Two ledes over the past week are both offensive and incomprehensible.
Rosie DiManno loves her ledes. The top Toronto Star columnist is also quick to criticize others, as any journalist who provides commentary and analysis on a quick turnaround must be prepared to do. However, she does not appear prepared to accept criticism for her own work, and certainly not when it comes to her precious ledes.
Over the past week, DiManno has written two offensive ledes—one that refers to the “n-word” in jest, and another that used the word “injun.”
When readers naturally push back against this kind of writing on Twitter, DiManno has none of it.
Good ledes can grab the reader’s attention by laying out key facts, using clever turns of phrase, and framing issues in an insightful and incisive way. They’re a cue to the reader as to whether it’s worth their time to read on, and for this reason, writers and editors devote a disproportionate amount of time and energy to really nailing the first paragraph of the article.
Here’s what that looks like when DiManno, who has been with the Star for 40 years and has the rare freedom to write about pretty much whatever she wants, profiles Toronto Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin’s ability to throw out baserunners:
— Jake Goldsbie (@JGoldsbie) October 14, 2016
If you feel the need to allude to the n-word to grab the reader’s attention—as if this column is some kind of amateur act by a clueless comedian—then you should rework your lede before filing. Sure, it’s done in jest. Isn’t it clever? (No.) But it’s also distracting from the actual article, not particularly funny, and the only way it gets someone to read on is as a hate-read. Maybe DiManno can take a step back and analyze her work with more perspective? After all, we all have bad days at work and sentences we’d like to re-work. Not so much. After the tweet above, DiManno would then block Jake Goldsbie on Twitter, presumably for the devastating critique of repeating her own words with “Uhhhhh” attached to them. She wasn’t that responsive to more direct criticism.
Sportswriter Alex Arthur offers the entirely reasonable criticism that focusing your lede on a joke about the n-word is inappropriate.
Writing as a postmodern enfant terrible, DiManno replies that Arthur doesn’t own words. Which is true! He also doesn’t own bad journalism and just seems to be asking for DiManno to take responsibility for that.
No one owns words, but DiManno does have ownership over which words she uses—and she should rightly be judged on that basis.
This was not the only awful DiManno lede this week.
— (((Leah Kessel))) (@leahflame) October 16, 2016
Not only is this lede offensive (injun? Really?), it’s also indecipherable. The Star fixed the “injun” part of this lede, but they did not run an apology or update. (Typically publications don’t run corrections for small changes like fixing typos and comma splices, but will for material updates.) Toronto journalists have long suspected DiManno is considered too big to edit at the Star, and this lede really shows it. The language is unwieldy, the imagery confusing, and she tries and fails to be clever. For anyone who cares about words, and the order they are placed in, reading this passage is agonizing. It is the kind of lede that talented journalists across the city roll their eyes at, marvelling at the fact that it was published. When readers challenge her on Twitter—albeit one calls her a bitch, which is unnecessary and shitty—she responds with the subtlety and thoughtfulness that one can expect from her columns.
DiManno can use rhetoric exceptionally well at times, and for better or for worse she is a Toronto Star institution. But that standing does not give her a free pass. She should also not be above editing or criticism, and as a columnist who clearly prides herself on writing eye-catching and effective ledes, she should definitely not need to lean on using the “n-word” or “injun” to attract readers.