This blog in English. ONLY in English (Part 7)

We thought we’d wrap up this examination of English, only English today but as we went through the newsroom folder that contains examples of those of the experiences we have had or pieces we’ve read, we came across this one that we have to pass along.

One of the most difficult decisions for reporters to make, whether their medium is print or electronic, is what to excerpt from a statement or an interview that adds illumination to a story. There has always been, to our knowledge, the ethical question of how much any quotation can be edited. Is it okay to edit a comment as long as the meaning is not altered? In print, three periods within a quote indicate some words have been left out. Perhaps it results from a person beginning a statement and then wandering far afield before coming back to the concluding point. Reading the entire quote would likely confuse the reader, so ellipses (the three periods) are used. Sometimes on television you see a slight visual jump that indicates a bite has been edited. In radio it’s harder to determine although sometimes a slight change in voice inflection is a cue.

Here is an example of the kind of statement that gives reporters headaches, spoken by someone you might expect should be able to use the English language well—a candidate for high state office. The name is not revealed to protect the guilty. It was during a campaign several years ago when a candidate for state treasurer was asked, “Should all of the state government’s money be deposited in state banks?” The question was asked because some of the state’s idle funds had been placed in out-of-state banks that offered better interest rates than Missouri banks offered. Here’s the answer.

“You need to have some type, some type of flexibility there and when you look at the amount of money that… incumbent treasurer _________ raised last year, especially in the overnight, you know, the, uh, repurchase agreements and the stuff in the New York money market, that’s a lot of money, you know, sixty million dollars is a lot of money and if and if, uh, his staff that has been there a while feel that that is the best place to put that money then until a better system is devised then I’m sure it has worked well for him. He is, uh, needless to say, that is an influx of money that is sorely needed in the state coffers and I think that it would be, it’s really silly to throw a whole lot of rocks at that.

“We’re looking for issues and when you look at the constitution and when you look at the state statutes it tells you that the state treasurer should keep Missouri’s money working for the best overall good of the state so your immediate reaction is why is that money going out in repurchase agreements and New York money market and I guess we both, both, uh, kind of looked at that and said maybe there’s a, ummmm, better way to run the railroad, but, uh, overall and especially some of the findings of this commission is that, is that, uh, I think probably (a former treasurer) did the massive overhaul and I think that (the incumbent) has probably been a good administrator and the only, (another former treasurer) has given him glowing remarks, glowing marks rather, and we, we, we’re just gonna have to wait and get in and see and, and, uh, but I think it’s always good like the two things we talked about downstairs before, it’s good to have that kind of leeway just in case, you know, I don’t know, I don’t like to make promises or make pledges until I get down and see how something operates.”

Honest to God, that’s his answer, English word for English word, to a twelve-word question. Perhaps it’s a great example of why drivers license exams are multiple choice, not essay form. Of course the legislature could change that and require English-only essay responses. And why not? As years go by we could find a way to use the answers to gauge whether the MAP tests given our elementary and secondary students actually measure skills that are useful in adulthood.

The drivers license testing bill is in the Senate now. We’ll let you know how seriously the senators want to address the issue of “whose English” will be used.

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