Wednesday, July 25, 2007

It's a poor craftsman who blames his tools

Didn't I just finish a rant about proper use of the tools of language? And here I have clear evidence that not everybody who would make a living with these tools knows a henway from a hammerdoo.*

My local paper† is notorious, in its long history, for bad reporting, bad writing, and bad graphics. Sad to say, it has not much improved since I was a child. Our new editor seems to have acquired his degree in English/journalism from the proverbial box of "candy-coated popcorn, peanuts and a prize." Else, why would he report a simple bit of news, regarding the implementation of the law to reduce speed around stopped emergency vehicles, so?:
Police will enforce Scott's Law
By Stacey Creasy
Published: Wednesday, July 25, 2007 12:49 PM CDT

MONMOUTH - Scott's Law is just that, a law on the books that carries some serious punishment if you are caught violating the statute.

Scott's Law is named after a Chicago firefighter who was killed by a drunk driver while he was at the scene of a crash in 2001. A year later the law was passed.

Huh? "Scott's law is just that"? Just what? Just Scott's? And, who is this "Scott," anyway? Is it a Fighting Scot transplanted in Chicago, or is it a man's name -- and, if so, is it a first or last name? How about a little clarity, Stacy?

Let me offer my own version of the opener, in bite-sized, chewable, non-choking-hazard, clear English chunks:

Local and state enforcement personnel believe too few people are observing a particular traffic regulation, and they're preparing to crack down on scofflaws.

"Scott's Law" requires that, when a motorist approaches a construction zone or an emergency vehicle (police car, ambulance, fire engine, etc.) stopped alongside the road, the motorist should reduce speed to 45 miles per hour, and, if possible, change lanes to provide greater safety for those vehicles and their operators. It requires the same considerate action toward oncoming emergency vehicles.

In 2001, a driver failed to observe this basic courtesy, and struck and killed Chicago Fire Lieutenant Scott Gillen as Gillen was responding to a traffic accident.

Since then, efforts had been made in the Illinois legislature to prevent any other responders from suffering the same fate. It was nick-named "Scott's Law" to honor Gillen, and to effectively personalize the issue.

The law went into effect nearly three years ago.

Warren County Sheriff Martin Edwards says too many people in our area are not obeying this law. He intends to have his department crack down on those who disobey it. [Some quoting of the sheriff may follow, here.]

Illinois State Trooper says pretty much the same thing. [Offer more quotes, from the trooper, here.]

Now, go in for the kill: What will happen if you get caught breaking this law? The DRA didn't do so badly, there:

A citation can costs a driver anywhere from $100 to $10,000. If you accidentally hit an [sic] someone such as a police officer or construction worker, you could be sentenced up to 14 years in prison.

Even though the law states 45 mph, if you make every effort to slow down, that will probably save you from being pulled over.

Local and state law enforcement officers believe more education and awareness is [sic] needed regarding Scott's Law.

"We aren't doing this to be mean. This is a safety issue," Edwards stated. "We want emergency personnel and these construction workers to be safe, and be able to go home to their families at night."

A number of states, including Indiana and Missouri, also have a similar law requiring motorists to move over and slow down.

So, you ended an article relatively cogently (extraneous articles and subject-verb agreement issues notwithstanding, and, allowing that not all articles, these days, must offer wrap-up grafs for clear conclusion). Why so awful a start? An attempt at bold originality can't be a reason -- this is a newspaper. We want the news, not statements. We want substance, not style. (Well, to be honest, I'd like a little style, but not at the cost of real content.) And I want that substance right up front, where I can decide early on whether or not this will apply to me.

Whatever happened to clear, concise English and the five W's? And who am I, this ramblin' rose, to be ranting about a lack of concise work?

Ah, well. It is, after all, Monmouth's Daily Review Atlas. I shouldn't expect anything close to perfection, should I?

*Old Vaudeville joke, for those of you who really couldn't get there on your own -- the "straight man" asks, "What's a henway?" and is told, "About six pounds." Or, he asks, "What's a hammerdoo?" and the response is, predictably... well, you figure it out.

†The Daily Review Atlas, whose editors very kindly print my column each week, at no cost to me.

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