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(In her view, television reporters on a murder story are concerned almost exclusively with whether they’re going to be able to get a picture of the authorities removing the body from the premises, the only other question that truly engages them being whether they’re going to get the picture in time for the six-o’clock news.) There are editors who want to cut a story even though it was virtually ordained to run at least sixteen inches.
There are editors—often the same editors—who will try to take an interesting detail out of the story simply because the detail happens to horrify or appall them.
I’m rather partial to the Edna lead on a story last year about a woman about to go on trial for a murder conspiracy: “Bad things happen to the husbands of Widow Elkin.” On the other hand, I can understand the preference that others have for the device of beginning a crime story with a more or less conventional sentence or two, then snapping the reader back in his chair with an abbreviated sentence that is used like a blunt instrument.
One student of the form at the editor, who, in a remarkable reporting career that concentrated on the felonious, won the Pulitzer Prize twice for stories that resulted in the release of people in prison for murder.
, there is some disagreement about which of Edna Buchanan’s first paragraphs stands as the classic Edna lead. The fried-chicken story was about a rowdy ex-con named Gary Robinson, who late one Sunday night lurched drunkenly into a Church’s outlet, shoved his way to the front of the line, and ordered a three-piece box of fried chicken.
Persuaded to wait his turn, he reached the counter again five or ten minutes later, only to be told that Church’s had run out of fried chicken.
She wears her hair in a heavy blond shoulder-length fall.
Her eyes are wide, and her brow is often furrowed in concern.
She would like to think of her clips stored in a place called a morgue rather than a place called an editorial reference library. As a girl growing up around Paterson, New Jersey, she used to read the New York tabloids out loud to her grandmother—a Polish grandmother, who didn’t read English—and she still likes to roll out the names of the memorable felons in those stories: names like George Metesky, the Mad Bomber, and Willie Sutton, the man who robbed banks because that’s where the money was.
She even has a period look about her—something that recalls the period around 1961.
She is a very thin woman in her forties who tends to dress in slacks and silk shirts and high heels.
Daily police reporting—what is sometimes known in the trade as covering the cops—is still associated with that old-timer who had a desk in the station house and didn’t have to be told by the sergeant in charge which part of the evening’s activities to leave out of the story and thought of himself as more or less a member of the department.
Covering the cops is often something a reporter does early in his career—an assignment that can provide him with enough war stories in six months to last him through years on the business page or the city desk.