Saturday, April 14, 2007

A2: "PV police ID possible suspect in home invasion"

I've got no problem with the story itself, it's simple police-blotter stuff. Today's editing lesson involves what happens when you forget the meaning of a word you use frequently.

There's a lot of very lumpy gravy in the copy, but I'll focus on the worst. "Possible suspect" here is just wrong. What you, the Courier reporter or editor, mean to say is either just 'suspect' or 'possible perpetrator.' Treating 'suspect' as interchangeable with 'perpetrator' leads to all sorts of nonsense, not least in how you relate to people who have been accused of crime.

Further reading: Strunk and White, "The Elements of Style," chapter 13.


leftturnclyde said...

to be fair to the reporter the media in general have been guilty of this kind of reporting you dissect in this article. that ,while not quite coming out and saying it directly,sort of infers thus and so is guilty because the police are either looking for ,or ,want to question them.But as usual steve you are correct sir !

Granny J said...

My nit-picking feel about English grammar makes me squirm when I read about an eye-witness IDing a perp he knows quite well, say his brother-in-law, who is then referred to as the "suspect." There must be a better term! (Yes, I realize that all this has to do with "until proven guilty",but it still grates on my mind's ear.

Steven Ayres said...

Welcome to the blog, Granny J. I get what you're saying, but of course the reporter is almost never the witness, and so can't bear witness directly.

Good editors stick to the facts, and facts are usually ambiguous.