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The "Said vs. Says" debate

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Cullen9, Aug 8, 2011.

  1. Cullen9

    Cullen9 Member

    I wrote, what I thought, a pretty good feature story the other day. I sent it into my editor. A little later I received a GChat message on my phone: "What's with all this 'he says' shit?"

    I used "says" instead of "said" throughout the piece. It's very rare I do this. I'm not sure why, but for some feature stories I like that. It seems to work and it gives features something extra. I can't explain what; it just seems right to me.

    So I throw it out to you: what's your opinion on using 'says' or 'said'? Is it ever right to use 'says'? Is always using 'said' an old, out-dated rule of thumb?

    I'm just curious what other people think about the topic.
  2. sjw513573

    sjw513573 New Member

    My thought is that "says" should be used in cases where a person is known to express a thought frequently.
    "Coach woulda put me in fourth quarter, we would have been state champions. No doubt. No doubt in my mind," Uncle Rico says.
    This means its most likely going to be used in features, because they sometimes deal with long-held beliefs or other things that have been important to a person for years. Anything else, "said" works better because you never know if a person will change their mind, or later say something contradictory for whatever reason. You just know that they said something that once.
    That's just the way the way I interpret this, I'm curious to see what others think.
  3. Rhody31

    Rhody31 Well-Known Member

    On a timeless story - feature, preview - I use says.
    Gamers or news stories, it's said.
    And it's "subject said," unless it's "said subject, who scored 22 points Wednesday."
  4. nck228

    nck228 Member

    I was always taught that the only time you can use "says" is if you're writing a feature or a narrative in the present tense (ex: Jon Franklin's piece "Mrs. Kelly's Monster"). Otherwise I've always used "said".
  5. silvercharm

    silvercharm Member

    I use says sometimes in features when I'm recapping someone's general thoughts, or paraphrasing, and usually in a feature. I use "said" when directly quoting someone. Some reporters think it's cutting edge to use "says." Which is bullshit, but I know a few who think that.
  6. Versatile

    Versatile Active Member

    I like "says" in the context of most features, when you're not concerned with identifying the time of the quote. For instance:

    Coach Brown said Monday.
    NEVER Coach Brown says Monday.

    I see it a lot in paraphrasing, even as direct quotes get "said," which I'm 50-50 on. For instance:

    The defense was the issue, Brown says, but he feels his players will be better soon.
    "They better be ready by Saturday," he said.

    But I think when attributing direct quotes, you better be consistent throughout the story. No shifting in and out of "says" and "said."

    Early in my days as a copy editor, I instinctively changed every "says" to "said." I don't think the writers cared much for that, but I do think there's a very valid argument for it. "Says" is only really correct in very rare usage, when someone actually repeats a thought often. For instance:

    The Mock Turtlenecks aren't looking ahead to next week; Brown would never allow that, after all. "One game at a time," he says.
  7. reformedhack

    reformedhack Well-Known Member

    "Says" is the generally preferred style for magazine writing, but it can work for newspaper features if the subject matter is timeless or if you're going for a special effect with your writing (e.g., a present-tense feature). Generally speaking, though, "said" is usually the right choice for the newspaper medium.

    The real trick, though, is to make sure you don't mix your tenses throughout your story. That just gets confusing to the reader. If you find yourself needing to use "said" in some instances and wanting to use "says" in others, just go with "said" throughout, with the exception of a circumstance noted previously about frequency ("... as my uncle always says" ...).

    Someone raised the "says vs. said" question back in February 2009, and this was my response then:

    "Says" is perfectly appropriate in limited instances for feature writing -- namely, when you're trying to put the reader "in the moment" or show real-time action, but that technique should be used sparingly. It's also the common attribution tense for magazine writing.

    "Said" is usually appropriate is almost every instance, however ... especially in newspaper writing (or news writing in any medium).

    But, for heaven's sake, don't mix tenses within the same story unless you absolutely know what you're doing.
  8. HandsomeHarley

    HandsomeHarley Well-Known Member

    Says is present tense. Are they still in the process of saying it?

    A story should be written as it happened -- past tense.

    Nobody is still in the process of dying, so when someone died yesterday, it is stupid to say he dies.

    The morons at AP make changes for the sake of change, with no redeeming value, as if they need to justify their existence.
  9. beanpole

    beanpole Member

    You have to give your boss more than "it seems right" when he challenges you on something like this. If you don't know the rules of language, how can you use words effectively? Other people on this thread have it correct, and if you're writing a story in present tense, then "says" is perfectly fine.

    Morons? Hardly. People at the AP are some of the best I've ever known. Every major decision is made with tons of forethought, and just because you don't understand one doesn't make them stupid. I would challenge anyone to call this guy a moron: http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/david-minthorn-is-the-grammar-expert-for-the-associated-press/2011/07/25/gIQAGBLwfI_story.html

    AP started using 'says' in NewsNows because the items move on broadcast and print lines at the same time. Having a story written once instead of twice means that the news moves out faster.
  10. Tarheel316

    Tarheel316 Well-Known Member

    Agreed. We use "said" in all instances.
  11. Cullen9

    Cullen9 Member

    We had some back and forth and figured it out. I couldn't really put it into words -- and I told him that -- but we came to a conclusion about it all.

    I appreciate all the good feedback. It's helpful.
  12. BB Bobcat

    BB Bobcat Active Member

    I work for a magazine now, and our style is "says." It just seems like a standard magazine style. Pretty sure that's how SI does it. I have never used "says" for any medium other than a magazine, but for a magazine, almost always.

    Why? I'm not sure.

    What gets really confusing is when you are doing a whole feature with "says" but then you are referring to an anecdote and something said at that time. (Smith stood on the field 10 years ago, on his 21st birthday, and turned to his teammate and said: "Can you believe how good I am?")

    So we sort of decided here that if the quote is clearly imbedded within an anecdote, you use said, but on all quotes that are time irrelevant (doesnt matter if he said it today, yesterday, a week ago or a month ago), use "says."

    Also agree on "subject said" rather than "said subject." The latter is one of my pet peeves. No one talks that way.
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