Time for an update on my The End of True? post from about a month ago — which is no longer online because it was confusing people.
First, in that earlier post I said very clearly that 1) “I have NOT made any decisions yet” and 2) “True won’t stop.” That’s still the case. But, I said, I “might be on the last year of True.” — which “has always been the case. We never know how long we’ll be on this planet.”
I suggested that, if nothing else, True could continue with re-runs. I had assumed that few would want me to consider hiring other writers for the stories. While some said that would be fine, the vast majority was very clear — in both the comments on the earlier post and, especially, in email to me, that no: you’d actually prefer that I bring in other writers, especially if I had a hand in the editing.
That was definitely a surprise.
At the same time, several people, all Premium subscribers, and many with significant experience as professional news writers, offered to try their hand at it.
That gave me an idea.
It’s hard to write 7-9 of these stories every week, week after week, for years and years on end. But what if …I could find 3-5 writers who had the ability to find, and write, great stories like I do? And …Each of them could write just, say, 2-3 such stories a week? Surely that wouldn’t be a huge burden that would lead them to burnout? (Again, I’m not burned out, but it’s my baby, after all.) And …If I paid them a reasonable fee to do it, which would also help them avoid burnout?
The result: True could not only keep going, but even if I did step away, I could also contribute stories as I felt like it, and the weekly issues could actually feature more stories than it does now.
In all, six writers expressed interest. Last week, they all got the same story — a truly excellent source story from Pennsylvania — to try their hand at the This is True style. Four of the six went for it. Here are their stories, with my comments.
I’m presenting them unchanged so you can see them the way I would see them. (If they were hired, I would normally put them through an editing process, which could include “tuning up” the tagline should I see a better way to say it. The only changes I’ve made are format, and I fixed any typos …of which there were a few….)
So here are the resulting four versions of the same story, with each writer’s slug (story title) and tag, as submitted, and in the order received. Ready?
Writer: JW in Maine
The Cat’s Out of the Baggie
“On one side, you got prostitution, on the other side, you got cats in the freezer. It’s tragic. Obviously, this lady has some mental health issues and needs to get them addressed.” That’s what Upper Darby, Pa., police Superintendent Michael Chitwood said after police and health officials found 20 frozen cats wrapped in plastic bags in the home of cat hoarder Denise Merget, 39. Merget allegedly pulled a .38-caliber revolver on ASPCA officials earlier this month when they tried to confiscate her 55 cats. The cats were taken to the Delaware County SPCA for further investigation. “I don’t know what the cat autopsies are going to show,” Chitwood said. The house happens to be right across the street from an alleged brothel that was shut down early last week. Chitwood said it was unclear whether Merget would face charges of animal cruelty in addition to her other charges. (Philadelphia Inquirer) …She probably will, when the thawed cats awake to find the world is still without a hairball cure.
My comments: I like the slug. I’d probably not say “cat hoarder” myself but, if I did, I’d say “alleged” or “apparent.” It’s not a crime, so saying that isn’t necessarily defamation, but I’d probably not go there since I can’t quote someone else (like the cops or animal control officers) saying it. I like the tag.
Writer: MS in Nebraska
Cat Houses and Catsicles
Denise Merget, 58, of Upper Darby, Pa., seems to have a problem letting go of her feline friends. First, when police tried to confiscate the 55 cats that lived in her house, she confronted ASPCA officials with a .38 revolver. After arresting her on aggravated assault and weapons chargers, police and health officials searched her mother’s house last week and found a surprise in the freezer: 20 dead, frozen cats. There is no suspicion of fowl play in the cat deaths, though. “My expectation was that these cats just died, but I think being so mentally ill, she’s trying to preserve them even in death by putting them in a freezer,” said police Superintendent Michael Chitwood. “Cryonics. That’s exactly what’s going on.” The police were familiar with the neighborhood, though. The kitty cryogenics lab was across the street from a house of ill repute they had just shut down a week earlier. (Philadelphia Inquirer) …Leaving you to wonder what kind of cats were in the cat house — and where they went when it closed.
My comments: I like the slug, but would have used the singular “Cat House” (or, really, according to my favorite dictionary (American Heritage), one word: Cathouse). She allegedly confronted ASPCA officials with a revolver. That is alleged to be a crime (but isn’t necessarily, if she can prove self defense against what she perceived as an illegal entry into the house), and she has not been convicted of it. She’ll have her day in court, but hasn’t had it yet — so, maybe “animal control officials say” or “police allege” or “she was charged with” makes it clear they’re saying it, not us. Pretty good tagline.
Writer: DH of Colorado
Denise Mergret of Upper Darby, Pa., was arrested on aggravated assault and weapons charges after allegedly pulling a .38-caliber revolver on SPCA investigators who were trying to confiscate her 55 cats. Police also found 20 dead cats in Mergret’s freezer, and theorize she was trying to preserve her beloved pets even in death. “Cryonics. That’s exactly what’s going on,” said police Superintendent Michael Chitwood. Coincidentally, a suspected bawdy house across the street from Mergret’s home was shut down the previous week. (Philadelphia Inquirer) …The heat is on all cold, hard critters in Upper Darby.
My comments: A reasonably good slug — the only play on the “Hello Kitty” phenomenon. The story: certainly short and sweet! And he even got the “cryonics” quote in. The tagline is subtle — maybe too subtle, but I think most will get it.
Writer: JS in Washington
“Cry’s” and Whiskers
“Cryonics. That’s exactly what’s going on,” declared police Superintendent Michael Chitwood of Upper Darby, Pa., after police and health officials searched the house of Denise Merget and found 20 frozen cats in a freezer. The woman allegedly pulled a .38-caliber revolver on ASPCA officials when they tried to confiscate her 55 cats. Police say that Merget, 58, was apparently running some kind of kitty morgue out of her mother’s house. Adding to the character of the neighborhood is a house just across the street that is alleged to have been the recent home of a brothel. “It’s tragic,” said Chitwood. “On one side, you got prostitution, on the other side, you got cats in the freezer.” The cats were found wrapped in plastic bags. Reportedly, most were kittens. “Obviously, this lady has some mental health issues,” Chitwood said. “I don’t know what the cat autopsies are going to show. I think… she’s trying to preserve them even in death.” Merget was charged with aggravated assault and allegedly threatening to shoot an ASPCA officer. Chitwood said it was unclear whether Merget would also face charges of animal cruelty. (Philadelphia Inquirer) …Give the woman some credit: She vowed it would be a cold day in hell before anyone took her cats, and then she made sure of it.
My comments: A so-so slug — if you have to call attention to a word in such a short phrase (with quotation marks), it’s probably not good enough. And sure enough, I’m unclear what he’s trying to say with that…. “Charged with” and “allegedly” are essentially the some thing, so to include both is redundant. Yeah, that’s a nitpick: all in all, I don’t have heavy criticism of any of these samples. The tagline is pretty good.
OK, OK! I know this begs the question! How would I have written this up? Of course, I did my own take, and here it is:
Animal control officials called in police after they tried to confiscate 55 cats from a woman in Upper Darby, Pa. Denise Merget, 58, who lives with her mother, allegedly pulled a gun on animal control officers to protect her pets. A subsequent search of the home found not only the 55 live cats, but 20 more dead ones in the freezer. “Cryonics,” said police Superintendent Michael Chitwood. “That’s exactly what’s going on.” Police happened to shut down a different sort of cathouse right across the street the week before — a brothel. “On one side, you got prostitution, on the other side, you got cats in the freezer,” Chitwood said. “It’s tragic.” (Philadelphia Inquirer) …And the madam across the street was just as cold.
Of course, I’m not going to say my slug and tag (or story treatment in general) are “better” — that’s up to you! Feel free to comment below. Feel free to name names (well, initials, anyway!) and say what you like — and what you don’t.
The next step? I’ll supply 5-6 stories and let the candidates each choose two to write up, and then I’ll get more picky about style, wit, and ability. Stay tuned!
And really: I do want your feedback. What do you think?