“Dabs not slabs”

Peter Mosley

Background is essential but good writers take great care where they choose to place it. Too much background too high in the story is a switch-off for readers; however, a little explanation and context is usually needed quite quickly – is this event a ‘first’?, for instance, or maybe it is a tit-for-tat situation or a court case where a charge needs to be explained briefly. The trick is to weave such ‘instant’ background into the running narrative, rather than interrupt the flow by inserting a whole slab. “Dabs, not slabs,” as the late, great George Short, Reuters Training Editor, used to say. More next week about how to handle in-depth background.

Peter Mosely

1 thought on ““Dabs not slabs”

  1. Hello Peter.
    George was not always a model of editorial rectitude. When I worked at Reuters in the 1960s he would often delight me by asking “What is the cliché for … ?” as he worked on a story.

    During the Vietnam War he wove an invented quote into a story about the Tet offensive, along the lines of “‘Don’t send us any more heroes’, said a doctor. ‘They’ve done enough damage already.'”

    AAP in Sydney clamoured to know if the doctor was Australian, but the wily overnight editor (“the Prince of Darkness”) managed to lose the message.

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