare.gov intended for small businesses, it has opened with reports of only modest technical flaws — but with doubts that it will soon benefit the millions of workers at little companies with inadequate health insurance or none at all.
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Despite strong coffee, was I not awake enough to get into these front-page stories without re-reading the ledes two or three times? I emailed fellow journalist Mike Feinsilber, once the writing coach for the Associated Press, to see what he thought:

Yeah, they are dense and needlessly difficult. I don’t object to the Marion Barry lede, although it is a bit artsy. In the immigration lede, the whole “As” phrase at the start could be eliminated. The subject is difficult for everyone so there’s no point making it harder. The health care lede is truly awful. “It” is a pronoun standing in place of a noun, but under this sentence’s construction the reader would assume “it” stands for “the Obama administration.” So the lede is ungrammatical.

The moral: If you want to be read, write a simple subject/predicate sentence. Leave out all those hanging, swinging, go-nowhere introductory clauses. Read your lede aloud and let someone else read it. The most powerful sentence ever written is said to be one from the New Testament: “Jesus wept.” Subject/predicate.
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I didn’t ask Mike about this story opening from Monday’s sports pages because he’s not into sports. But for those of us who are, we depend on the sports pages to at least tell us who won and lost and do it in reasonably clear language. How could this lede get by an editor?

At the seasonal time so ripe for rancor, almost all the argument has died. With so much potential for grand-scale bitterness, the whole frothing country probably has been reduced, argument-wise, to an 88-mile stretch of Interstate 35 between Fort Worth and Waco. It passes through Burleson, Alvarado, Grandview, Itasca and Hillsboro.

Apparently the last “a” in “Alvarado” has a long sound.

Hillsboro is a convenient place to refuel.

You’re welcome.
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As Harold Ross liked to ask: “What the hell do you mean?”

 

Comments

  1. The density of the Mayor Barry lede successfully conceals the substantive non sequiter. Reconcile sentence one with sentence two:

    “The city Marion Barry inspired, infuriated and disappointed is gone, replaced by the city he always said he wanted to build — solvent, solid, sizzling with life.” GONE!

    The city “remains saddled with the same woes he sought to eradicate — poverty, racial division, hopelessness.” REMAINS!

    There is a chance this is very profound, but I’m not getting it, yet.

    • Not only is the lede incomprehensible, the whole story is awash in unnecessary flourishes, unfathomable cul-de-sacs, pretentiously preening “I-bet-I-know-bigger-words-than-you-do” rhetoric. As is everything I’ve read by this writer. I don’t know where they dredged up Chuck Culpepper, but they ought to banish him, forthwith, to Fort Worth, Waco, Burleson, Alvarado, Grandview, Itasca, Hillsboro — or any other unlucky burg, so we Washingtonians can have blather timeout.

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