In my last post, I promised to continue discussing the frequency of errors in newspaper articles. Last week I tried to read an article in The Birmingham News about a woman who had been recruiting homeless people to cash counterfeit checks for her. By the time I reached the end of the article, I had highlighed seven errors, which I will share with you here, along with their corrections.
Whoops #1: As written, this sentence makes it sound as if the woman was driving a car that had a typewriter for a sidecar.
Law enforcement recovered $22,000 in counterfeit checks from the car she was driving along with a typewriter, he said.
The problem here is poor word order. The phrase about the typewriter belongs next to the counterfeit checks because both things were recovered. The sentence should read this way:
Law enforcement recovered a typewriter and $22,000 in counterfeit checks from the car she was driving, he said.
Whoops #2: The problem with this sentence is subject/verb agreement.
According to a preliminary estimate, a little over $110,000 in counterfeit checks were seized by law enforcement from Tate's home and car the day she was arrested, Bailey testified.
A LITTLE OVER $110,000 is a lump sum of money and should be considered singular. It should not be used with the plural verb WERE. The verb should be WAS.
NOTE: An even more efficient way to improve this sentence and avoid the WAS/WERE decision is to make it active rather than passive:
According to a preliminary estimate, law enforcement seized a little over $110,000 in counterfeit checks from Tate's home and car the day she was arrested, Bailey testified.
Whoops #3: This glitch has to do with verb tense.
…her role was to show others involved where the banks are and where the homeless people congregated, he said.
The writer should decide whether he is speaking in the present tense or the past tense. If he says HER ROLE WAS, then he should not say WHERE THE BANKS ARE (present tense) and then flip back to the past tense with THE HOMELESS PEOPLE CONGREGATED. If they congregated in the past, why would you need them where the banks are now? The sentence should read this way to be parallel in structure and verb tense:
…her role was to show others involved where the banks were and where the homeless people congregated, he said.
Whoops #4 and #5: Strings of phrases can confuse meaning. The writer should also remember that AN rather than A is the correct article (noun determiner) in front of a word that begins with a vowel.N N writer should also remember that An g. The also
Investigators had been looking into Tate and others after a incident in the fall of 2011 after authorities were alerted to a incident in Trussville where someone tried to cash a counterfeit check.
The two AFTER(s) confuse the time frame. The two uses of INCIDENT make it sound as if there are two separate incidents. WHERE should refer to location, not function. Here is what I consider a better version of this sentence:
Investigators had been looking into Tate and others after authorities were alerted to an incident in Trussville in the fall of 2011 during which someone tried to cash a counterfeit check.
Whoops #6: A comma should not needlessly separate one clause from another. If a subordinate clause comes after an independent clause, it should not be set off with a comma.
The woman from Atlanta tried to hide about $15,000 in counterfeit checks under the vehicle, when police approached.
NOTE: This sentence might be more effective if the WHEN clause were placed at the beginning. If it is placed there, the comma would come after APPROACHED:
When police approached, the woman from Atlanta tried to hide about $15,000 in counterfeit checks under the vehicle.
Whoops #7: When using pronouns like THEIR and THEM, it should be clear to the reader who THEY are in the sentence:
Between six and 12 homeless people have identified Tate as having recruited them during their investigation.
As written, this sentence makes it sound as if the homeless people were conducting the investigation. THEM refers to the homeless people Tate recruited, but THEIR is meant to refer to the police investigators. That won't work. The phrase DURING THE INVESTIGATION should probably be left completely out of this sentence because I doubt that Tate was doing the recruiting during the investigation. Here is how the sentence should read:
Between six and 12 homeless people have identified Tate as having recruited them.
Seven errors in one article would suggest that the writer did not proofread what he wrote. It would also suggest that The Birmingham News is no longer making good use of copy editors in the newsroom.