Sounds like blah, blah, blah
Let’s see if we can guess why so many readers find conventional journalistic writing bloated and dull. Here is a typical lead to a recent news story:
In the wake of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, congressional negotiators completed work Friday on landmark legislation that dramatically expands the government’s oversight of the financial industry.
The first thing that hits the reader squarely in the eyes is in the wake of. What that says is that something other than what I am talking to you about already happened, and I am going to delay telling you what the new thing is. Also, unless you are following a large boat, in the wake of is no more than a hackneyed metaphor.*
Add to that that at least a few of the readers, perhaps those picking up discarded newspapers in public places because they have been out of work for several months, had already heard that we are in the middle of hard times.
But the new thing is landmark legislation, and not only is it a landmark, but it will — surprise, surprise — dramatically do something or other.**
So what we have is a thirty-word opening paragraph padded with superfluous adjectives and throat-clearing that tells us things we already know before it gets around to telling us what the news is. It could have had you in about half the words: Congressional negotiators completed work Friday on legislation that expands government’s oversight of the financial industry.
The original is not inaccurate or ungrammatical or unclear. It is just dull and, well, kind of dumb, and reader-repellant. And it is what about ninety percent of journalism, both print and electronic, amounts to these days. It needs, and doesn’t often get, editing.
*Note to staff: Cross in the wake of off your list of stock expressions.
**Note to staff: Add landmark and dramatically to that list.