Friday, September 19, 2003

The Elements Of ...

Copy editors obsess about it. We want to ensure stories follow it. We attempt to memorize it.

Yet style is ultimately, what it is. A style. A way of doing things. It's not the only way. Most importantly, perhaps, it's not even the only clear way.

Imagine: A story that breaks every AP style rule in sight yet still makes sense. Not a stretch.

Style gives us something to do, but it shouldn't be the only thing we do. We slide into "search and replace" editing too easily. We all do it. "Where is 'avenue' spelled out with a specific address?" we ask. We abbreviate the sucker, and our job is done.

Such work is part of our job, true. Style has a place. But our central concern should be, should always be:

Does this story make sense?

All the style in the world doesn't help if a story doesn't make sense. Nothing frustrates me more in going through a newspaper than having to read a paragraph over. And then read the paragraph over. And over again.

What's wrong? The story has slid off the rails. A connection hasn't been made. A first reference has been deleted. A phrase has slipped away to have a drink somewhere and jilted the rest of the sentence.

This is our basic responsibility to readers and ourselves.