Thursday, August 14, 2014

The train is coming, the train is coming


 Obituaries make a big, fat target for criticism of poor editing, in part because they are often pulled together at the last moment, since death usually arrives inconveniently.

Newspaper obituary departments maintain files on very prominent people -- presidents, prime ministers, and movie stars -- that are ready to go at a moment's notice, just adding the subject's date, place, and cause of death.

 Lesser known individuals? Let's just say the lack of preparation may show through the final product.

Take, for instance, today's printed Washington Post obit (attributed to the Baltimore Sun) of economist and historian George W. Hilton, who was an expert on transportation. These two paragraphs will do:
Dr. Hilton’s first article in Trains magazine on the Tennessee Central Railroad was published in 1946, and in the intervening years, he wrote more than 25 articles for the magazine.
Dr. Hilton, who contributed more than 25 articles to Trains magazine over the decades, also wrote widely on topics that included British soccer, Gilbert & Sullivan, Sherlock Holmes and theater organs. He also had edited a newsletter for collectors of breweriana.
Either Dr. Hilton wrote 50 articles for two different magazines named "Trains" or some editor fell asleep at the composing desk.

For the record, the Baltimore Sun obituary, written by Frederick N. Rasmussen and slightly longer than what appears in the Post, does not contain the repetitive reference to Hilton's contributions to Trains magazine.

That makes the Post's error even more puzzling and unacceptable.

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