Fuzzy reporting confuses your readers

By Jerry Bellune, Writing Coach

Be specific, my first city editor drummed into my poor rookie brain.

I’ve not forgotten it.

Someone needed to remind this reporter. In an international newspaper, he wrote: 

Hamas released some hostages held in the Gaza Strip and Israel freed some Palestinian prisoners on Friday, as a temporary ceasefire took hold after more than six weeks of war. 

Why did he (and his editor) fail to be more specific? We see this too often in news reporting.

Here is a second example in another widely-read newspaper: 

Evanston, Ill.—School leaders in this college town just north of Chicago have been battling a sizable academic achievement gap between Black, Latino and white students for decades. So a few years ago, the district decided to try something new: classrooms voluntarily separated by race.

We may forgive such generalities as just north of Chicago and for decades but not sizable academic achievement gap and a few years ago

Why not give the achievement gap size and say how many years ago?

Here is what we might consider an acceptable rounding off of numbers in another newspaper: 

Nearly three million people were expected to be on the move Sunday as the country returns to work and regular home routines.

Here is an excellent example of specifics that appeared in a science and technology publication: 

After being attached to the ocean floor for nearly three decades, one of the world’s largest icebergs appears to be gradually moving. According to a BBC report, this immense iceberg covers an area of roughly 4,000 square kilometers (1,500 square miles), which is double the size of Greater London. The thickness of its ice slab is 400 meters (1,312 feet).

Congratulations to the reporter (and editor) for giving us exact measurements and a comparison – double the size of Greater London.

Next: Create scenes to attract your readers 

The above will appear in The Art of Compelling Writing, Volume 3, which is already in the works. Volume 1 and 2 are available at Amazon.com. These books were published to help editors like you teach your reporters how to write better. To comment or with questions, please write JerryBellune@yahoo.com.

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