Authors: For a hug and a nominal fee, this reporter would be proud to edit the “news article” in your MS.
My day job imposes on my hobby as a YA novel enthusiast when I read a news “article” in novels. While the author’s intent is to add to or move along the story, the over-dramatic prose, adjectives, and lack of objectivity present in these “articles” in no way resembles a news story, and frankly, gives me a chuckle.
I find it somewhat ridiculous that major publishing houses do not employ at least one journalist to glance over a novel’s news “article” and bring it up to AP Style, the accepted style for newspapers. In short, I find it as unprofessional as writing a critical essay for a literature journal and ignoring MLA Style.
In honor of the movie premiere of the newest installment in The Twilight Saga, I present a news article found on page 279 of Stephenie Meyer’s “Eclipse,” followed by my edits and suggestions.
Seattle terrorized by slayings
“It’s been less than a decade since the city of Seattle was the hunting ground of the most prolific serial killer in U.S. History. Gary Ridgeway, the Green River Killer, was convicted of the murders of 48 women.”
The first paragraph of a story, as we journalists call news articles, is called the “lead” and is meant to give readers the gist of the story in 30 words of less. After reading Meyer’s lead, you may think the story is about serial killer Gary Ridgeway.
You would be wrong. Not until the end of a very long third paragraph do we find there are new killings having nothing to do with Ridgeway.
Here’s how I would have written this lede:
Police are searching for the person or persons responsible for the 39 Seattle homicides and disappearances with the last three months.
Due to the large number of homicides and disappearance, police believe gang activity may be the cause, said Police Chief John Doe.
Which brings me to my next point: if you read any news article across the planet, relevant people, called sources, will be interviewed. As a reporter, it is not your job to give your opinion. It is your job to interview the experts.
Meyer’s “reporter” would not be an expert on homicide. Therefore, she should have interviewed an expert, aka a police chief, who could have shed light on the murders using his or her years of expertise and training.
A further example of Meyer’s “editorializing” can be found in the second paragraph:
“And now a beleaguered Seattle must face the possibility that it could be harboring an even more terrifying monster at this very moment.”
This is complete conjecture. All we know at this point, the second paragraph in the story, is that in the past, a serial killer murdered women in Seattle.
It is purely the reporter’s opinion that the person behind the homicides is a “terrifying monster.”
If this article were published in a newspaper, this reporter could incite a riot by her ridiculous hyperbole and sensationalism.
More Meyer article quotes:
“More gruesome yet, most of the remains show the evidence of brutal violence.” (Again, Meyer inserts her own opinion.)
“And the most alarming pattern? Acceleration.” (This could work if the police officer said it. But he didn’t.)
“A vicious new gang or a wildly active serial killer? Or something else the police haven’t yet conceived of? Only one conclusion is indisputable: something hideous is stalking Seattle.”(I’m sure the police would appreciate this comment.)
Later on, buried underneath overly verbose prose, we find out the 39 murders have happened in a short period. The victims are all races, ages and creeds and were burned after death. No evidence was found at the scene.
Here’s how I would have continued the article:
“This is too much for one person to do in such a short amount of time,” Doe said. “We encourage residents to call CrimeStoppers immediately if they have any information pertaining to the crimes.”
Doe said there appears to be no pattern to the victims: they ranged in age and race and had been taken from both public and private places.
“The selection appears random,” Doe said.
Every victim had been burned and dumped, Doe said, adding that in many victims, bones had been crushed before the time of death.
However, all victims disappeared at night. Doe asks Seattle residents to stay inside as much as possible after nightfall.
No fingerprints or any other physical evidence were found at the crime scenes, Doe said. There are no suspects at this time.
And because no self-respecting newspaper interviews only one person, I’d go on to interview the mayor of Seattle and maybe an expert on serial killers.
To conclude, authors, I beg of you. If a news article is required to move your story along, call up your local community newspaper and just have one or two reporters glance over it. You could be surprised.