Friday, 17 February 2012
Don't quote me
Who would have thought reporters could be such sentimental souls. They like to appear hard-bitten and ruthless. But show them a soundbite and they come over all cuddly and protective, immediately feeling the need to wrap these precious words in the security blanket of a pair of quotation marks.
Wayne Rooney was "absolutely gutted" when he missed the last-minute penalty.
Mrs Jones was "outraged" at the council's plans to set up a waste tip opposite her semi.
Subs are made of sterner stuff. It is our job to unwrap these random words, to let them stand up for themselves and show us what they're made of.
It's called reported speech.
If a reputable newspaper reports that the Governor of the Bank of England says the Chancellor is making a pig's ear of the economy and that we're all destined for the poorhouse, you can be pretty sure that that's what he said. The Governor chooses his phrases carefully and economics correspondents aren't in the habit of making his language more colourful.
So rendering it:
The Chancellor is "making a pig's ear of the economy", and the country is "heading for the poorhouse", the Governor of the Bank of England said last night.
doesn't add a jot in terms of accuracy on the part of the writer - or understanding on the part of the reader. The punctuation just gets in the way.
So, in text, let's try to save the quotes for direct speech.
Headlines, of course, are another matter. Some newspapers ban quotes in headings altogether, adopting the philosophy that they offer no legal protection and that it is generally apparent who is speaking. Others take a more cautious line, particularly where allegations are being made. There's a lot to be said for that. But all punctuation should be limited in headings. It's ugly and it generally interrupts the flow.
So this is where you can get out that security blanket and wrap up individual words or phrases in quotes.
Lady Mayoress dances up the street naked with a carnation in her navel
is wonderful if you know it to be true.
Lady Mayoress 'danced up the street naked with a carnation in her navel'
is fine and safe if it's an allegation where the person making the claim is identified in the story.
Lady Mayoress 'danced up the street naked with a carnation in her navel', court told
is over-punctuated. If there's an attribution, you don't need the quotes. The comma will do.
It's called reported speech
Thank you for sticking with it to the end. Please do share your thoughts below. And please take a look at the other posts. They are all media related.
Sold down the river the Beeb's flotilla and fireworks fiasco - and a feeble fightback. Why didn't the top man have his hand on the tiller?
Hello and goodbye to Wapping a personal diary of life inside the fortress in the days before the strike that changed newspapers forever
Out of print a love letter to newspapers in this digital age. Why they don't have to die if we have the will to let them live and thrive
Why local newspapers matter Why we should care about the revolution in the regional press
Missing: an opportunity How the hunt for Madeleine McCann could be turned into a force for good instead of just a festival of mawkish sentimentality
Riding for a fall Does buying a ticket for a jolly day out at the races mean you are fair game for the snobs who sneer and snipe?
Just a pretty face Illustrating the business pages isn't the easiest job in the world, but spare us the celebs who aren't even mentioned in the story
Food for thought a case study in why we should take health advice with a pinch of salt (and a glass of red wine and a helping of roast beef)
The world's gone mad Don Draper returns and the drooling thirtysomethings go into overdrive But does anybody watch the show? (But there is more Whipple in this post!)