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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Surely "etc." has no place in a news report?

Here is a portion of a badly written press release (something I made up for a news-writing exercise at Commits):

The ten categories at the Ibda'a awards (Ibda'a means 'creativity in the Arabic language) were print journalism, print advertising, radio feature, television documentary, television advertising, animation, graphic design, analogue photography, digital photography and film feature, and students from many countries sent entries, including the US, Egypt, the UAE, South Africa, the UK, etc.

There are many things wrong with it, not the least of which is that abbreviation at the end. Journalists would not use "etc" in a news story because that could imply that they do not have all the necessary information at hand. And surely no reader likes to think that their newspaper has published an incomplete report.

But a case could be made for using "etc." for emphasis, for effect. As in this excerpt from a New York Times book review:

Sometimes reading the book feels like being trapped in a particularly dull town hall meeting — as on the ­pages that ­bullet-point Hillary’s accomplishments as secretary of state or the achievements of the Clinton Foundation: “More than 33,500 tons of greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced annually,” etc., etc. Sometimes it reads like a generic ad designed to introduce a political newbie: Hillary is “a woman with a steadfast commitment to public service, a clear political vision and a deep well of personal integrity.” Or the version that might fit on a bumper sticker: “America is so ready for Hillary,” because “she is so ready to lead.”

In the paragraph reproduced above, "etc." has been used (twice in succession) to convey to the reader that "this is all so much fluff". It works here, but I can't see it working in a regular news story. Can you?

Now, here, in the same vein, is an excerpt from the footnotes to a profile of Roger Federer by David Foster Wallace in Play magazine, which used to be published by The New York Times (this piece dates from August 20, 2006):

There are wonderful things about having a body, too, obviously — it’s just that these things are much harder to feel and appreciate in real time. Rather like certain kinds of rare, peak-type sensuous epiphanies (“I’m so glad I have eyes to see this sunrise!” etc.), great athletes seem to catalyze our awareness of how glorious it is to touch and perceive, move through space, interact with matter.

As for that badly written press release right at the beginning, here's an acceptable version:

Entries for the Ibda’a Awards, named after the Arabic word for creativity, were submitted by students from many countries, including the US, the UK, South Africa, Egypt and the UAE. The 10 categories this year were print journalism, print advertising, radio feature, television documentary, television advertising, animation, graphic design, analogue photography, digital photography and film feature.

Not an "etc." in sight.