The sentence that would not end
Well, the last time Thanksgiving approached with its promise of full tummies, I remember encountering what I felt was an egregious example of overstuffed dashes-i.e., way too much material stuffed between the dashes in a sentence. It was unreadable and forced the reader to play hopscotch back to the beginning of the sentence. In the new Vanity Fair, I stumbled badly over another sentence that has way too much stuffing.
It appears in an otherwise interesting, well-written article by Michael Wolff, a two-time National Magazine Award winner and a Vanity Fair columnist. In the article, headlined "Rupert to Internet: It's War!," he describes how media mogul Rupert Murdoch is "bent on making readers actually pay for online newspaper journalism … " (Now there's a concept.)
Following is the relevant passage. The problem area is the second paragraph.
It is difficult not to sound catty when discussing [Murdoch's] News Corporation's adventures with the Internet. But the litany of its failures—even more extreme than those of most other media companies that have struggled unsuccessfully online—is, I think, relevant to understanding exactly what Murdoch might really be trying to do.
From the failure of Delphi, one of the first public-access Internet providers, in 1993, to iGuide, the precursor to Yahoo and Google, which closed within months of its launch, to his son James's aborted Internet-investing spree in the late 90s, to the great promise of MySpace, which was shortly flattened by Facebook, to the second launch of Pagesix.com, which Murdoch closed this year, after four months of operation, Murdoch's Internet starts and stops have engendered at News Corp., in the description of Peter Bale, who once ran the Web site of The Times of London and now runs MSN in the U.K., a relative "fear or abhorrence of technology."
That latter graf—which is actually one run-on sentence—is 109 words long and filled with asides that badly slow it down and delay—and delay—its meaning. Perhaps more importantly, it's what I call a back-loaded sentence, not signaling its basic point until the end. There's a place for such sentences, of course, but they can also exhaust and confuse the poor reader if badly done. In this case, Mr. Wolff was, I think, ill-served by his editors at the normally well-edited magazine who let this one through. (And yes, editors at The Writer make mistakes, too. Please, please, don't ask me about the wrong year I once put in the table of contents. Thank you.)
There seems to be a simple solution here, beyond putting the sentence out of its misery. In this instance, the reader loses nothing and gains a lot if we signal the point of the graf at the start, then follow with the examples. Something like this:
Indeed, Murdoch's Internet starts and stops have engendered at News Corp. a relative "fear or abhorrence of technology," in the description of Peter Bale, who once ran the Web site of The Times of London and now runs MSN in the U.K. Consider these examples: the failure of Delphi, one of the first public-access Internet providers, in 1993; iGuide, the precursor to Yahoo and Google, which closed within months of its launch; his son James's aborted Internet-investing spree in the late 90s; the great promise of MySpace, which was shortly flattened by Facebook; and the second launch of Pagesix.com, which Murdoch closed this year, after four months of operation.
There, was that so hard?
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