It's my general practice to write nothing useful here at Writing Boots, lest readers feel guilty for getting something for nothing, and start resenting me for making them feel that way. So any constructive effects of my criticism are strictly accidental.
But goddamn, journalists do need how to learn how to use quotations in news stories.
They run quotes that are three paragraphs long. Riddle me this, scribe-o: What are the chances that your blathering source just spewed exactly the 350 consecutive words that advance your story most efficiently? Brother, can you paraphrase?
They open stories with quotations, on the theory that the utterance is so inherently arresting, even out of context, that the reader will be mesmerized into reading on indefinitely. My first boss Mark Ragan told me it was fine with him I started a story with the quote—as long the quote was, "Okay, okay—I killed her!" Anything short of that, and I'd better arrange the stage before bringing on the actors.
They create quotes that "don't need to be quotes." Let's remember the two reasons why quotes were invented in the first place:
1. In an important news story, you use quotes to make it clear that the VIP subject actually said the significant or astonishing thing. Nixon said, "I am not a crook," which is stronger than a reporter writing, "Nixon indicated he was not a criminal."
2. In a feature story, you use quotes to add a dash of sound that gives a sense of the subject's personality or mood. Yet, see how a local CBS station writes up a story about a restaurant that's closing. "Jeff Richey says he used to take his two daughters to Ed's when they were younger. He says he has 'fond memories' of the place. He was hoping to be able to buy something at the auction to 'remember it by.'"
If your source can't give you more colorful quotes than that, find a better source. And if you can't find a better source then Christ almighty, find a better story.
Quotes are mood altering substances, on the moderate use of which noted journalist Hunter S. Thompson had the last word:
“We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers… and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls.
Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked into a serious drug collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can.”
Let's get a hold of ourselves.