Saturday, January 31, 2004

And for all those students who said spelling never mattered (and a tsk tsk to a Bush copy editor): points out this presidential goof:
The President enjoyed his recent visit to Britain so much he wrote personally to thank Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens for keeping him safe from terrorists.

Unfortunately, the letter from the Oval Office to New Scotland Yard was addressed to the "Comissioner" of the Metropolitan Police, with the second "m" missing.
The story said commentators had earlier suggested that Bush might have brought grammar experts along on the trip because it had been gaffe-free — until now.

Perhaps there's a White House job opening up as you read this.

Here's an interesting list of headlines on Bush's State of the Union address published in a Tucson Citizen column about headline writing. (Scroll toward end of column.)

Note how many actually say little, and how space limitations hampered message.

The American Copy Editors Society has updated the schedule for its conference, March 18-20 in Houston.

A rundown of what was added (from what I can tell):
* "Women Shot in Lingerie Department: Hazards of Editing on the Internet," Jenny Montgomery, Houston Chronicle
* "Moving Up from the Copy Desk," Bobbi Bowman, ASNE
* "Subtle Race and Gender Bias in News Stories," Doug Backstrom, Miami Herald, and Teresa Schmedding, Daily Herald
* "Big-Picture Editing," by Merrill Perlman, New York Times News Service
* "Make the Cut: Improving Photo Captions," Bob Howard and Lynn Orr, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
* "Mayhem between the Quote Marks," Bill Montgomery, Houston Chronicle
* "Having a Life," Scott Toole, Express Times
* "What Reporters Need from Copy Editors," Neil Holdway, Daily Herald
* "What the Academics Found," Deborah Gump, Ohio University, and Susan Keith, Arizona State University
* "To Write the Impossible Head," David Sullivan, Philadelphia Inquirer
* "Rules that Aren't Rules," Bill Walsh, Washington Post
* "Rim Editors' Forum," Melissa Murdza, Stars and Stripes, and Tim Yagle, Marin Independent Journal
* "When Stories Fall Short," Warren Watson, API
* "The Inside Story on Design," Bill Sheehan, Los Angeles Times
* "Newsroom Theater," Joe Grimm, Detroit Free Press
* "How to Deal with a New Boss (Who May Not Be Copy Desk Savvy)" by Eric Grode, TV Guide; Pat Regan, Daily Herald; and Robin Thrana, Charlotte Observer

Some highlights from the conference:
* "Rules that Aren't Rules," by "Lapsing into a Comma" author Bill Walsh, the other style maven
* "Ethics and Standards," by Los Angeles Times editor Jon Carroll (sure to bring up the ethics of reporting Schwarzenegger's sexual harassment) and New York Times AME Allan Siegal (who led the committee on how to restore the paper's credibility after Jayson Blair)
* "The Future Doesn't Need Us: Weblogs and the End of Editing as We've Known It," by esteemed blogger Tom Mangan
* "Listen Up: This Is Simple," by the original Testy Copy Editor himself, Phil Blanchard
* "Jimmy's World," by New York Times styleguide co-author William G. Connolly
* "How to Win," by Detroit Free Press chief of copy desks Alex Cruden
* "Getting Back to the Word," by ACES president John McIntyre
* "To Write the Impossible Head," by Philadelphia Inquirer AME for copy desks David Sullivan

Friday, January 30, 2004

My favorite Times critic (Gawker) offers some free sensitivity training for for copy editors:
The Times might win the award for "most cavalier context-giving reference to poverty in an artsy feature" for today's article: "The South Bronx is still no paradise, as any housing project resident or child asthma sufferer will tell you. But on a recent evening wine glasses and Corona bottles clinked and ties were loosened at the G-Bar as patrons heard the jazz repertory of 22-year-old Jennifer Jade Ledesna..." I certainly hope all those asthmatic children enjoy smooth jazz stylings.
See for yourself: In the South Bronx, the Arts Beckon

Thursday, January 29, 2004

My favorite (off-topic) quote of the day comes from a Wonkette roundup of candidate news:
Sharpton: Scores major points for disabusing Brokaw of the notion that the war on terrorism is being conducted against a bunch of black men in bow ties: "I assume when you say 'the Nation of Islam' you're talking about Islamic nations."
Could that have actually happened? Seems almost too funny to be true. But, thanks to the Washington Post's handy debate transcript, you can see for yourself.

Spinsanity, a blog ferreting out "manipulative political rhetoric" (now there's a broad category) is now publishing a column every week in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Each Thursday through the end of this year, the Inquirer will run a column on its commentary page by the editors of Spinsanity. These columns will include original analysis and some original evidence, but readers may recognize some content that was previously published here. We will link to our Inquirer articles as soon as they become available and post them in full when they move into the Inquirer's paid archive.
So, more bloggers use their cache for print jobs, although this is different. The blog will continue to have original content in addition to the Inquirer material.

This content is of interest to copy editors, by the way. It efficiently points out flaws in political arguments that can help us do the same at work. See why Dean's accusing Bush of going to war because of his father is a specious argument, how the Republicans coined the vague "political hate speech" to try to make Democrats' attacks seem out of line.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

The University of Nebraska's journalism school will begin requiring all incoming students to take a grammar placement test and a new 100-level class on good writing.

Kudos to them. I've seen a lot of young reporters — in college and out — with abysmal grammar skills. I know high schools are teaching less grammar these days. (Hell, I haven't had a grammar class since eighth grade.) But for people going into communications, that oversight is inexcusable.

And newspaper managers are noticing. I've heard several say they've seen a significant drop in ablity recently, one they're blaming on increased focus on convergence and less time spent on the basics.

No matter what the reason, you shouldn't be able to get a degree in journalism without knowing simple grammar and how it is applied at a newspaper.

The j-school's move is a good one, and I hope other schools follow suit.

Monday, January 26, 2004

Today's grievance: unnecessary use of "ages." When an event is for "children ages 10 and up," delete "ages." Believe me, readers will still understand.

That doen't mean "ages" should always be deleted, though. Consider: "The event is $5, $4 ages 8-12." It works there because you don't have a noun that already indicates an age.

It's just another reminder to make sure each word is necessary — especially in those charts and listings for calendars we copy editors have to trudge through. It can save valuable space.

In February, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists will release a stylebook for Spanish-language journalists. The project was under-written by Knight Ridder and co-authored by the Associated Press (among many others).

What will it do? The Web site says:
This comprehensive first edition of the Manual de Estilo is an expert guide on grammar, the proper use of titles and other style questions, common problems with intonation and pronunciation on the air, and the tricky craft of tranlating stock market terms and government jargon in a predominantly English U.S. environment.

Journalists who work in the booming and challenging Spanish-language media industry will also learn how to keep Spanglish from creeping into their work and stay away from words that may take on different — and sometimes obscene — meanings as vocabularies from a myriad of Latin America are forced to come together in the U.S.
Or, as Mercedes Olivera of the Dallas Morning News put it: "Is it carro or coche? Both words mean "car" in Spanish, but which one would a Spanish-language journalist use?" I wish I had enough of a hold on the language for this to be practical for me. Perhaps soon.

If it works for you, here are the details: The stylebook is $14.95. You can order it here.

In addition, NAHJ will hold stylebook release parties in several cities.

Information on the parties is here.
Stylebook release parties:
Miami — Feb. 7
Chicago — Feb. 10
Los Angeles — Feb. 13
New York — Feb. 20
Dallas — Feb. 28
Washington, DC — Mar. 3
Denver — TBA

Related: Number of Spanish-language dailies has quadrupled since 1970.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Noted: John Edwards' home state is North Carolina. He lives in Raleigh.

But he is a native of South Carolina. He was born in Seneca.

So when he vies for first in the South Carolina primary next week, he will be going to his native state or his birthplace state (as the New York Times so eloquently put it in an online hed), but not his home state.

I've had a lot of people (OK, eight) reach this site by Googling the 2004 edition of the AP Stylebook. So let's clear this up.

The latest edition of the AP Stylebook is the 2003 edition. The spiral-bound version, which I prefer, has a greenish-teal cover.

AP's Web site says, "Due to unexpected demand the 2003 AP Stylebook is currently out-of-stock and is being reprinted. It will be available in mid-February."

Happy searching!

Saturday, January 24, 2004

Example #1,148 on why wire stories require careful editing. (Hey, most of these stories start out local like the rest of the copy you read.)

AP wrote a story about a court ruling that a gay father had to shield his son from his lovers and other elements of his love life. AP's lead:
A gay father can't flaunt a homosexual lifestyle when his son is around, a state appeals court has ruled.
Clearly, this violates Associated Press style:
Avoid references to gay, homosexual or alternative "lifestyle."
And the story makes "lifestyle" references throughout, without attributing it to the court.

The wording upset people from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against definition, and the Washington Blade wrote a story. AP spokesperson Jack Stokes was quoted saying, "We regret the error."

But, as Phil Blanchard would say, hundreds of papers run AP unedited every day. For this story, that included the Memphis Tennessean and the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Wonkette, New York-based Gawker's answer to D.C., welcomes armchair editors.

To quote, well, someone I heard recently: Any organization that does not accept constructive criticism will collapse under the weight of its own arrogant chauvinism. (Insert Dean-like finish here. Yee-ah!)

Friday, January 23, 2004

Fort Worth seeks a copy editor:

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram is looking for a talented and enthusiastic copy editor for the news copy desk. The ideal candidate is a nitpicker who can see the big picture, a grammarian who knows when to break the rules, a wordsmith who can operate a calculator, a precisionist who can write a clever headline.

The news copy desk handles news and business copy from the wire services, from our newsrooms in Fort Worth, Arlington and northeast Tarrant County and from the paper's bureaus in Austin and Washington.

A minimum of three years' experience is preferred, but we will consider exceptionally talented applicants with less, including recent college graduates who have desk experience at their college papers and through summer jobs or internships at real-world dailies.

Please mail or e-mail a resume and cover letter to:

Tim Sager
Executive Copy Desk Chief
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
400 W. Seventh St.
Fort Worth, TX 76102
(817) 390-7102

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Vacation over, back to the real world.

And what better time to talk about buried attribution?

Compare these sentences:
Thursday, Stephen said we should buy the new album.
Thursday, Stephen said, we should buy the new album.
When that attribution is buried within a sentence, it is imperative that it be set aside with commas. We must know whether Stephen was speaking Thursday, or whether he intended us to buy the album Thursday. (Truly, the fate of the world depends on it.) And the comma makes all the difference.

Those commas can drastically alter the meaning of a sentence. Consider:
With nowhere to go, he said, the woman's attitude changed. (He's letting us know that the woman, trapped, took a new course of action.)

With nowhere to go, he said the woman's attitude changed. (Now it is the man who is trapped, forced to admit the change or perhaps lying to save his own skin.)
There's a lot of story in a little comma.

Friday, January 09, 2004

Now is the time to register for the ACES conference, if you haven't already. The postmark deadline for early registration is Monday (extended from Jan. 3). After that, the price goes up $60 for the next month. After that, it will go up $60 more.

Check out the ACES Web site to print out a registration form to send in.

Or register online here.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

This has nothing to do with copy-editing, but it's a quote that just must be shared.

Howard Dean tells a Washington Post reporter that he signed the Vermont bill to support civil unions because of his Christian views:
"From a religious point of view, if God had thought homosexuality is a sin, he would not have created gay people."
Good luck with that line of reasoning, Dr. Dean (as he is referred to at the Morning News).

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

CNN headline: Hillary Clinton 'truly regrets' Gandhi joke.

The quote is actually: "I truly regret if a lame attempt at humor suggested otherwise." (Emphasis mine.)

I wish headline writers would quit forcing quotes to conjugate on their whim. What's so hard about this?

Saturday, January 03, 2004

Michael Kinsley writes about the Novak-Plame situation in Slate, noting how bizarre it is that the same journalists who say it is imperative to discover the source of the leaks are saying it is imperative that journalists not be the ones to disclose their sources, the leakers.

Nonsense, he says.
The purpose of protecting the identity of leakers is to encourage future leaks. Leaks to journalists, and the fear of leaks, can be an important restraint on misbehavior by powerful institutions and people. This serves the public interest. But there is no public interest in leaks that harm national security, or leaks that violate the law, or leaks intended to harm blameless individuals. There is no reason to want more of these kinds of leaks. So, there is no reason to protect the identity of such bad-faith leakers.
Nonsense, I say.

It's true that journalists don't disclose leakers' identities as to encourage future leaks. But the fact that this was a mean-spirited leak that doesn't serve the public interest is no reason to identify the leaker. It is only a reason to not publish the information in the first place.

Although Novak failed to make that distinction — or chose to ignore it — that does not mean that disclosing his sources would serve the public interest in the long run. Sources must feel that their anonymity will be protected no matter how much heat the journalist takes.

Also, sources leak information for the "wrong" reasons all the time. That doesn't give the journalist the right or obligation to name them. And if the leaking of this information was a crime, often so is the leaking of other information. It's still not the journalist's job to squeal.

And to bring this on-topic a bit: What's up with the headline? Novak agonistes? Is it a reference to the Greek agonistes, meaning actor? Is it some reference to Milton's "Samson Agonistes"? What is going over my head here?

Also, Kinsley refers to an independent counsel:
Dozens of White House officials have been interviewed. Now the independent counsel will start all over. This is costing millions of taxpayer dollars.
It's probably better to describe Patrick Fitzgerald as a special prosecutor or special counsel, as another Slate article points out here. Congress let the law allowing independent counsels, such as Ken Starr, expire. It was replaced by special-prosecutor regulations.

Man Thanks Caretaker For Heroic Actions After Plane Crash

Am I the only one who reads "caretaker" and thinks "morgue"?

The definition of caretaker doesn't really support my connotation. But caregiver seems so much more appropriate in this case.

Google shows that in caretaker vs. caregiver, caretaker is winning.

Thursday, January 01, 2004

Why do some otherwise brilliant editors refuse to come around on hyphens?

I recognize — even if I don't agree with — the resistance to using them in recognizable compound modifiers (that silly peanut-butter rule [take that!]).

But why is it not obvious that compound modifiers of more than two words take more than one hyphen? That makes it chicken-pox-like scars, not chicken pox-like scars, and hairy-wig-wearing women, not hairy wig-wearing women.

The second example shows why this rule is important. But the first example needs the extra hyphen just as much.