August 26, 2008

Let's do away with datelines

Tupperware is based in Orlando.

Standard & Poors is based in New York.

Which doesn't explain why this article about S&P upgrading Tupperware's corporate credit rating is datelined "Mumbai."

Datelines originated with wire services, which would begin a transmitted story with the place and date the story was written.

Wikipedia's Dateline article gives this example:

"BEIRUT, Lebanon, June 2 — The outlook was uncertain today as ..."

That's how the story would appear to an editor pulling it from the wires. When it appeared in the newspaper, the date would usually be omitted, leaving the now misnamed "dateline" to carry only the location.

Of course, pre-Internet, a writer writing a story about Beirut was presumed to be in Beirut.

But now, in the interest of saving money, agencies are farming news-gathering tasks out to Mumbai and other points east.

I'm going to leave the question of whether this makes journalistic sense for another time. The truth is, the Mumbai correspondent did a proper job on the Tupperware story. What I want to address today is whether the story's having been written in India is of importance to the reader.

It is not. It is a useful piece of information, but the reader, for the most part, does not care. For his own good, he should be told, but not necessarily first thing.

We ought not yell "MUMBAI" at our readers before telling them a story about New York and Orlando. Let's spare them that incongruity. Let's just tell them the story and then, at the end, whisper, in italics, "This story was written by Our Correspondent in Mumbai."

There was a time when datelines made sense. They no longer do. Except when they're used to actually convey the date.

No comments:

Post a Comment