Couldn’t have said it better myself: How a great quote can grab your readers by the eyes

Direct quotes are an important part of journalistic storytelling. They allow the sources to speak directly to the readers in the sources’ own words, providing both information and a “feel” for the topic with the choice of their vocabulary.

Unfortunately, some journalists view quotes as just “meat” between the slices of bread that are “paraphrase” in their stories, and the writers care very little about the quality of that meat. Just because someone said something, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be a good quote. It’s our job to separate the trash from the treasures when it comes to that word-for-word component of our stories.

When you get great quotes, they can really grab your reader’s attention as they just nail the underlying concept of a story in a way that few other things can. Here is a series of quotes that fit the bill and that make reading the whole piece worthwhile:


“Showing up to a school with zip ties is not a way to solve a problem.”
-Vail Unified School District Superintendent John Carruth

The story behind this one comes from a story about the “mask battles” we have seen during the pandemic. An Arizona man was contacted by a school employee and told his son had to quarantine at home after being in close contact with a person infected with the coronavirus.

Instead, the father and two “other men” (the words “dudes,” “buddies,” and “idgits” would seem to be more on point here, but then again this is Washington Post) went to the kid’s school to demand the kid be taken back:

“Apparently Mesquite Elementary thinks they can break the law and act like the covid Gestapo,” the man wrote, referencing Nazi Germany’s secret police. “We will be headed over there shortly to disagree. Come join us because we won’t have this in OUR community!”

Later that morning, the father and his son arrived at the school. The other two men met them in the school’s parking lot, Carruth said.

In a live video posted to Instagram, one of the two men who joined the dad told his followers that they were about to “confront this administration” for “breaking the law.

“If necessary, we’ll do a citizen’s arrest,” the man said before showing off the “law enforcement zip ties” they brought.

So these three yahoos end up in Principal Dianne Vargo’s office, threatening her with arrest if she didn’t let the kid back in school. The whole thing escalated until Vargo left the office and called the police. The men, who moments earlier were so certain of the legality of their actions, left before the cops showed up.

In reviewing the incident for the Post, Carruth mentioned the need to model good behavior for kids and such, before delivering a great closing quote.


“I’m like Gerard Butler in ‘300.’ I’m in the hot gates at Thermopylae, holding the pass against the million-man Persian army.”
-Lawyer John Pierce

Quick question: He does know that Leonidas ended up with about 1,085 arrows through him at the end of that movie, right?

Pierce is the now-missing attorney for defendants associated with the Washington, D.C., riot on Jan. 6. Aside from his comparison to the leader of the Spartan resistance, he has offered up some insight as to how he planned to get his clients off:

A self-described pro-Trump populist, Mr. Pierce has promised, for example, to force the government to give him video footage of the Capitol for several days before and after Jan. 6, and has said he will demand information about every police officer working at the building that day. He has also vowed to subpoena hostile witnesses like Speaker Nancy Pelosi, ostensibly to learn what she may have known about security at the Capitol before the attack.

Without citing evidence, Mr. Pierce has said he intends to implicate the F.B.I. and the intelligence community by showing that the riot was something like a grand act of entrapment or an inside job. He has often talked about his cases with a conspiratorial zeal, painting himself as something like a lonely legal warrior out to save his clients from an overreaching government.

All of the words the New York Times puts together to explain and describe this guy don’t do half as good of a job as Pierce’s own quote does.


“The defendant stated he was trying to show off for his date. The female said she was screaming at him to stop, but he refused. This was their first date.”
– Police Report, Clearwater, Florida

Some of the greatest quotes ever come from police officers trying to explain something completely insane in a report that requires them to be clear, concise and even-handed in the description. (My personal favorite was a road rage incident in which the combatants “exchanged hand gestures,” according to the report.)

In this case, a 22-year-old man apparently eyed up a cop at a stoplight and then decided to lead the officer on a high-speed chase. The reason? He wanted to impress the woman riding on the motorcycle with him:

Police temporarily broke off the chase while Beverly darted through traffic, running multiple additional red lights and traveling “at well over 100 [miles per hour].” They were able to apprehend him at an intersection minutes later. Court records indicate that Beverly also refused to slow down as his date was “screaming at him to stop.”

The article did not note if the couple had planned a second date…


“Mr. Lee was incredibly stupid, felony stupid but, I think given the situation and the fact that he has absolutely no record I am going to listen to pretrial services.”
– Arizona Judge Rosemary Panuco

(“My client’s a moron. That’s not against the law…”)

Judges operate under what is called “absolute privilege,” which means they can say stuff the rest of us would really like to but can’t for fear of being sued. Thus, they tend to have some of the best quotes when it comes to summing up situations like this one:

Tucson police released surveillance video from a Suntran bus showing Zachary Lee just before he got off the bus and approached the police officer last Friday at 29th and Swan.

The video showed the sergeant’s vehicle parked.

The risk assessment form read, “According to the arresting agency, the defendant got into a verbal exchange with a Tucson Police Department Sergeant, who was conducting unrelated surveillance in an unmarked car.”

Mike Storie represents the Tucson Police Officer’s Association of which the sergeant is a member. He said the assessment is incorrect.

“Actually, there were no words exchanged. The sergeant was in a vehicle with the windows rolled up and never spoke to this person,” Storie said.

The video showed Lee using hand gestures. Storie said lee was throwing gang signs, shortly after that he added Lee began firing at the officer. Tucson police said they found a gun on Lee when he was arrested, and casings at the scene that matched the gun.

The judge in this case released Lee prior to the trial without requiring him to post bail, something that drew the ire of the prosecutor and the police. To explain her rationale as to why a man accused of trying to kill a cop could go home for the day, she relied on a pretrial report and a sense of the man’s own stupidity.

I don’t know what kind of judge she is, but I would love to interview her if these are the kinds of quotes she comes up with.

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