Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Some people understand our pain: On matters of style, citations and why Microsoft Word sucks. (And I browsed after a while; the anecdotes aren't interesting enough to make it all the way through.)

An insider says "Shattered Glass" feels true.
Shattered Glass is the straightest film take on print journalism that I've seen since All the President's Men, and it may become this era's defining movie about journalism.
I suppose that's fitting in such times. But very sad.

K-State Collegian puts dean's name under Osama bin Laden's picture. (Oh, the perils of templates.)

Off topic: I am obsessed with this story.

Monday, September 29, 2003

Do you have what it takes to be a Word Police officer?

(short rant) Please stop allowing corporations to "grow" revenue and their core business. I get this mental image of Kenneth Lay raking manure through his revenue garden, caressing his little core-business sprouts. "Develop" works just fine, thanks. And "increase" won't kill you. (/short rant)

Detroit Free Press kills a negative review of their writer Mitch Albom's new book because it is negative.
"I was not really comfortable with disparaging one of my employees that way," Hutton said. "Yes, it's because the review was negative."
Carole Leigh Hutton is the paper's executive editor.

Related: Blender Magazine Reviews Its Owner's Live Blues Album — Very Carefully

Sunday, September 28, 2003

Learn from others' mistakes. (It beats the hell out of learning from your own.)

Bill Walsh jabs with a sharp point on "over." (And an implied message to think critically but lighten up.)

He also announces a new job: In a month, he will leave the Washington Post's business section to lead the copy desk for national news. Congratulations, Bill. Get some rest now while you still can.

And console your workers.

Tsk tsk.

Entertainment Weekly has an interesting interview with Chuck Palahniuk, the author of "Fight Club." Great details, strong quotes. They pulled one on the second page:
"When I first used to tour," Palahniuk says, "guys would come up and say, 'Were's the fight club in my area?' and I'd say, 'There isn't one. I made it up.'"
That's an OK pull quote. Until you get to the quote in the article.
Chuck Palahniuk, 41, hasn't been in a fight since 1995. "When I first used to tour," he says, "guys would come up and say, 'Where's the fight club in my area?' and I would say, 'There isn't one.' And they'd say, 'No, no, you can tell me, you can tell me.' Or they would come and they would say, 'Is there one of these for women?' And I'd be like, 'There isn't one of these for men. I made it up.' And it breaks their hearts, it breaks people's hearts."
That's no longer an OK pull quote. It's a terrible pull quote because it has been doctored. That's not what Palahniuk said.

What's sad is that it's easily fixed, but someone chose not to. (My guess: It was probably right in the first place, but someone looked for ways to tighten it to have room to stylize the text.) If you take words out, you have to add ellipses. Period. Quotes are like a contract with readers. Readers have to know that what's within those quote marks is what the speaker said. So there should be an ellipses between 'There isn't one." and "I made it up."

But that's not the only problem. They also changed "I would" to "I'd." You can't do that. He said one and not the other, and the writer let us know which. No editor can make Palahniuk use contractions to fit space. If it doesn't fit, use a different quote.

Saturday, September 27, 2003

A common theme: I usually think Slate.com has great headlines.

I've noticed one area in which they fall short, though: their recaps of the day's news, "Today's Headlines." We get the gems:
Beating Around the Bush
Smoking Grasso
Recall Totaled?
Pulling Your Cheney
The site would be better without these groan-inducers. But what to replace them with?

When all else fails, play it straight. Even if you're a Web site with edgy headlines. It's good to push the envelope, and Slate does it better than most. But few things make a publication look bush-league like punny heads that miss the mark.

Back from the dead. Blogs TK.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Recipe for a dream paycheck.

Recipe for a dream job.

Recipe for a dream world.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Tips for Headline Writing from the Omaha World Herald's Steve Buttry. I bolded some of the best stuff but am including it all. My headline focuses may not be yours.

Word association.
Schlander offers this advice on perhaps the most common headline-writing technique: "Think of key words and do some free association to develop angles. This is how most wordplay, good and bad, seems to develop. Good wordplay makes good use of contrast, or delightfully twists a phrase or is somehow pleasing to the ear. It's not a groaner pun, and it doesn't rely purely on alliteration. A great wordplay example from sports (and a monthly contest winner): So close, so Favre (when Brett Favre and the Packers stole a game from the Bucs). Think also of rhyming words, or words that sound like they look: gritty kitty, for example, or beep and boom. The reader can almost hear the headline."

Make fun of your headline.
Does it state the obvious? Is it full of headlinese? Could it have a double meaning? Does a nearby photograph or another headline present an embarrassing juxtaposition? If you make fun of the headline yourself, chances are Jay Leno won't.

Spellcheck after you write the head.
Typos happen as easily in headlines as in stories, but they're more embarrassing in large type. The reporter has the city desk, you and the slot backstopping him. You have the slot, and you know how busy she is.

Consider the tone of the story.
A light, clever head on a serious story can be silly or even offensive. Yet a light, clever story demands a light, clever head.

Hold gimmicks to high standards.
Effective alliteration, rhyming and puns make a memorable headline and draw readers to a story. When such techniques don't work, though, the headline becomes an embarrassment. Be demanding of such headlines. If you're not sure whether it works, it probably doesn't. If your alliteration uses four words and only three of them actually fit the story, it doesn't work. Be especially demanding of headlines using titles or lines from movies, songs or books. Be assured that you will not be the first copy editor to pen (OK, keyboard) a head on an Iowa story asking if this is heaven or on a sports salaries story demanding that someone show you the money.

Be careful with, but not afraid of, puns.
Pisetzner offers this advice: "The pun must scan both ways: as a joke and literally. My favorite spot is in photo overlines. In June 1997, over a photo of an 87-year-old woman in cap and gown at a Harvard graduation - the university's oldest grad ever - I wrote 'No longer a senior.' Many kudos followed. What made this so effective, I think, was that the humor was sweet-natured as well as counter-stereotypical."

Be specific.
The headline should tell the reader the important news. Vague headlines, even catchy vague headlines, are not informative. Decks can help here. The main head can be catchy but a bit vague if the deck is informative.

Consider photos and graphics.
The headline, photo, graphic and story are a package to the reader and should be composed as such. Look at the photo and graphic to see whether they complement or contradict the head.

Punch with your verbs.
Consider whether you can use a stronger, fresher or more specific verb. With your limited space, you need to make every word count, and often the verb is the most important word in the headline. Give it the attention and time it deserves. Schlander offers this advice: "A fresh verb can really make a headline. Great example: Summer muscles its way into spring. Deputies inch toward unionization. This also creates a strong mental picture. Strong, well-chosen verbs often do that."

Remember the reader.
The story may be about a government body taking action, but the reader cares most about how it affects him. Instead of "Council approves new trash contract," perhaps the headline should be "Council allows later trash pickup."

Don't plagiarize the writer's phrases.
If the reporter used a clever turn of phrase in the lede or the kicker or nut graf, don't scoop the writer by putting it in the headline.

Get an early start.
A headline should not be an afterthought. When you can, read the story as the reporter is writing it, so you can gain some time to work on it or think about it.

Identify your weaknesses.
Know where you need to improve. Focus on one weakness each day. Tonight perhaps you will try not to be so serious on the lighter stories. Tomorrow maybe you'll work on using stronger, more active verbs. The next day you'll try to be more conversational in your headlines. You can improve your headlines better by addressing one skill at a time, rather than making a general resolution to do better.

Be possessive.
Pisetzner offers this tip, dated but still helpful: "I'm not sure why, but possessives (his, their, Pope's) tend to give headlines more zing and make them sound less like 'headlinese' and more like conversation. I'll choose 'Clinton breaks his leg' over 'President breaks leg' every time."

Ask why.
Buddenberg suggests, "For wire stories in particular, focus on why the assigning editor chose that story from among the hundreds available. That will lead you to the aspect to focus on in the head, or to the right angle (1st day, 2nd day, something in between)."

Tell someone about the story.
Again from Pisetzner: "If you were to meet a friend on the street and wanted to tell him/her about the latest news you've just heard, what would you say? The two or three things you would tell your friend in your first sentence are the two or three things that should be in your headline. Is one of those details something from deep down in the story? Define that paragraph and move it higher." And, by all means, consult the writer about such a move.

Read the headline aloud.
This will help you spot and avoid clunky "headlinese" writing and move toward more conversational heads.

Be demanding.
Buddenberg cautions: "Don't go for the hack stuff -- alliteration and obvious puns and the like: On a good story it's like putting an ugly paint job on beautiful wood; on a bad story it's like an admission."

Watch for traps.
Read the headline one line at a time. Does the first line, read alone, take on a funny meaning that detracts from the headline and the story? Does a nearby but perhaps unrelated photo create a juxtaposition that could make the headline offensive or funny?

Recognize headline writing as an art.
Again from Buddenberg: "Heads are like poetry. Hell, they are poetry. You're a poet: You choose words that tell and find a way to fit them into given limitations."

Take a walk, or whatever.
Sometimes it's helpful to step away from the screen a minute or two when you're stuck. Stretch your legs or scan the bulletin board perhaps. Pisetzner put it best: "Friends from other lives will attest to how often I, having just copyread a difficult story, will go to the men's room (after delaying nature's call the requisite hour or two) and will come out with a great headline idea. I can't explain it. But I recommend that copy editors drink plenty of liquids."

Bad headline alert:
Bush Backs Powell on FCC Media Ownership Rules
This headline is by no means inaccurate. Bush does support Powell.

I read this hed and immediately wondered, "What, exactly, did Colin Powell have to say about the FCC rules, and why?"

But Bush isn't supporting Colin Powell's views. He's supporting FCC Chairman Michael Powell's views. Oh, of course.

An astute editor could argue that in the right context, this head would be OK. "FCC" is a keyword that might lead people to think Michael instead of Colin. But why risk the confusion? Go with this instead:
Bush Backs FCC Chair on Media Ownership Rules

A Sports Illustrated copy editor is featured at InsideTriathlon.com.

The Village Voice starts to demystify the new role of standards editor at the New York Times, held by Allan Siegal. The focus: bylines.
It is fitting that, in the Times' stylebook, the entry for "bylines" appears on the same page as the entry for "Byzantine." The Times has infinite unwritten rules on this subject, and Siegal seems likely to change the one that reserves bylines for staff writers. Indeed, his report recommended that "bylines should be awarded to the people who really do the work. When substantial reporting or writing in any section is by a freelancer, a stringer or a clerk, the byline should reflect that."
While I recognize the prestige involved in a published NYT byline, I'm baffled by the paper's previous reluctance to dole them out. If a stringer is good enough to do the leg work, he's good enough to get credit for it. Period.
It is fitting that, in the Times' stylebook, the entry for "bylines" appears on the same page as the entry for "Byzantine."

A cautionary tale from the Washington Post's correction file:
A Sept. 21 item in the Metro in Brief column about a woman fatally shot in Prince George's County and a child who was wounded incorrectly reported the woman's age, the child's sex, the child's location at the time of the shooting, and the street on which the shooting occurred. A correct account of the incident appears in today's Metro in Brief column.

Jay Rosen responds to the Slate article knocking public journalism.
Through the weekend and into Monday, Shafer had Charlotte’s state wrong. It’s in North Carolina; Charlottesville is the one in Virginia. This is a trivial error, (since corrected) except that Shafer’s point in naming towns is to show how provincial and third rate the journalism must be there. More telling is how it counts against public journalism that the do-gooding “moneybags” at Pew and Poynter supported some of the costs of the experiment. Now since Shafer’s salary is paid by Microsoft, world’s most powerful corporation, it would seem that supporters of public journalism might at least win a draw in the “who’s more polluted by funding” contest. His purpose in mentioning foundation support is to explain how the idea got as far as it did in the mainstream press: the do-gooders poured money into it. But since Pew is no longer funding its Center for Civic Journalism, why worry?

Monday, September 22, 2003

AP's rule on ecstasy says: Ecstasy Capitalize (no quote marks) this and other synthetic drug names.


We've never capitalized acid or crystal meth or angel dust. None of the semi-synthetic drugs are capped: coke, crack, heroin.

What's with this rule?

CJR reviews "Shattered Glass."

Mercury News publisher Joe Natoli will be taking the helm at Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.

Natoli has only been at the Merc since 2001 (thanks for the correction, Tom), when he replaced Jay Harris. Harris resigned to protest KR's cost-cutting measures.

A new publisher is expected to be chosen at the Merc within a few weeks.

Weighing in on whether: Discussions are going on at the ACES board and at Stylin' and Smilin' about when it's OK to drop "or not" from the phrase "whether or not."

My thoughts? I posted this to the ACES board:
I disagree that "or not" can always be omitted. Sometimes the omission sounds plain wrong.

The New York Times style manual explains it nicely:

"When a 'whether' clause modifies a verb, 'or not' is needed: They will play tomorrow whether or not it rains. (The clause modifies play.)"

Bremner's "Words on Words" points out another exception:

"Sometimes, however, 'or not' is needed to stress the altenative, as in 'I'll love you whether or not you leave me.' To decide whether 'or not' is needed, substitute 'if' for 'whether.' If the substitution changes the meaning, 'or not' is needed. 'I'll love you if you leave me' is decidedly different from 'I'll love you whether or not you leave me.'

There's a reason stylebooks say "massive" should be reserved for things that have a lot of mass, and it's not just to add another notch to our rule belt.

"Massive" is being used to describe
* Things that are really bad (massive hurricane clean-up).
* Things that are widespread (massive job cuts).
* Things that are really big (a massive lead over Team X).
* Things that are severe (massive injuries).
* Things that are wonderful (massive compliment).
Fight the urge, and be exact!

These examples should make your head hurt. And all should make your fingers fly -- as you delete "massive" or, if necessary, type in a precise adjective that actually tells readers something.

There are writers who'd call this a massive problem. I'd call it widespread. Some would call this a massive waste of time. And I'd feel comfortable calling that a massive pile of crap.

Yes, copy editors tighten text. Yes, we cut superfluous words. But whoever decided that "that" is never necessary should be flogged with the OED.

The easy rule: You need "that" if a time element comes between the verb and the dependent clause. An IMF official said Saturday that Cuba was in trouble. You'll see this a lot in ledes, and it helps readers distinguish between the official's saying it Saturday and Cuba's being in trouble Saturday.

The tougher rule (that I may just be making up but makes tons of sense to me and hasn't done me wrong yet): You often need "that" when it follows a verb that can be both transitive and intransitive. She added THAT her team was asked to recommend a change. You don't want the "her team" to be read, even momentarily, as the direct object. "That" fixes the problem nicely.

I acknowledged THAT problems exist with my Web site. This reads so much better than I acknowledged problems exist with my Web site.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

The BBC's stylebook is online.

So is one for the Economist.

(short rant) Wistful means "full of yearning or desire tinged with melancholy." We're talking more than just longing for those college years; it's longing for those years even though you lost a leg and flunked out. (/short rant)

Slate's Press Box dishes on public journalism.
Public journalism failed to catch root with readers or reporters because it's more a New Age exercise in "empowerment" than it is news-gathering, recasting reporters as mediators or public therapists guiding the citizenry on their happy path to storybook consensus and closure. But Miller and the public journalism avatars not only overestimate the desire of daily newspapers to push and drive the public in the direction of "social justice," they overestimate the willingness of the reader to be lead. Only the intellectually sheltered could think of readers as passive serfs awaiting the prodding of the philosopher kings on the bottom of Page One.
First, let's clear this up: It's "the willingness of the reporter to be led."

Second: This is part of a discussion on policy wonk Matthew Miller's new book, "The Two Percent Solution." In it, he argues that the United States should increase spending (by 2 percent of the GDP) on health care, education and "living wage" programs.

To raise the profile of these issues, newspapers should strip a story across the bottom of 1A (about 2 pecent of a broadsheet, it says) informing readers of things that are "Still True" — how many people are uninsured, how many are unemployed, how teachers are underpaid, the article points out.

Now, I do believe that in journalism lies an inherent responsibility toward civic responsibility. That's at the root of public journalism. (Of course, we have to sign a contract saying that before The Wichita Eagle will hire us.) But there is precious little space in our newspaper for news. And I can think of plenty of things I'd rather have taking up 20 percent of our front page.

And I was just kidding about the contract.

Friday, September 19, 2003

Warning, off topic:

A video that demands to be watched and rewatched and then watched a few more times: Outkast's "Hey ya." This isn't rap; it's pure pop. The '60s-style video and lyrics ("Shake it like a Polaroid picture is nice) will make toe-tapping and finger-snapping impossible to resist.


Here's another review of "The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary," this one by the Christian Science Monitor.

It offers more examples of shortcoming in Samuel Johnson's masterpiece — such as oats, defined as "a grain which in England is generally given to horses, but which in Scotland feeds the people."

The review says
Colorful as this undoubtedly is, Winchester also has a knack for making the less sensationalistic elements of lexicography just as engrossing, whether he's describing what to look for in a good definition, discussing the tedious but essential labors of the copy editor, or explaining why Murray and his team found that words beginning with the letter B were much more difficult to define than words beginning with A.
One thing sure to be fascinating about the book, in addition to the window it opens into a language's evolution, is that it points out some of the perils of descriptive dictionaries vs. prescriptive dictionaries. (Are you listening, Merriam-Webster?)

"The meaning of everything" is written by the author of "The Professor and the Madman," another book about the OED that looks at one of the main contributors: a Civil War vet who contributed thousands of entries from his home in an English asylum.

Because we're editors and because it's Talk Like a Pirate Day, check out Word Pirates, a site that laments the bastardization of language by marketers, politicians and the like. "Not only do they take them for commercial purposes, but they misuse them entirely. They're Word Pirates and we're going to take back what's rightfully ours."

It invites readers to submit their own words that have been stolen. Recent entries include:
Issue: Root of the word really means: something that is sent out or delivered (supplies, a magazine, a child). How it became a euphemism for a problem, a bug, a point of disagreement or a failure would be an interesting bit of research. Perhaps it derived from the phrase "bring the matter to an issue", in which case the word issue means "solution" or "decision", which makes a lot more sense than calling the problem itself an "issue."

Obscenity: Politicans and the media now use "obscenity" to refer to any sexually explicit content. There is a distinction, however, between "obscenity" (sexually explicit content that is not protected by the first amendment) and "pornography" (sexually explicit content that is protected by the first amendment). Further, even the use of the term "pornography" has been hijacked! "Child pornography" should more appropriately be termed "child obscenity", since pornography is entitled to first amendment protection, whereas obscenity is not.

Ask: "Ask" is a verb, meaning to call on for an answer, to beg, to question, to make a request, etc. Lately I hear it being used as a noun ("Let's make an ask for those funds.") by a lot of MBA types who apparently have trouble with really long words like "request."
Not all the entries are so good. (Some people just don't get it.) But they're fun to browse, and it's great to see others who share your pet peeves. See spending cuts, decimate and nonrefundable deposit.

Just returned from an unexpected emergency trip to Dallas to see a man about a car. Success!

But 12 hours of driving in 20 hours? Worth it.

Blogs TK.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

(short rant) It's enumerate and remunerate. (/short rant)

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Lame copy editor humor that I can't get enough of:

Q. What does a copy editor call Santa's elves?

A. Subordinate Clauses.

What can be wrong about a dictionary so right?

Knight Ridder announces its excellence award winners. Among them is a copy editor:
Marcia Abramson, deputy copy desk chief/Community News for the Detroit Free Press, won the Behind-the-Scenes Journalism award, designed to recognize the achievements of those who labor in the newsroom without bylines or credit lines.

Abramson won for her leadership in helping to develop the concept and managing the ongoing production of the Community Free Press micro-zoned local news sections. Heavy on listings, calendars and vital "very local" news, the weekly sections are low on the journalism glamour list but rich in the kinds of information readers value in their everyday lives.

To edit the sections, Abramson was instrumental in a plan to hire a part- time copy desk composed largely of new mothers who had left the paper to devote time to their young families. The plan has been a success.

The jury said, "Marcia has done a marvelous job in something that is difficult for large newspapers to provide, but extremely valuable to readers and advertisers. Her enthusiasm and professionalism have energized those around her. We were impressed, too, with her creativity in assembling a staff that includes many part-timers; in an industry that struggles to retain good copy editors, she's found a way to help keep that talent employed."

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Copy talk:

* A colleague's favorite lede, from college: "What if they held National Condom Day and no one came?"

* Another colleague's favorite student government story, also from college: "He was wearing what could only be described as a shit-eating grin."

* And a dream headline: "Headless body found in topless bar."

Care to share any more?

A plea to my fellow copy editors: Yes, it's often OK to omit "says" and the "to be" and "helper" verbs in heds. But please limit this to the main verb.
Wrong: Council says governor stupid.
Right: Council calls governor stupid.

Wrong: Jury says suspect guilty.
Right: Jury finds suspect guilty, or Jury says suspect is guilty.
Bill Walsh's great book, "Lapsing into a Comma," covers this. He says, "You cannot assume the reader will fill in the was or is for anything but the main verb." Find another way to write it, and pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

I love Jane Austen. But reality dating shows aren't my favorite of the reality genre. Still, it was with great interest that I read "Clueless — What do the new reality dating shows have in common with 19th-century literature?"

It won't make me watch the show — why, when there's my new "Pride and Prejudice" box set from the BBC waiting? — but it's a fun read nonetheless.

This Financial Times memo is intended for reporters, but it's a great refresher for editors, too. The rules laid out here on sourcing say a lot about what it takes to be credible. And we are the protectors of that credibility. Some highlights:
* Seek to disprove what you have been told, even if that takes time: at the FT we do let the truth get in the way of a good story and when we run it.
* Be explicit about what you do not know. At the very least, this can help readers - and editors - to avoid misinterpreting stories.
* Always give people or companies the chance to answer the charges being levelled at them. Remember that cross-checking builds respect with sources.
* Test yourself to find out how comfortable you would be with a challenge to your story's veracity the following morning.
* When you cite "analysts" or "experts", this means you have spoken to a handful of such people and that a consensus exists. If your claim is controversial, "analysts say" is a poor attribution. If you have not spoken to anyone in particular, it is mendacious.
I especially like the "test yourself" advice. How often are we expected to find errors in stories about topics we're clueless about?

This is the main reason we need to be given more than 15 minutes to edit a story and slap on a headline. Sure, I'll fix the grammar, run a spell-check, and parrot the lede in the headline. But how can I double-check phone numbers and addresses, confirm the names of officials and Joe Schmoe, check the math, or read a quick primer on credit ratings to understand what I'm editing?

Monday, September 15, 2003

Sensitivity update: In case you were wondering, I guess this is still inappropriate in newspapers — even at the Toronto Star. Put Kim Cattral, Fran Drescher and a dog underneath the blazing sun, and what do you get? Their caption said:
Three bitches in heat.
Update your stylebooks.

They got complaints. Of course, this was after they ran a picture of a female flasher with the caption "bodacious ta-tas." Not a peep about that one.

Google searches directing people here:
september 11 images jump "Richard Drew"
jumpers "world trade center" "Richard Drew"
+"identity"+"jumpers"+"World Trade Center"
"world trade center" & "jumpers" & photos or pictures or photo
"schwarzenegger" "michael kinsley"
"Nicole Stockdale"
falling man, tom junod
arnold scharzenegger voices
"Having sex with a white female is not a disqualification"
"lorem ipsum solor sit amet"
"feet on the dash"
"shattered glass the movie"
scharzenegger and "oui magazine"
doonesbury references masturbation
penis exhibitionism
kc star coverage of britney madonna kiss
You spell Schwarzenegger wrong once, and Google never lets you live it down.

The American Copy Editors Society has changed some rules in its headline contest:
* They're offering cash to winners ($350 for each category).
* Nonmembers can enter.
* A new category will judge a publication's best work, an entry that must include at least three editors' work.
The deadline to enter is Dec. 19.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

This story on how the Patriot Act is being stretched to charge common criminals is a must-read. One of the uses:
Federal prosecutors used the act in June to charge a California man with "terrorism using a weapon of mass destruction" after a pipe bomb exploded in his lap, wounding him as he sat in his car.

Speaking of Entertainment Weekly, it's hiring.

The Buffalo News uses two recent headline awards as an occasion to laud its copy editors and explain the craft of headline writing to readers. The author does a good job, too, even delving into the "big story, tight headline" problem.

But perfection is hard to come by: I must take issue with one of the headlines she extols.
Some are clever, like features editor Elizabeth Barr's headline on a story about Celine Dion's Las Vegas concert: "Diva Las Vegas."
Now, I'll never say that all headlines that play on words are bad. I'll leave that fight to Phil Blanchard. But then what makes a pun OK? It has to work both ways — as a play on words and literally. Yes, "Diva Las Vegas" plays on "Viva Las Vegas." But it means nothing literally.

Puns heds are easy. But making them work both ways while still encapsulating the story is damn hard.

Two publications that often do it well: Slate.com and Entertainment Weekly. (In Entertainment Weekly: "Heaven and Mel; Oscar-winning director Mel Gibson stirs up a religious firestorm in The Passion.") Even they sometimes write groan-inducers, though. (Also in EW, a deck head about goth band AFI starts out "You've goth to be kidding. …" My thoughts exactly (well, close enough).

Friday, September 12, 2003

A Detroit News columnist , Laura Berman, looks back at Sept. 11 by delivering a back-handed compliment to a headline writer.

It was just after 10 a.m. The towers had collapsed, and Laura's editor gave her 45 minutes to write a special-edition column.
The magnitude of the events that particular September day were overwhelming and confusing and oddly numbing -- not easy material for a journalist trying to compose a slice of history's first draft in less than an hour.
A copy editor, likely just as rushed, crafted this headline: One tragic day forever shatters our safe and secure world. The columnist disagreed.
It was an awful headline, too knowing and predictive, and it leaped to a conclusion that was nowhere to be found in the column it was ostensibly describing.
Jumping to conclusions? Now that's a bad headline tactic. Those of us who write headlines know all to well how it probably happened, but it's still no excuse. A bad head is a bad head.

But Laura goes on.
The column I wrote on Sept. 11 avoided reaching for wholesale conclusions. The headline writer decided to put in words what I didn't yet want to believe. On a traumatic day filled with uncertainty, we couldn't know in our heads that a new century, and a new order, had begun.

But looking back at that headline, I think we knew it in our hearts.
I can't figure out if she is saying the headline was OK after all or if now, two years later, she has decided she can forgive and forget because it has come true.

Either way, I'll take issue: A head that was over-reaching two years ago isn't made good by being true today.

One tragic day forever shatters our safe and secure world?

Forever is a long time.

Copy Massage starts what I'm sure will be a lengthy discussion: How much background information is too much for readers?
Part of the balancing act of editing is estimating the aptitude of your audience. We can’t assume they will pick their way through a thorny patch of grammar. But we shouldn’t barrage them with bland and obvious “information” either. (Governor Jeb Bush of Florida is President Bush's brother? Really?)
When I first started working in newspapers, we gave a lot of attention to keeping stories short. "Not everything on 1A needs to be 25 inches long." "Try to hold it to the cover." "Use that jump space for more news!"

Now those are ideas of the past — even though we've lost pages of news hole every day. When a third of a story is background information that you'll include in four or five stories a week, are you really helping readers? That's space for three stories they won't hear about in your paper.

And when you don't get the news you want from your newspaper, you'll get it somewhere else.

We need to fill more of the paper with news and less with background. It will give readers more impetus to read the paper every day and give us more space for news to keep them reading.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Pissy comment of the night: I'm amazed that the only people having win-win situations are government workers and business executives. (Could it be more a spin-spin situation?)

A copy editor bids bitter farewell to his job at the Philadelphia Daily News. (Link via Prints the Chaff.)

Design vs. editing. Start at the bottom.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

The Pixies. Are back. Together.

Allan Siegel, a co-author of the New York Times Manual of Style and , has been named the paper's first standards editor.

What does this mean?
Mr. Siegal will organize training sessions for new reporters and editors in fact-checking, overall accuracy and ethics, as well as oversee the writing of new guidelines on using unidentified sources and on byline and dateline policies. In addition, he will follow up on complaints that are received or initiated by the newspaper's public editor, or reader representative, soon to be appointed.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Pavement's Stephen Malkmus explains the "oysters and dry Lancer's" lyric from "Shady Lane."
When I was a kid, the Lancer's commercials used to freak me out. Lancer's was like swingers' wine: It came in this cheap, green bottle that looked like a bad Spanish terracotta knockoff. They would advertise it on TV like you were going to get laid if you drank Lancer's. Maybe it was a California thing -- they've got a lot of cheap grapes in Stockton. I'd actually like to get a discussion group going about Lancer's.
OK. But what I really wanna know: Why "Swingin' nachos like you just don’t care" in "Unfair"?

Other notes of interest: Liz Phair, Violent Femmes and Nirvana.

And Michael Stipe takes some venom out of a lyric I always found cruel, "A simple prop to occupy my time."

The photos of Sept. 11 that most haunted me were of people falling from 100 stories to their deaths.

The images were available one after the other on the photo wires, on news service Web sites. I stared at those photos until they were etched in my mind, knowing I could never forget them. Knowing I should never forget them.

I wasn't alone.
No one ever got used to it; no one who saw it wished to see it again, although, of course, many saw it again. Each jumper, no matter how many there were, brought fresh horror, elicited shock, tested the spirit, struck a lasting blow.

Esquire takes an intense look at one of the photos that captured that horror. AP photographer Richard Drew took it after fleeing from a photo shoot of pregnant models. He doesn't apologize for the shot, or the emotion it evokes.

And the author of the story, Tom Junod, makes the point that Americans have been coddled by the media. The images that many most identify with the pain of that day are the images we are not allowed to see. Most papers ran one photo on one day and then never again. The television networks ran the images only until the brass found out; then they ran them with faces blurred; then they censored them completely.
What distinguishes the pictures of the jumpers from the pictures that have come before is that we—we Americans—are being asked to discriminate on their behalf. What distinguishes them, historically, is that we, as patriotic Americans, have agreed not to look at them. Dozens, scores, maybe hundreds of people died by leaping from a burning building, and we have somehow taken it upon ourselves to deem their deaths unworthy of witness—because we have somehow deemed the act of witness, in this one regard, unworthy of us.
This discussion, and the story of the search for one jumper's identity, provide a fascinating read. Carve out a half-hour to fly through it and consider.

Monday, September 08, 2003

Newsdesigner.com has a great snippet from Glamour Magazine on "How to Read the Paper in 10 Minutes."
Read each page-one article up to the "jump line" (the line that directs you to another page for the rest of the story.) Editors front-load the important details so they fit on page one.
Skim headlines in the rest of the paper then absorb the first paragraph and read the last sentence of each piece. You'll get the story without trudging through every word.
I'm sure I'm not alone in agreeing with Newsdesigner: From all of us who labor to keep the democracy's populace informed, I'd like to send out a big middle finger salute to the fine folks at Conde Nast!

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review published an editorial Aug. 20 about a Vermont educator who had sex with a teacher's aide in school.

That information, the Pittsburgh City Paper points out, is true. What's not true is the paper's reporting that the sex took place on the teacher's desktop, that he cautioned the aide "to not scream in pleasure," that an NEA spokeswoman said, "Having an affair with a white female is not a disqualification," or that the teacher in question is black.

So where did the Tribune-Review get this information? From a doctored news story that is the only quoted source for the editorial.

The fact that the paper got it wrong is disturbing. But this is downright wrong: The editorial writer didn't even accurately quote the doctored news source correctly because it was obvious some things were factually inaccurate.

Here's the doctored story's quote: "Having sex with a white female student is not a disqualification."

But the writer knew it wasn't a student at issue. It was a teacher's aide. So here's the quote that ran: "Having sex with a white female is not a disqualification." Not even an ellispis.

The City Paper says the Tribune-Review ran a correction (I can't find it online, and the paper took the editorial offline) that "barely acknowledges a fabrication took place, noting only that 'erroneous information came from a correct Vermont Press Bureau story that had been changed by a third party and redistributed.' "

I wonder if the editorial department has a copy editor or has resorted to having writers read one another's works as other papers have.

Poynter has a "jargon watch" that's worth perusing. A lot of it is basic, but these are the terms we can always use a refresher on.

The foreign editor of the Washington Times writes a column on the "unsung heroes" of the copy desk. A snippet:
It's a sometimes tedious job and provides little opportunity for recognition. The hours are miserable — typically 3:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. or later. Yet copy desk editors are, in my experience, some of the most committed newspapermen and women in the business.
There have long been arguments that readers don't care about how the paper is put out as long as it shows up on their front porch. Maybe I'm overly interested in processes, but I don't agree with this theory. If that were the case, why would children take field trips to factories? Why do schools require shop class attendance? Why would people tour beer manufacturers? (Well, that last example isn't the best.)

And for those who can't be persuaded, it's a nice gesture nonetheless.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

An article offers an inside look at "Shattered Glass," the movie about journalist Stephen Glass' fabrications. One interesting tidbit, which points out the perils copy editors face so often:
"The thing that is most mortifying about that 'Hack Heaven' article is that a couple of the literary flourishes are things I put in on the editing process," admits Lane, who was a paid consultant on the "Shattered" film.

But how was Lane taken in? "The best I can do for an answer is that I was the last person in the chain, so by the time it got to me, it had been seen by a fact checker, a copy editor and one other substantive editor. So my view of his stories incorporated the assumption that all these other people had an opportunity to check it, and if it got through them, then it was ready to go," Lane explains.
People who read the story before us assume the errors will be fixed when it gets to the copy desk. People who may read the story after us assume we caught all the errors already.

The moral of the story? I guess copy editors have to catch all the errors.

The second moral, though, would have to be that a publication needs to staff enough copy editors to allow them the time to hunt down and fix all these mistakes. Sure, magazines have the luxury of fact checkers that make less sense for newspapers. And news copy editors can't fact-check everything. But we do more than our fair share -- and a little extra staffing would go a long way in rooting out the Jayson Blairs of the industry.

They haven't all been found. Hell, they haven't all been created.

This is what I'm talking about:
“I think it’s marvelous and I think it crosses generations, it crosses ethnic groups, it crosses economic class structure."
I guess tomorrow we'll talk about comma splices?

Here is where I plea for more commas.

According to AP style:
IN A SERIES: Use commas to separate elements in a series, but do not put a comma before the conjunction in a simple series: The flag is red, white and blue. He would nominate Tom, Dick or Harry.

I have a theory here: Most reporters and editors have never actually read AP's rule. They have no idea that the first — therefore arguably the most important — part of the rule is that we should use commas to separate elements in a series. The exception to this rule is a simple series — red, white and blue.

So how did this morph into "No commas before the conjuction in a series ever?" Misapplication of the serial comma rule gives us sentences like this:
That followed disagreements over issues including a tax on suburbanites who commute to the city, the pace of redevelopment at the World Trade Center site, state aid for the city budget, distribution of federal security funds and the city's attempt to refinance debt by selling bonds.
That's not a simple series. There should be a comma before the last "and."

Even worse is three complete sentences joined with a conjunction without the preceding comma:
There were plants along the wall, a bird was chipring overhead and the woman realized she'd never leave this place.
Comma, please!

Maybe what we need here is a guideline explaining what's simple and what not. In practice, I generally use a four-word rule. But it's not hard and fast. Any other suggestions or thoughts?

Saturday, September 06, 2003

At long last

It took me all day, but I finally got a new look for this site. I'm all ready for fall.

And I learned a few things: I need to take a class in HTML. Or I need to not be typing all this in by hand. Or I need someone around who knows what she's doing to help me trouble-shoot when I screw stuff up.

And I need a drink.

Friday, September 05, 2003

A copy editor at the Washington Post ruminates on what it's like to sit outside Bob Woodward's desk — interesting callers and secretive visitors. Oh, and then there was the time she got to hobnob with Bob and his wife at his house over drinks and fine conversation. (sigh)

Michael Kinsley of Slate discusses whether it should matter that Arnold Schwarzenegger was a womanizer in the '70s. The short answer: Yes.
In terms of his fitness for elected office, the fact that Schwarzenegger bragged about this episode in a published interview makes the question of whether it really happened almost irrelevant. In 1977, at least, he wished to have people believe that he shared and was proud of an attitude toward women that is not acceptable in a politician. And in 2003, all he has said is that he doesn't remember the interview. He hasn't said whether he remembers the episode itself—or, if he doesn't, whether that is because it never happened or because it happened too often to keep track. More important, he hasn't said what he thinks about it all from the perspective of 2003.
Schwarzenegger's first response was that he "never lived my life to be the governor of California." Then he said he didn't remember the Oui magazine interview. Then he said he made stuff up to make headlines.

So, which is it? And how long will it take him to come up with a story he can stick with?

Related: an interview with Peter Manso, the author of the Oui article, and a rape survivor, Karen Pomer, who was interviewed by Maria Shriver (Schwarzenegger's wife) for "Dateline." Pomer says that after her interview with Shriver, Shriver said, "If I had been raped, my husband would leave me because after all I would be damaged goods." She added:" It really stunned me and stunned the entire crew that was there in the room. We were stunned into silence."

Another test. Ugh.

Slate's publisher, Cyrus Krohn, pleads with Microsoft's legal team to stop the New York Times from poaching its staff.
Granted the New York Times has been experiencing talent problems of their own lately, but that's no excuse to "brain drain" us. In my seven years with Slate, I've seen the Times make off with no fewer than five Slatesters. And just last week, they tried to hire away our esteemed editor-in-chief, Jacob Weisberg
There's no doubt that the New York Times is in need of building up its talent pool again; there's a lot of ground to make up. But what kind of noncompete clause could Slate employees be signing? (Via Romenesko)

UPDATE: Krohn says it's a joke, which makes much more sense.

Is this the new direction of newspapers?
Trying to describe The Morning News (themorningnews.org) makes a journalist yearn for a new, Web-focused edition of the AP Stylebook. The site is not a blog, insists Rosecrans Baldwin, the News's twenty-six-year-old editor, since it uses different voices. Nor does he like the term 'zine — "a word that implies things that don't have advertising, get photocopied, and show up in music stores."
It also covers Flak Magazine and the great McSweeney's.

Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth fame is hosting a new cable show. Moore's show is "Sonic Cinema" and will air at 10 p.m. Central every Thursday in October. The first one, on Oct. 3, will feature Spoon's video for "Everything Hits at Once."

"Hi-Fi Fridays" will air before "Sonic Cinema," starting at 8 p.m. The third one, Oct. 17, looks especially promising:
The television premiere of Song for Cassavetes kicks off the "Hi-Fi Fridays" part of the evening. This documentary looks at the world of underground rock from the perspective of the musicians, and features concert footage and interviews from Sleater-Kinney, The Make-Up, Unwound, Dub Narcotic Sound System and more.
The irony is that the line-up is especially lo-fi. But who's complaining?

Excuse me while I try to get this new design to work.

Every day, on my way to work, I pass a billboard that — design abominations aside — makes me cringe. It's for a business called Spas & Such 4 U.

Spas & Such 4 U?

What, was plain-old Spas & Such already taken? Were potential customers thrown off because they thought the spas were for someone else? Is there some polling data I'm unaware of that proves sales go up when there are random numbers and solitary letters smattered in a business name?

Who are these people?

Garry Trudeau talks about masturbation and editing in a Salon.com article.(Registration required, unless you watch an ad for a free day pass.)
Technically, the exclusion of my strip from a newspaper is not censorship. It's called editing. Newspaper editors have a right and responsibility to control the content of their papers.
And why "Doonesbury" is being "edited" from papers less:
The bar got lowered with raunch radio, "South Park," and "Tonight Show" jokes about fellatio. Against that backdrop, "Doonesbury" no longer seemed quite so shocking.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Because of an editing error....

Not a good day for editing at the New York Times. My favorite?
Because of an editing error, an article in Business Day on Monday about the success of the Walt Disney Company during the summer movie season referred incorrectly to "Freaky Friday." It is a comedy, not a thriller.

Forbes.com is looking for an assitant news editor in New York. You'd work 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., which is hard to sniff at.
Copy editing and HTML experience necessary. Financial journalism background preferred. Tech-savvy editors encouraged to apply.
This could be your ticket to The Big City.

My newsroom is an icebox. It shouldn't have to be like this. My hands are so cold it's hard to type.

How much money could we save by keeping the building warmer than 65? Maybe we could save some jobs that way instead of cutting news hole and journalists.

A diving catch: My friends in sports saved this from the paper in a story about a drenched-field football game:
And then there was the steady rain that soaked body, soul and balls.
The writer meant, of course, footballs.

Somehow, I'd never read this poem before by former San Fransisco Examiner copy editor George Martin. All in all, poetry's not usually my thing. But this isn't really poetry; it's more my life story. Here's a sneak peek:
So I rearranged the commas
and I tidied up the lede
and I patched up all the typos
and gave it one more read.
I typed in all the coding
and prepared to write the hed
when a voice came from the news desk,
and this is what it said:

This is a little late. But, wow, what a job.
WINE SPECTATOR magazine is looking for a seasoned copy editor to join its editorial staff in producing 17 issues per year. Applicant must have at least 3 years experience in magazine publishing; wine interest preferred.

Here's a dictionary that includes references to medical and computer terms as well as dream analyses.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

The Morning News runs a telling piece written by a reporter at a small-town paper who struggles with the news and non-news he's stuck with covering.
I am writing about nothing, and I’m doing it on a regular basis for relatively nobody. There are more copies of some extremely rare coins than there are of my newspaper.

Today's Parent offers reasons why copy editors should tread lightly when trying to be hip -- unless, of course, you are.

The article offers parents with a "Generation Rap" lexicon. Some gems:
Truethat: That’s right. Sometimes said as “tru dat.” When you ask the question, “Did you clean up your dishes?” this is unlikely to be the response.
Chillax: To chill and relax concur-rently. This may sound redundant. Advice: It’s unwise to suggest any grammatical points of weakness to the tribe, as you run the risk of being shut out of further explanations of what the words actually mean. (Also, chizzil.)

More on the Atlanta Journal Constitution and their Britney-Madonna photo: The paper has a cutline contest every day. Find yesterday's here.

After telling my father to "shut up" when I was 4 or 5, the phrase was verboten in my house.

Someone should have imposed the same rule in Bill O'Reilly's house.

A Slate article explains:
In the half-decade his top-rated show has been on the air, he's called for the muzzling of practically everybody. At the rate O'Reilly is going, he'll be the only person allowed to speak in a couple of years. Which, I suppose, is his master plan.

Read the examples of some people he has told to shut up. My favorite? The young man whose father, a Port Authority worker, died in the Sept. 11 attacks.

The Atlanta-Journal Constitution apologizes for running a front-page photo of the Britney-Madonna kiss.

Although I normally object to newspapers' mass apologies, I have to agree that this one was in order. Yes, the kiss was big news. And it should have been covered. I even think it's appropriate to run the photo. (I say this with the full disclosure that the paper that employs me ran no such image.) But on the front page? No. Throw it inside.

The paper still would have received complaints for running the photo at all. A question I'd love to have answered is: Did the AJC run the photos of Uday and Qusay on the front page? Fallen American soldiers? And which did they think was bigger news? Which was more shocking? And which served readers more?

And one of the letters to the editor raised an interesting question:
It makes me wonder whether it is getting this kind of coverage because it is every straight man's fantasy. Would a kiss between Eminem, Justin Timberlake and 50 Cent be treated in the same manner? I have a feeling there would be a lot more outrage.