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Tuesday, May 24, 2005

SouthKnoxBubba has a good eye for detail... I wonder if he's ever worked on a copy desk. Today he noticed something peculiar in an Associated Press story about funding for the Chickamaugua Lock on the Tennessee River.

Both WATE and the News Sentinel may have had the same story when he read them, but when I checked there was a difference that I'll save here as a quiz for next fall's journalism students:

What's the big difference between these two versions of the lead sentence?

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A House committee has passed a bill that includes all the money needed to replace the aging Chickamauga Lock on the Tennessee River at Chattanooga.

Knoxville News Sentinel
By Associated Press
WASHINGTON - Congress would provide all the money needed to keep the construction of the replacement for the aging Chickamauga Lock on track under a bill passed by a House spending panel last week.

Shorter isn't always better. The difference between "all the money needed to replace..." and "all the money needed to keep the construction... on track..." is, something like Mark Twain said -- the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug.

The appropriation that passed through the committee is $10 million, which doesn't go as far as it used to. "All the money needed to replace" the lock is estimated at more than $300 million, something a copy editor could have checked in the files, even if the reporter didn't. No files? Just search the Web using

A quick look pulled up these sources:
As SKB mentioned, the News Sentinel's Washington Bureau did a good job earlier in the week, calling the funds "$10 million to continue preliminary construction work."

I don't know whether WATE edited the story or just picked up an AP "broadcast wire" (a shorter form of a longer "print wire" version), or if the long version's earlier draft had the same problem until someone caught it for a later news cycle.

Says SKB, mincing no words:
"Either the Corps of Engineers found somebody having a fire sale on dam locks, or this reporter is an idiot and the local media is too dumb to notice. The price tag for the locks project is $315 million and it has yet to be fully funded."

My guess is that the reporter is no idiot, but that an overworked AP copy editor was in too much of a hurry to squeeze the story into less space. At first glance, "all the money needed to keep the construction... on track..." probably just looked wordy, but the edit took the story off track.

12:50:05 PM    

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