Wick Communications

Sometimes the quote is the story

In Writing techniques on 13 Aug 2015 at 4:40 pm

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In general, I think newswriters depend way too much on quotes. If you are of a certain age, you were taught the inverted pyramid style of newswriting and that you needed some kind of quote long about the third to fifth graph. The corollary is that a pithy quote is often just the way to end your story. And I know: Sometimes you feel naked without those quotes in your story.

The result is that we have burdened readers with landfills worth of worthless quotes that don’t tell and instead sort of rephrase what’s already in the lede. Don’t feel you simply must have a quote up high in your story.

“But Clay,” you say so that I can get that quote up high in this post, “what kind of world are you leaving us? We want to put the story in the words of our sources whenever possible, don’t we?”

Sometimes, yes.

Take Walter Mares’ somewhat incredible story about a rather mundane event in Clifton, Ariz. It appeared in The Copper Era on Aug. 5.

The story is essentially that these two guys were working on their vehicle in a warehouse of some kind. They poured some gasoline in the malfunctioning carburetor in a time-tested – if entirely unsafe – attempt to get some fuel into the engine and prime the pump, as it were. When that didn’t work, these two gentlemen did it again. …


They blew up the car and burned down the building with it. Along comes Mares and one of the guys tells him, and I quote: “What the thing that matters here is, we’re not dead.”

Oh, journalism gods, we pray for many more such gems in the days to come. May they rain down upon us like pennies from your ink-stained heaven.

Quotes work best when they come with a particular voice. You see the same thing in good fiction. There are authors who get character voice right, and there are journalists who do the same. If the guy had told Walter something much less evocative (“I don’t know what happened…”) I would have argued it would only weigh down the story.

But sometimes the quote is the story and worth the price of the paper. Well done, Walter.


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