Analyzing the Post
Copy editors should check out this week's article by Washington Post ombud Michael Getler. He discusses mistakes in headlines on 1A.
Readers were baffled that this headline could have gotten past the many layers at the Post: "Old and Gas Hold the Reins in the Wild West." That should have been "Oil and Gas." Getler said he tried to find out what happened but had not received an explanation.
The second problem: a headline and sig -- discussed at length on the Testy Copy Editors board -- on a story about being "Young and Gay in Real America." Many readers and testy copy editors wondered what that meant: What is real America? If there is one, then what is the unreal America?
The writer of the series, Anne Hull, said this in an online chat: "The title 'real America' was subject to lots of debate by editors. We didn't mean to condescend. We meant to suggest the large swath of land and opinions beyond the metropolitan areas. Politicians are forever using the term 'real' to demonstrate goodness or pureness. There are many ways to read 'Real.'"
And the writer of the head and sig, David Maraniss, wrote in to TCE:
The criticisms are fine, and I understand them, but many are also making a false assumption about the dreaded word - real - applying only to the Bible Belt. The next two parts of the series are about a young woman in the inner city of Newark, about as far away from rural OK as one can get. If there is some discussion about "real" - great, that is how I looked at it. The sig sparked something...and all we wanted it to do is signify that there is more to gay life in America than middle-aged, middle-class people wanting to get married.This sparked a great discussion on words' literal and implied meanings and the concept of "the poetic sig line." Fascinating.
Getler, the ombud, understood the criticism: "I also thought this headline was a mistake, a needless red flag that immediately distracted some readers from the story."
He also talks about a poll story that led the front page and the Post getting beat by the Washington Times on its baseball hed. The whole column is worth reading. It should get your copy-editing juices flowing.