By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

A note on quotes

I’m scratching my head over this, from a Boston Globe review by Brion O’Connor about two new Patriots books:

[H]e has an irritating habit of repeating pet clichés, including “mortgaging the future,” “in over his head,” and “slow slide toward mediocrity,” as well as setting up quotes — a gaffe usually corrected in Journalism 101.

Setting up quotes is bad? This Google search suggests the contrary. The very first hit is for a document called “The Art and Craft of Setting Up Quotes.”

I advise my students to tell the reader a little something about new interview subjects and what they’re going to say before quoting them, which is what I take “setting up quotes” to mean. O’Connor is a longtime journalist, and I’m guessing that what he means is different from what I mean.

Anyway, any insight would be appreciated.

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4 Comments

  1. The Scoop

    Some people use “setting up quotes” to mean that the sentence before the quote and the quote itself are pretty much the same sentence. For example:Belichick said he had never seen a team play so well in his career.”In my 29 years as a coach, I’ve never seen a team play at such a high level,” he said.I just made that up, and I’ve never read any of the books in question, but that may have been what the reviewer was referring to.

  2. Dan Kennedy

    Scoop: Yes, I’d thought of that. But to me, that’s just setting up quotes badly. It could be that’s what O’Connor meant, though.

  3. Anonymous

    You’re right: O’Connor used a basic term of the trade incorrectly. To set up a quote well is a great gift. One of the best is Bob Ryan. I don’t like much of the Boston sportswriting — he and Jackie M. and the rest are overrated and cliche-ridden. But Bob does a great job of setting up a quote, on deadline, in a column. The sportswriter may have just one or two fragments of a sentence to work with. While the hack would stomp on that partial quote with parentheticals, Bob knows how to lead up to it well (to set it up) so it has clarity and meaning.

  4. BrionO

    Hey Dan. File this under "better late than never." In fact, it's so tardy (almost two years), that you may not even see it. However, I thought it worth mentioning that, indeed, I was frustrated by the writer's habit of using a quote to essentially repeat the set-up sentence. So I guess I should have said "redundant quotes" or something similar. Hope you're well …Best,-B

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