My sharp-eyed, 23-year-old daughter Brooks, who has the makings of a good editor, called my attention to a Sunday New York Times story that had an unusual number of glitches, mostly related to missing and misused words.
It was a 17-paragraph story, inside the front section, about how a 340-ton, 21-foot-tall boulder was transported 60 miles from a quarry to the downtown Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Borne on a 196-wheel-transport truck, the boulder arrived at its destination at 4:35 a.m. Saturday and was greeted by a boisterous crowd of more than 1,000.
Within the next month, the boulder will be placed over a cut trench and opened to the public as an exhibit.
The story was fascinating and carried a catchy headline:
“Lights! Cameras! (And Cheers) For a rock Weighing 340 Tons.”
The writer was Adam Nagourney, a very well-known Times reporter. Nagourney, 57, was chief national political correspondent for The Times from 2002 to 2010, when he was appointed Los Angeles Bureau Chief.
The first 10 paragraphs of the story were free and clear of problems, as far as I could tell, but the last seven paragraphs were marred by six glitches.
Take a look:
Paragraph 11: “Los Angeles is not a particularly late-night city, and people who made it there at 4:30 in the morning either found a new use for the disco naps of their use or stayed up all night.”
Huh? Try this…”either found a new use for disco naps or stayed up all night.”
Paragraph 12: “Jeff Miller, 32, (blank) to a Guns N Roses show at the Hollywood Palladium that lasted, he reported, until close to 3 a.m.”
The missing word? “Went.”
Paragraph 12 (continued): “At that point, he figured he would just make a night of it and headed over to (blank) museum.
Paragraph 13: “By the end, the convey traveled 100 miles of road to cover 60 miles of distance…”
“Convey?” No comprende. How about “convoy?”
Paragraph 14: “And in any event, this did not appear to (blank blank) routines of people who are accustomed to late nights.”
If you guessed “disrupt the routines,” you get a gold star.
Against that backdrop of screw-ups, the last paragraph of the story began like this:
“Mr. Miller, who stayed up all night, said he had rarely witnessed events like this here.”
Now, had the story been otherwise glitch-free, I would have construed the italicized words to mean that Miller had rarely witnessed events such as this taking place in Los Angeles.
But in light of the mind-boggling word jumble that had gone before, I tended to interpret them this way: “Mr. Miller who stayed up all night, said he had rarely witnessed events like this here event.”
When a writer and a newspaper throw junk at the reader, what they get in return is disgust and even contempt from readers. That’s when you start hearing people say, “That paper contains so many grammatical errors that you can hardly read it!”
And that is exactly the kind of attitude that newspapers can no longer afford. Readers now have 340 tons of options for where they can go to get their news without having their intelligence insulted.
Editor’s Note: The errors were corrected in the online version of the story — the version that is linked above…”This here” stayed as is…or was, or whatever.
Editor’s Note, No. 2: I’ve got an e-mail in to Art Brisbane, The Times’ “public editor,” asking him essentially, “What the hell happened with this here story?”