Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Win a night with the copy desk

Vince Tuss pointed me toward a story from the readers representative at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

She sheds some light on what copy editors do on a given night. She also praises some headlines, with names:
That's when [at night] Dick Parker reads a story on a deer crashing through a Brooklyn Park window and writes the headline: "The deer departed isn't mourned."

And Judy Arginteanu tops a story on life-size fiberglass buffalo figures being used as art in Buffalo, Minn., with: "Where the buffalo stay put."

Or Jim Landberg captures a story about Minnesotans having a mixed reaction to our warm winter with: "Wimpy winter: Some tee off; others teed off."

Writing a good headline is a lot harder than it looks. The copy editors have to make it fit in a certain number of letters and lines, the "hed specs" sent by the layout editor. A 1-54-3 Franklin head is a three-line, one-column headline in 54-point type set in a Franklin typeface. That's not much space, which is why Pam Huey, bemoaning a bad head count she'd been handed one recent evening, was exasperated that the newspaper's "style" is to write out Minneapolis and Minnesota in headlines. "I'd like to live in a state like Iowa," she said.
But the best part of the article is the headline test that has been set up for readers. There's a 15-minute timer, and readers get a synopsis of the story, specs and these rules:
* The headline must fit in the space allowed.
* No more than three spaces can be left blank at the end of each line.
* Allow one space for each letter.
That's pretty similar to the headline writing specifications we take in copy-editing tests.

The winner gets to spend a night with the copy desk and play trivia with them afterward.


At 5:37 PM, February 22, 2005, Blogger Phillip Blanchard said...

Second prize, of course, is two nights with the copy desk.

What a boneheaded idea.

At 11:26 AM, February 23, 2005, Anonymous Niko Dugan said...

The test, of course, is flawed, because it can't take into account the nuances involved with actually being on the desk when these stories come at you.

The best example: You're given 14 counts for a headline about Osama bin Laden's capture. Under the rules, your headline must be between 11 and 14 spaces. That's really hard to do when "Bin laden" takes up nine counts and "Captured" takes up only eight. I'm sure whoever had to write that headline would work with the designer to make sure it fit.

At 12:51 PM, February 23, 2005, Blogger Nicole said...

Yeah, but I've had just as many times when I've come up with the perfect headline but it just won't work. Sometimes you have to go with "good enough" because it fits.

Of course, the test doesn't take into account the phone calls interrupting your train of thought, the hiccups in the system that interrupt your work and the five stories in the queue with your name on them.

But it does a better job than most I've seen of reproducing some deadline pressure.

At 7:46 PM, February 24, 2005, Blogger Etaoin Shrdlu said...

Phil, you aren't the first to make that suggestion. Many on the desk were a bit puzzled by the prize. Myself, I'm still not sure if it's serious.


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