Case Study 9

4 Apr

As an editor, the case of how to deal with the death of an unborn child is a complicated one. Journalists face semantics issues like this every day, but few are as loaded as this one. As the Tribune’s editor realized, how you refer to a pregnant woman’s death is tied very closely to the abortion debate, and to the question of how much time passes before a fetus is “truly alive.” You try to keep such things on the opinion page, not the locals.

Yet there’s a simple fix here to circumvent the whole issue. The last paragraph of the original story refers to “the three victims” in passing. Reading through it, I found everything else to be neutral – referring to the woman as pregnant instead of mentioning “the death of the unborn child”, etc. – so this was the only thing that jumped out at me.

The editor should’ve just lost the number. Just write “the victims” instead and let the readers make their own judgement as to how many lives were lost. The fetus obviously died as a direct result of the mother’s carbon monoxide poisoning, so the sentence wouldn’t even need to be rewritten.

If I were the editor here, I would’ve kept Occam’s razor in mind and gone with this simple solution. Of course, such is the irony with editing and journalism; too often the simplest solutions are overlooked when rewriting a story.


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