Saturday, April 24, 2004

Written Quotes' Challenge

Copy editors have some leeway when dealing with spoken quotes. Wait a moment, please. Before you come after me with machetes, consider this sentence:

“I dont think this tax cut; well-ententioned though it may be -- will effect the economy in the right weigh,” Jones said.

Would there be any problem in changing it to:

“I don’t think this tax cut, well-intentioned though it may be, will affect the economy in the right way,” Jones said.

Of course not.

The problems with the sentence are caused by slapdash spelling and punctuation on the part of the reporter, not the speaker. Copy editors have a free hand in those areas, within reason, to make the quote read smoothly.

But let’s not take this free hand too far — say, to quotations from written works.

If a news release, say, has the sentence:

“The much needed tax cut will benifit little children big children and adults.”

I would not change it. Period.

I would not add the hyphen between much and needed. I would not correct the spelling of benefit. I would not add a comma after little children.

A news release is a written form. If we edit information from it, we are therefore directly changing what the source “says.”

That’s not to say we should be eager to print such a sentence. A paraphrase would allow us to get that information across more effectively. Like so:

“Americans for Tax Freedom, a lobbying group, said the tax cut was needed and would benefit children and adults.”

As you see, a couple of superfluous adjectives can be neatly trimmed as well.

However, if it’s important to use that sentence from the press release as a direct quote, hands off. That means you.