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Sight Reading The Locals

a job reading for the blind calls attention to defective writing by the sighted

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, February 07, 1996.

Recently I spent an hour or so at the Radio Reading Service of the Rockies. This altogether worthy endeavor tapes and broadcasts programming solely for the blind, and my job was to cut and arrange clippings from the three major newspapers in Boulder County, and then - together with a partner - read them for our listeners. It was kind of fun, reading copy cold, written by people you know or never met. The contrasts between the Daily Camera, the Colorado Daily, and the Longmont Daily Times-Call are startling.

The Daily, once a college paper that desperately wanted independence and now an independent paper perpetually on bended knee to the college community, was - at first and second glance - often the paper with the best coverage of city events. Often, this is because writer and editor know the story will be short and one paragraph. Hence, that one paragraph is often rewritten to achieve a coherence and Spartan accuracy missing in the other papers. Sentences are sometimes too long to be read aloud in one aged breath, but since clauses are clear, the substitution of period for comma makes radio editing a cinch.

The Daily Camera varies wildly. It has, however, the best writer in county journalism in Wes Blomster. This distinction is the more remarkable when you consider how narrow his field is, essentially classical music and related areas. But in the years I’ve read him, I cannot recall ever feeling Blomster had 1) not been present for the item reviewed, 2) had not studied up on the piece before attending, 3) was not fair in his opinion or 4) most important for us cold readers, not read his copy to himself aloud. His writing, often resplendent with multi-, multi-syllabic German and Italian words, reads effortlessly. Anyone who has tried to review music knows how hard consistency and originality can be. Try writing a jazz review without using the word “soaring” to describe the sax.

Then we come to the Longmont Daily Times Call. What to say. On the one hand, it is impressive that the editors are kind enough to employ as writers dyslexic simians. On the other, it is unfortunate they could find none to whom English was a coherent language. Copy from the Times-Call often read like those instructions for VCRs translated from the Japanese into English by a monolingual Inuit armed with a Japanese-Inuit, Inuit-English set of manuals. Sentences were repetitive, annoying, incoherent, and unreadable.

Whatever guide to good journalism still exists, one should be that all copy can be read aloud easily the first time. The Times Call copy required Talmudic editing before being read. That is bad, awful writing by any standard.

In short, reading the news for the blind was an eye-opener for me and ought to be for some local editors.