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Don't lie to the reader

I
f journalism has a Hippocratic oath, this is it. Most violations of this canon aren't deliberate untruths; they're symptoms of the same odd tendency that causes most of the common-sense-defying feats I'm railing against here: Reporters and editors think they can get away with not reporting and not editing because readers have some strange telepathic ability to get beyond their prose and into their craniums.

Case in point: A graphic's headline and introductory paragraph say the graphic is a list of mutual funds that require "no minimum investment." One of my rim editors pointed out that this is highly unlikely; it might be a low minimum requirement, but it's hard to imagine walking into the offices of the Steadfast Amalgamated Pleistocene Hirsute Diverse Growth Fund and plunking down a penny or a dollar or even $100 and not being told to get lost.

Then again, it's possible, which is why we put the question to an editor who would know. Instead of checking it out, however, he pretty much agreed that those examples disproved the text but insisted that readers would read it "within the bounds of reality."

Yes, there's sometimes a fine line between nitpicking and turning into Greg from the classic "Exact Words" episode of "The Brady Bunch," but I don't think this is even a close call. "No minimum" means "no minimum."

To use yet another TV reference, I'm reminded of the "Monty Python" sketch about cannibalism in the Royal Navy, in which one officer says, "And when we say there is none, we mean there is a certain amount."

Outside of obvious attempts at humor, it's not a good idea to write something that you don't intend to be taken seriously.


Now what?

Move on to WALSH SAYS RULE NOT FOLLOWED

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