(Hints on improvement follow the stories)
The city council met last night and voted to increase the amount of money charged to local residents for their water service. The vote was 4 to 2 with one council member abstaining. Water rates will be going up four percent on the first of July. The council members who voted in favor of the increase said it’s about time the rates went up because they haven’t increased in five years. (see hints)
A man displayed a handgun and demanded money from the teller at the ABC convenience mart on Elm Street last night at 11:58 PM. He fled on foot in an unknown direction with an undetermined amount of cash. No one was injured in the incident. The incident remains under investigation. (see hints)
In a surprise to no one, Governor Jones announced this afternoon that he will run for another term as the state’s chief executive. In front of a crowd of supporters and reporters at the steps of the state capitol, Jones said he vowed to continue the programs which are successful and to cut the ones that don’t work. So far no one from the opposition party has declared they want to be a candidate. (see hints)
Local merchandise giant Associated Appliance Corporation announced another round of temporary layoffs today. Company officials said the uncertain economic future prompted them to call for reduced shifts and furloughs for at least 40 employees. Associated Appliance Corporation is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Associated Enterprises with four locations in Ourtown. (see hints)
Orange tongues of flame licked the pre-dawn Ourtown skies as grey-clad smokeaters bravely battled a stubborn blaze at a manufacturing plant in suburban Outville. Firefighters called in a second alarm shortly after arriving and transitioned to a defensive posture as the flames, fueled by the waste materials inside the plant, roared higher and higher. The building was completely destroyed and one firefighter was transported to a local hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. (see hints)
The lead sentence starts with a noun clause – “the city council”. And the real lead here is the impact on the listener: the increase in rates. Re-cast the first sentence to lead with the most important fact.
Sounds like this was taken right off the police blotter. Only a cop writing an incident report would say “displayed a handgun”. Nobody talks like that. Accuracy is important, but it’s more conversational to say “around midnight” than 11:58 PM. “Fled on foot” is more cop-talk. This whole sentence should be rewritten to say something simple, accurate, and direct, like “He ran off with the money”. The sentence “No one was injured in the incident” is more boilerplate. “Nobody got hurt” is accurate, conversational, and to the point. The last sentence, “The incident remains under investigation” is one of the worst clichés in newswriting. It’s put at the end of nearly every police report, and has absolutely no meaning to the listener. It would be news if the police decided NOT to investigate. If you are compelled to point out that it’s an active investigation, write it conversationally: “It’s still an active case and the police investigation continues”.
If it’s a surprise to no one, why is it news? Sometimes it’s easy to re-work a lead sentence by putting a dependent clause first, as in “Speaking to a crowd of supporters at the capitol today, Governor Jones confirmed his candidacy for another term.” Another common mistake is to over-attribute statements by public officials. “Jones said he vowed” can accurately be written by dropping the “said he” and simply saying “Jones vowed”.
“Local merchandise giant”. First, it’s a horrible lead; second, it sound like Associated Press boilerplate, where even the most familiar corporations are given the “giant” treatment as in “Auto giant General Motors” or “software giant Microsoft”. The size of the company is not important to this story in the sense it’s written above. More relevant would be to find out what percentage of the work force of the company is being pink-slipped, and make that an element of the story, if necessary. Again, the real impact of this story is the lives of the 40 people and their families affected by what the company did, so a better lead might be “40 people were laid off today by Associated Appliance Company”. Another sign that this story was simply lifted from a news release is the last sentence, which reads like it was written by a corporate flunky to work a quick commercial into the news copy. The parent company of Associated is not germane to the story, and to say the company has four locations in town is commercial matter, not news.
This story is a combination of theft from a fire department news release, and just about every newswriting cliché available. It’s colorful, but it’s more style than substance. The word “destroyed” can’t be modified. Either the building was destroyed or not. There is no “partial” or “complete” destruction. The word “transported” is taken right off the incident report. No one uses that word in that sense except police and fire officials. Same with “conveyed”. No one would say their friend was “transported” or “conveyed” to the hospital. Re-write the police or fire blotter copy to say “taken”, if it’s important to the story.