Monday, October 04, 2004

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.


At 11:45 AM, October 05, 2004, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Man, talk about a bunch of people that need to visit the real world.

After reading that, I can't imagine why anyone would think we're a bunch of humorless, obsessive tightasses.

At 11:55 AM, October 05, 2004, Blogger Nicole said...

Some of the arguments may seem obsessive, but I think the point is valid. When you read "Growing Up Gay in Real America," do you know what that means?

I may have more of a soft spot for figurative heads than, say, Phil Blanchard, but I won't go to the mat for this one. I wouldn't have been able to tell you what "real America" meant.

It's not the capital offense it's been made out to be, though, because even if you can't define "real America," you do get the sentiment of the thing. The point is, it could be better.

At 8:18 PM, October 08, 2004, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"This sparked a great discussion on word's literal and implied meanings ..."


"He also talks about a poll story that lead the front page ... "


At 9:29 PM, October 08, 2004, Blogger Nicole said...

Thanks for pointing out the errors. It's the easiest stuff that is the easiest to slip up on.

Everyone needs an editor. (Maybe my blog publishers can will be able to afford one soon.)

At 2:26 PM, October 09, 2004, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"This sparked a great discussion on word's' literal and implied meanings and the concept of 'the poetic sig line.' "



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