Adventures in Lede Writing, Or Don’t Try This At Home Folks, NY Times Sports Page Department

The first two paragraphs of today’s Times piece on the Boston Celtics victory over King James and his Cleveland court, presented uncut, for your edification:

When the Boston Celtics sputtered through the regular season, they were dismissed with descriptions appropriate for a high-mileage car. They were old, slow and unreliable.

They might have leaked leads often this season — particularly in the fourth quarter — but they are still effective in large doses, and Rajon Rondo, their point guard, remains a blur on the court and a pest to opponents.

Mix metaphors much?*

This blog is ostensibly about science, especially in its intersection with public life.  It does a fair amount of politics/critique of political coverage (in which I try to nod, at least, at something informed by science defined pretty damn loosely). But every now and then the reader and writer in me just gets loose.

This is one of those times.

So, to recap:  the Celtics are a malfunctioning car; they leak (which I suppose a car could do, but is something I associate more with boats and buckets), they are a drug, an optical illusion and must be very well dressed, for a key player is identified as quite gnatty. (Sorry.)

Oh FSM, is this bad writing.

Not only do the images collide into incoherence, the whole thing just doesn’t make sense.  How does being a drug that is effective when consumed with Belushi-like incaution fix leaks? I mean, huh?

I know that sports pages have long been an incubator for self-consciously edge-teetering writing/writers.  Some of the habits have infected other sections, some places (see, e.g., the metaphor happy stylings that shows up from time to time in Science Times.)

But while the play of images can truly transport a reader into the world of the story, you have to remember:  you, the writer are the master and commander of that transport, and not the other way round.  The author of the passage above had long since lost control of his charges.  What you see there is what happens when the inmates (swarming one’s brain) take over the asylum.

Ah.  That feels better.

*I know, I know. But I got my professional writing start at Time Inc., where not only backward reeled the sentences until boggled the mind, but alliteration alleviated that aggravations of the day. Sometimes the apple just doesn’t fall that far from its aboriginal arborial accomodations.

Don’t forget to tip the nice people bringing you drinks — and come back, y’all.  I’ll be here all week.

Image:  J. W. M. Turner, “The Fifth Plague of the Egyptians:  The Plague (die Peste).”  1800.  O.K.:  I know it’s a reach. But I love Turner, and the title almost gets us there, and heck, it’s no more a non sequitur than anything in the original, so there.  Plus, it’s my blog. Also.

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5 Comments on “Adventures in Lede Writing, Or Don’t Try This At Home Folks, NY Times Sports Page Department”


  1. “[Y]ou, the writer are the master and commander of that transport, and not the other way round. The author of the passage above had long since lost control of his charges. What you see there is what happens when the inmates (swarming one’s brain) take over the asylum.”

    You might have replaced the inmates with sailors under the command of a Bligh-ty writer and kept your own metaphors all nautical and thus not, by your own standard, naughty-cal. Sorry, just pun-ting along the river…

    • Tom Says:

      I have been hoisted by the petard of my wit and wisdom, waning. (In-joke, folks, between old, old friends.

  2. Ted K Says:

    You wanna give sports writers a hard time??? Try Mitch Albom. Mitch has been busted at least twice for “lifting quotes”. My grade school teachers called “lifting quotes” plagiarism, but what the hell did they know??? (people even have questioned if he makes stuff up, he claims at the end of watching the film “Gran Torino” near Detroit the entire theatre of people stood up and applauded at the end of the movie. Did anyone else see that at their viewing of “Gran Torino” around Detroit??? So moving to read in a story though, eh??? Only a “Magical Mitch Moment” I think).

    Apparently people love reading Mitch’s coincidentally exactly matching lines of other sports writers material like they enjoy reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “retelling” of history.
    http://apse.dallasnews.com/news/2005/041105albom1.html

    http://www.michigandaily.com/content/definition-plagiarism-limbo-speakers-argue

    http://www.aim.org/media-monitor/selective-ethics-tar-news-media/

    • Tom Says:

      I could see your Albom and raise you a Barnicle, but I’m not really after sports writers, just bad writers…or really, as I’ve committed plenty of offenses against the language my own sweet self (see the comment above), bad writing, which is a sin we are all at risk of committing.

      • Ted K Says:

        I Knew you weren’t picking on sports writers in particular. It’s more of a pet peeve of mine because I’m a sports fan who grew up in Oklahoma. The Daily Oklahoman for years had one of the worst written sports pages in the nation. Sometimes I’ve done very bad writing. Grammar errors, spelling (even the old to-too, by-buy or their-there I still screw up on quite common when I’m in a hurry). The point is at least I’m trying, and I’m not being paid to do it. When people get paid to do it, steal, or just don’t make an effort, it burns me to no end. As it does you. And you’re certainly have more room to speak (write, criticize) than I do.

        And you know what, as much as I hate (yes HATE) Mitch Albom, I would forgive him if he had ever “fessed up” to his swipes and false reports. But similar to Doris Kearns Goodwin, he seems to live in this ulterior world where if he just goes on and never recognizes it, it didn’t happen. Unfortunately his editors at the Detroit Free Press “enabled” him at the time.


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