Monday, May 31, 2004


Tom Mangan has pulled the plug on Prints the Chaff, the editors blog that started it all.
Blogging was fun till it started getting to be too much like work: scanning dozens of blogs and news sites every day for blogworthy posts, then thinking up something to say, then saying it, then correcting all my typos. Time spent blogging was not spent with books, music, movies, family, physical fitness (I gained 15 pounds because I had to give up my workouts to free up time to blog). Lately I had come to dread it. Dread's always a good sign it's time to move on.
Blogging's not going to be the same without his new posts to race to. But he has kept the old stuff around on his personal site. I imagine he'll be blogging there occasionally. Drop by to give him your regards.


Language Hat again makes the case for the serial comma.

I like the serial comma, and I was long sad that AP discouraged its use. (Anyone confused by this past tense discouraged?) I'm just now getting over it. Really.

But I think we delete the last comma in a series more than even AP calls for. See this entry.

Word nerds, take notice

Language Log has an interesting syntax discussion on "supplementary (non-restrictive) relative clauses with a present participle in place of a finite verb, whose subject is a partitive structure involving a relative pronoun, like 'both of whom', 'most of whom', 'few of whose parents', 'part of which'."

In English: It's sentences like this: "Ireland and Denmark, both of whom being heavily reliant on British trade, decided they would go wherever Britain went..."

Warning: not for the faint of heart.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Editing missives

Check out the blog of James Pecht, a colleague of mine at the Dallas Morning News.

He edits business copy and blogs some fun tidbits from the desk.

And though he must be only a short jaunt from my desk, we have never met. I will have to remedy this when I get back into town.


Friday, May 28, 2004

Oh, these modern times

Could Theodore Roosevelt have been home-schooled?

Verbal Energy's Ruth Walker read this at a National Park Service site, and it stuck with her. She realized why a couple of days later: " 'Home-schooling' has a contemporary political edge, and it doesn't fit the Roosevelts."

So what's the alternative? Tutored? Ah, but that has modern connotations of its own.

She digs further in "Bully for tutoring - or is that 'home-schooling'?"

Is now the time to freelance?

Bloggers Writing Books; Demand For Copy Editors Rises

At least people still think we're necessary when they move from blog to print.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Lessons from Bremner

This is the eighth lesson from editing extraordinaire John Bremner. (Anyone tired of him yet?) Click here for Tuesday's.

Bremner is discussing the sanctity of quotes.
Do we ever change a quote? Well, let me give you my principle.

I would never make an ordinary citizen look bad. I'd never make it appear that I were being condescending or, rather, that I were showing this guy up if he goofed in speech.

What do you do,however, if you get a public figure who goofs in a quote? Are you going to correct it? Suppose you have to use it. You can't paraphrase. ... No answers? Quote it the way he says it? I'm not talking about obscenity here, I'm just talking about usage, grammar. Anyone disagree?

[Comment from teacher] Very imporant, the television bit ... because if they read it in the paper one way in the afternoon and then see it on the television that night or the next morning or whatever. A great example of that--

Remember when Alexander Haig was president of the United States? Remember that, that day? What the hell happened? Ronnie was sick, wasn't he? Wasn't that it?

No, he was shot. That's right, I'd forgotten the circumstances. And they couldn't find George anywhere; he was flying around Texas, as I recall. And Haig stepped in and took over. There was no way under ... constitutionally, he had no right.

Anyway, they finally got George back to Washington and propped him up in front of all the cameras and microphones. And George said, I quote exactly, "I want to reinsure the American people."

Now, I was on the road the next day and able to see different papers. The AP story said "I want to reassure," which is probably want he meant to say to the American people. The L.A. Times/Washington Post story said, "I want to assure the American people." And one paper -- in fact, it was in Indiana, a small paper up here that said (and you may disagree with this, you may say it's editorializing; I like it) said, "As a sign of his nervousness, Vice President Bush began his remarks with, "I want to reinsure..."

I thought that was a great way to handle it. It got the thing across and explained it, and I don't think it's editorializing at all. Watching it, Bush was nervous.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

I'm out of town

My baby sister is getting married! I'm in Wichita, but I will be able to blog every now and again.

Feel free to converse among the comments.

Bremner will return tomorrow.

Need a new job?

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch is hiring.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, with a daily circulation nearing 300,000 and 500,000 on Sunday, seeks an experienced copy editor who can help us enhance the high standards we have for our business section.

We seek an innovative editor who can breathe life into potentially static material and who can recognize and implement possibilities for strong visual presentation. This person must work quickly and assimilate information from various sources into a tight presentation.

This editor will make stories conform to the style of the Post-Dispatch, and, to a large extent, the Associated Press Stylebook. Stories must be edited for pace, tone, fairness, completeness, context and factual errors. This person also will check graphics and read page proofs for accuracy, and suggest story ideas. Writing bright, readable headlines and editing cutlines are integral parts of the job.

Copy-editing or front-line editing experience, preferably at a daily newspaper, is required. Above all, this person must be a good manager of time, must be focused and must pay attention to detail.

To apply, please submit an overview of your experience to:
Cynthia Todd
Director, newsroom recruitment
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
900 N. Tucker Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63101

The application deadline is June 7, 2004.
Doesn't sound half-bad.

Find more information about key P-D personnel here.

From another perspective

Dive into Mark has an interesting post, "The first thing we do, let's shoot all the copy editors."

He wrote a book for programmers that is now with the copy editor:
Now the copy editor is wielding her virtual pen and striking through every word I’ve ever written. Incorporating her revisions is simultaneously humbling, enlightening, and mind-numbingly tedious.
He then lists what he's learning from her notes: that vs. which, placement of only, etc.

But the comments following the post are good, too. Take this one:
Admittedly, when you’re publishing a book it’s important to have your copy edited (for accessibility’s sake, if nothing else), but I’ve always been fond of this quote from my linguistics lecturer:

“If anybody ever tells you that you’re using the language incorrectly, just yell ‘prescriptive grammarian!’ at the top of your voice and all the linguists in the building will run over and surround the guy… and then they’ll rough him up”

The is no such thing as correct usage; only common usage and prescribed usage. I find it liberating.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

A chance to be famous

The Wilmington Star-News in North Carolina will start giving an 11 p.m. preview of the next day's news on its NBC affiliate, a la Aaron Brown.

And who gets to present that front page? A copy editor!

Convergence is hitting a little close to home.

Money to spare?

Buy a copy editing T-shirt. Or, if you're really hard core, buy a bumper sticker.

Lessons from Bremner

This is the seventh lesson from editing extraordinaire John Bremner. Click here for yesterday's.

Here, Bremner is defining the virtues of a copy editor.
The toughest thing to teach, you will find, is consistency. You have to learn what I call the thrill of monotony. Any fool can live on the thrill of novelty, but to get up and go to work and do the same thing over and over again -- day, month, year after year after year -- takes a special talent, takes a lot of patience, perserverance.

But a love of consistency -- I'm not holding up the AP Stylebook as the model. As some of you remarked earlier, the AP often doesn't follow its own. AP doesn't edit nearly so much as it used to, nearly so much as it should -- or the UPI for that matter. But it's your responsibility to see that there's consistency.

Suspicion, another virtue. Take nothing for granted -- in the newsroom. Outside the newsroom, trust everybody, outside the newsroom.

If I had to put an epitaph on a grave, I would say, "It is better to be fooled occasionally than to be suspicious constantly." I don't know any other way of going through life. ... Because you're going to be fooled anyway, no matter how smart you are. It's better to be fooled occasionally than to be suspicious, paranoid, constantly.

Except, ladies and gentlemen, in the newsroom. And you have to teach those young men and women in your hands to be healthily suspicious.

You need also a great sense of fairness -- whenever there's a story with more than one point of view, to make sure that all points of view get a chance to say something. Don't lie, and don't say "couldn't be
reached." Above all, don't say "couldn't be contacted," what a lousy verb. Students have to be saturated with the news.

The next thing I emphasize to you is that you have to be
thick-skinned. Because if it's your responsibility to correct -- and I don't just mean the writing, I mean the speech -- it's your responsibility to correct their language. And they have to develop
thick skins and take that criticism. If they can't take criticism as students, they'll never take it as adults. And those of you who worked at newsrooms, especially at decent-sized papers, you know that you have to take criticism or you get the hell out. Isn't that right, Mr. Thien?
Tomorrow: Bremner on quote changing.

Get me rewrite!

Try to say this sentence from a New York Times story in one breath:
A number of Security Council diplomats said that they were disappointed by the draft resolution’s determination that the contentious issues of how detainees will be handled and what will be the relationship between the new Iraqi government and the multinational force will only be detailed in an exchange of letters next month between the force, the United Nations and the new government.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Modern-day bartering for editors

As one of the people with sought-after Gmail invitations to give away, I had fun reading offers on Gmail Swap.

A few were editing related:

Someone will edit your college paper.
I will use said Gmail account, in part, to edit and process large numbers of e-mails of articles traveling between your campus and my computer.

I will also write editorials, on whatever side of whatever topic you desire, including railing against people I've never heard of, under a silly Latin pseudonym like 'Vox Discipuli' (meaning 'Voice of the Students' I believe.) It is my belief that this silly Latin pseudonym will only add to the mystery and interest of your higher education publication.

I pledge to edit your publication for one full academic year, starting this fall, or earlier if you have summer printing. Upon invitation, I may extend this period for similar meaningless favors.
One is from a former copy editor who now teaches college English.
Someone should swap with me so that they will no longer feel abashed by their typos or just the things Miss Nospel never got around to teaching in 3rd grade.

And I am a college-level English teacher, so you know I'll be right.

Prior to going into a teaching, I really was a copy-editor.
Not sure if I trust this one, though:
I will edit a document for you and help you turn what may now be gibberish: Whidigo Widigant Tidigo Gidigividige Midige IdigAn IdigAccidigoidigunt? into grammatically correct, readable English: Who wants to give me an account?

Some past clients who will verify my expertise: F. S. Fitzgerald, E. Hemingway, W. Faulkner.
And, not related to editing but related to indie rock: You can get a first-edition pressing of the Pixies' "Surfer Rosa."

Clean up!

I missed this story in March, and I may have to pay for it.

Office workstations, on average, contain 400 times as many germs as a toilet seat.

I hope you weren't eating at your desk when you read that.

Where to draw the line

How sensitive should headline writers be to the feelings of a story's subject? What about the subject's relatives? How much detail is insensitive? When does it become sensational?

The public editor at the Virginian-Pilot discusses the topics with force.

He also touches on when to prey and when to pray. And how "prose ain't poetry."

Lessons from Bremner

This is the sixth lesson from editing extraordinaire John Bremner. Click here for the first, second, third, fourth and fifth.

Here, Bremner is defining the duties of copy editing.
A copy editor is the guardian of his newspaper's character and reputation. And you can add a sentence to that that says he is also a Univac. You can explain what a Univac is and put a period there. And say he knows something about everything and everything about something and where to go to find out what he doesn't know.

What are the duties of a copy editor? Well, you know them. You'll find them listed in any textbook, though I don't use a text, but you can get them from a text. He corrects errors of fact. Excuse me, she corrects errors of fact. And she corrects grammar, spelling, punctuation, usage. She makes the story a proper literary effort, in short.

She makes the story conform to the stylebook, be it the AP stylebook or a stylebook for a particular paper, and any supplementary stylebook that you may have.... Checks for libel. Checks for unanswered questions. Exercises news judgment, meaning, does the lead summarize the story? Is the lead substantiated in the story? And are both sides of the story represented, or several sides of the story represented in a controversial story?

What else does she do? She cuts the story for space, according to the
directions received from the desk. Have I forgotten anything, except
the two biggies at the end?

She writes headlines, which to me is the most exciting thing about being a copy editor. And, in most cases, especially on smaller papers, she's responsible for a lot of makeup.
More tomorrow, but I'm running out.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

When was the last time you went to a discotheque?

Why is it that if a bomb kills people dancing in Brazil, they die at a "discotheque"? But if the same happened in the States, they'd die at a "club" or maybe even a "nightclub"?

Reporters, just because they call them "discotecas," doesn't mean you have to translate that to "discotheque."

Lessons from Bremner

This is the fifth lesson from a DVD of editor extraordinaire John Bremner. Click here for the first, second, third and fourth.

Bremner is going through a sentence on his editing test.
4. He claimed he knows a star athalete who will sign with the school.

BREMNER: I don't use claimed as a verb unless I'm using it in the context of an assertion, of a legal right or title. I would say "said" in this context. He's not claiming a right or title.

He said he knew, sequence of tenses. Now, a lot of people preach about sequence of tenses but don't follow the sequence of tenses. I don't know, I still teach it. To me, it makes sense.

I don't feel well. "What'd he say?" He said he didn't feel well. I'm speaking: I don't feel well. "What did he say?" He said he didn't feel well. You automatically change present to past when the controlling verb is said, when the controlling verb is a verb in the past tense, not present tense. He says he doesn't feel well. He said he didn't feel well.

I will go to Florida -- please, God -- in a couple of weeks. "What'd he say?" He said he would go to Florida. Change future to conditional.

I've been here only 24 hours. "What'd he say?'" He said he had been here only 24 hours. Change perfect to past perfect.
This lesson so resonates with me, and I was never even taught sequence of tenses in college. But it makes so much sense. Why are so many desks dropping this rule?

Does anyone out there still change sequence of tenses? Espcially with "said"?

(And, yes, athlete is spelled athalete in the test, and he doesn't mention it here. But the DVD only gives excerpts of his lesson. I am sure he mentioned it, just not here.)

Know Your Audience

It seems I wasn't the only person a little squishy about Nazi headlines over reviews of "Eats, Shoots & Leaves."

I mentioned a headline here that ran in the Kansas City Star: "The Punctuation Nazi."

Today, the public editor of the Akron Beacon Journal addresses a similar headline that ran there: "Grammar Nazi slays with humor."

Saturday, May 22, 2004

A lofty pursuit

A proofreading company specializes in editing Bibles. Imagine the pressures of editing when people's salvation could be on the line.

Related: Notorious typos found in the Bible throughout history. [Testy Copy Editors]

A not-so-capital capital idea

The Air Force is now requiring all official publications to capitalize airman in all uses.
“Airmen in the United States Air Force are the heart and soul of our unique fighting force and should be identified as a proper noun,” [Force Chief of Staff Gen. John] Jumper said in a release. “Capitalizing the word ‘Airman’ recognizes their historic achievements and signifies our unique contributions to fighting and winning America’s wars. It shows we’ve earned the respect a proper name imparts.”
This follows the Army decision in October to capitalize soldier in all uses.

No response yet from Realtors.

Do you get it?

James Kilpatrick's latest language column is on the verbs do and get: when to use them, when to replace them, and when it doesn't matter.

Good reading for copy editors with dangerous knee-jerk-delete tendencies.

Lessons from Bremner

This is the fourth lesson. Click here for the first, second and third.

(Bremner is going through a sentence on his editing test.)
3. Only one of the people who work in the lab is a veterinarian.

BREMNER: Only one of the people. [I would assume Bremner once considered people an error but has had to relent.] AP now says we use people for anything -- two, three, four, whatever. We don't say two persons, three persons. ...

Now, is it work or works? Works? How many people say work? Three of you are right. Ah, what a group. Work is correct. [From the audience: Why?] All right there, steady now.

What's the subject of the verb work? Who, good. What does who refer to? people. What number is people? Plural. People is plural, therefore who is plural, therefore the verb is plural. You say, oh, well, this is simple stuff. Why is it only three of you got it? I'm not mocking you. You're brilliant, every one of you. You wouldn't be here unless you were brilliant. But, you see, there are certain fundamental things that we have to either learn or relearn. Work is correct.

It's vet-ER-inarian. I just put it in there because you so often hear it "vet-rinarian, vet-rinarian, vet-rinarian," and you see it misspelled. Vet-ER-inarian. It comes from the Latin word vetus, veterinous, meaning old. And veterinarians originally were the people who took care of sick farm animals, old animals, usually. And that's how they got to be called veterinarians.
More tomorrow: Sequence of tenses!

Friday, May 21, 2004

A little too much community

Read in copy tonight (emphasis mine):

"The fingerprint community is really anxious to see these prints and try to
understand what has happened."

Lessons from Bremner

This is the third lesson. Click here for the second, here for the first.

(This is going through a sentence on Bremner's editing test.)
2. The grand marshal gave his councel to whoever sought it.

BREMNER: Councel -- Counsel, of course.

Now, this is a democracy. We vote on everything. Is it whoever or whomever? How many want whomever? Well, that's great. You're wrong.

Pronouns agree with their antecedent in person, number and gender, but they take the case from the clause in which they stand. What?! You have to define seven or eight terms there. I'll give you a gimmick in a minute, but if you're going to go through it grammatically, here's the way to do it.

Pronouns agree with their antecedent ... How many persons in the English language? As many as you like. Infinity. Well, how many numbers in the English language? As many as you like. I don't know.

How many cases? Don't ask me what a case is or how many cases there are in the English language.

Let's try gender. How many genders in the English language? Let's try it on you, Teach. Professors, how many genders are there in the English language? Two, the man says. Three, over here. Any advance on three, or decline therefrom? Four?

Four is correct, OK. Don't say, "Hell, no." Four genders in the English language. Masculine, feminine, neuter (this typewriter, neuter). What gender is this word teacher? Professor? Student? Pupil? Parent? Child? Pilot? Is it masculine? No. Is it feminine? No. Is it neuter? Neither? No. It's common. Common gender. Go look it up. I didn't
invent it.

Back to the sentence: Whoever and whomever. We've got the four
genders. OK. What's the subject of the verb ... sought? Who! You wouldn't say him sought it. See it?

What's the object of the preposition to? The whole clause, the whole clause. Not whomever. The whole clause: Give it to Charlie, give it to whoever wants it! It's the subject of the verb.
More tomorrow.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Mideast metaphors

Ruth Walker of Verbal Energy notes some mixed metaphors:

Embracing the road map: "Embrace a road map, and it gets wrinkled."

The Quartet: "Are these musicians all on the same page? Or even in the same key?"

She makes many other good points. Fine reading, as usual.

It might, it might not; who knows?

The Dead Parrot Society makes a great point (via about the lead of this Reuters story:
There is a 50 percent probability that the 2004 Atlantic hurricane season will have above-normal activity, the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA) said in its outlook.
Really? "Reporters should avoid writing sentences such as that," DPS says. Too true.

But, to be fair, the story follows up with this, which makes more sense:
NOAA's season outlook said there was a 40 percent probability of a near-normal season and only a 10 percent probability that the season will be below normal.

The marriage of history and change

I found a great article on the origin of the word marriage (by Jan Freeman of the Boston Globe, published in the International Herald Tribune).

Some have argued that marriage has always meant the union of a man and a woman and can therefore not encompass the union of a man and a man or a woman and a woman.

Freeman writes: "Rooting around in the linguistic past doesn't help either side in this debate. In fact, arguing from word origins is such a losing strategy that it even has a name, the etymological fallacy."

But for fun, she digs through the past to find the origins of "marriage." The French gave birth to it in the 14th century, borrowed from the classical Latin maritare -- "a verb used, the Oxford English Dictionary tantalizingly notes, 'of people and animals and in viticulture.' (Did the grapes wed on the vine or in the vat, I wonder? Either way, the metaphor had legs: We still speak of 'marrying' food and wine.)"

There's much more, all a delight to read.

And this is as good a time as any to remind one and all that although one definition of marriage is "an intimate or close union," it's best to avoid the term when gays and lesbians are joined in a civil union. It is too easily confused with same-sex marriages, and the distinction is important, as Massachusetts is proving.

Not that Bob Woodward

A former student pays tribute to Drake University journalism professor Bob Woodward, who is retiring, in Knot Magazine. Woodward helped Jennie Dorris create the magazine five years ago, and she remembers fondly his teaching methods, with an anecdote I appreciate:
It was unfailing: with each class that passed through the college, Woodward would sniff out the unsatisfied hell-raisers and take them under his wing. He'd encourage our rebellion and then slap the AP style guide in our face. After countless emails from him correcting AP style rules, I found that rebellion is better when all its words are spelled correctly.
Hear, hear.

Lessons from Bremner

This is the second lesson. (Click here for the first.)

BREMNER: You can't teach this [grammar] unless you know it. And one way of finding out what you know about it is to give you a test.

NARRATOR: John Bremner had a little test he used in his copy editing classes as a means of finding out what his students did and did not know. I'll give you a few sample sentences from this quiz to see whether you can correctly edit them without rephrasing or rewriting. Don't be too mortified if you're surprised at some of John's answers. This test has been known to embarrass some of the most experienced journalists among us.
[On-screen] 1. Volkswagon is only having trouble with one of there new models.
BREMNER: "Volkswagen: I'm looking around here, and quite a few of you can't spell it. It's W-A-G-E-N. I had a job once in Oklahoma City, and this guy, "Well," he said, "what's the importance of it?" And I said, "What do you do if there's an accident story involving a Volkswagen?" "Well," he said, "you spell it the way the cops spell it." [Laughter] "Now, that's no way to go through life. You know that." I said, "What did you do here?" "I crossed it out and put Ford." If you don't have a dictionary, when in doubt, put Ford.

On only: Put your modifiers as close as possible to the word they modify.

On their: ... On there, T-H-E-I-R, not T-H-E-R-E. For heavens' sake, that's elementary. [Teachers erupt into questions about their.] OK! I just wanted to make sure that somebody was still awake out there. Just checking. That's it, that's it. Come in, come in, sucker. That's it.

Stay awake. Of course, it's its. A collective noun, in the United States of America is usually considered to be a singular -- the team is, the congress is, the school is, whatever. In England, it's treated usually as a plural. And don't knock it! It's their language. We got it from them. They will say: "Parliament are in session. The government are doing something or other. The team are having their worst season ever." It takes awhile to get used to. I'm not saying you should treat collectives as plurals. But don't say it's wrong.

In fact, I treat collectives most of the time as plurals. What are you going to do? Most American newspapers will say, "The couple was married yesterday." Great. God bless 'em. The couple was married yesterday. And then, if you're going to be consistent, then it went to Florida on its honeymoon, yes-yes, yes-yes. Well, then it had an argument. And then it decided to have a divorce. It went its separate ways.
More tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

He's half-right

Mark Cuban bitches about headlines and reporters.

He's right that USA Today's headline was a bad call (if true; it's different online), but so wrong that it's the media's job to baby-sit quote givers.

He says this in the context of Kevin Garnett apologizing for saying he was "ready for war" in his next playoff game.
They all stood there with their recorders on as KG spoke and took in his comments. Did a single person standing around him ask him if he was sure he wanted to go on the record with those comments? Did anyone jump in and remind him that some might consider the comments insensitive? That maybe he wanted to recant or go off the record so the media wouldnt quote him?
Sorry, Mark, that's not the way it works. Celebrities learn quickly that they have to censor themselves. Reporters shouldn't be holding people's hands through interviews.

Catch up on courts-martial

Heads up, to all of you reading stories about the Abu Ghraib prison abuse today. There are conflicting facts in some stories.

Spc. (not Spec.) Jeremy Sivits pleaded guilty on all four counts against him at a special court-martial. The counts:
* Two counts of conspiracy to maltreat subordinates or detainees.
* Dereliction of duty for willfully failing to protect detainees from abuse, cruelty and maltreatment.
* Maltreatment of detainees, or forcing a prisoner "to be positioned in a pile on the floor to be assaulted by other soldiers," a military briefer said.
AP calls for court-martial, court-martialed and courts-martial.

Sivits received the maximum detention the judge could impose under his plea agreement (which allowed him to face a special court-martial rather than a general court-martial) of one year. His rank was reduced to private and he received a bad-conduct discharge. He could also have lost two-thirds of his pay. In exchange, Sivits agreed to testify against the six others charged with abuse:
Sgt. Javal S. Davis
Staff Sgt. Ivan L. Frederick
Spc. Charles A. Graner Jr.
Spc. Megan M. Ambuhl
Pfc. Lynndie R. England
Spc. Sabrina Harman
Although all six have been charged, only the first three have been ordered to face a general court-martial, although all six are expected to.

General courts-martial handle more serious crimes and can issue tougher sentences.

Slate has a great Explainer on courts-martial, which tells how they work, the rights of the accused and the difference between a general and a special court-martial.

Word to the wise

In case it matters to anyone, I will resume making links open in separate windows, after a request -- until someone convinces me otherwise.

Happy linking!

New AP stylebook available

OK, all you Google searchers: The 2004 version of the AP Stylebook has been released.

The general prices is $13.75 plus a shipping charge of $5 (1-10 books); $10 (11-25); $20 (26-50); $40 (51-100); or $80 (more than 100).

As usual, you can subscribe online for $20.

Lessons from Bremner

I received a wonderful DVD, "John Bremner: Guardian of the Newsroom," of John Bremner teaching a seminar, and it's worthy of sharing. So, here's a pretty faithful transcript. Although not all of this will translate perfectly to the written word, I think there's merit in avoiding paraphrases. Read what you like, and skim the rest. But there are a lot of editing lessons in here.

I've broken it into several days' worth.

A narrator begins by informing that Bremner had an unusual start in the editing world. He was born in Brisbane, Australia, in 1920. He was ordained a priest and first worked for a Catholic publication. After he moved to the States, he earned his master's at Columbia and his doctorate at the University of Iowa. In 1968, he left the priesthood, and he joined the KU faculty the next year. This DVD is from a seminar for young journalism professors at Indiana University in 1986.

What follows is Bremner:
My business is language. I teach editing, things like accuracy and consistency and suspicion and imagination and fairness and general knowledge and saturation of the liberal arts and all that stuff. In back of it all is the language, and you're not going to get anywhere as a student or as an instructor -- as a pro, even -- unless you are thoroughly immersed in this language. This bastard language of ours, English, which takes its roots from so many different languages from all over the world, not just Latin and Greek.

And you have to be a master of this language. I know it's ideal, but it's also a fact. The first way to teach students to be a master of this language is through a dictionary.

You say, "Well, anyone can use a dictionary." That's not true. You don't look up a dictionary just to see how a word is spelled. That's part of it. I'll never look up anything unless I check the derivation, check the etymology. Looking up a word in the dictionary, this really exposes you to so many other words in the language and expand your vocabulary.

The second way to teach them, and this is tough -- not through the dictionary. You have to teach them -- excuse my using the word -- grammar. The first of the trivium in the classical liberal arts: grammar, logic and rhetoric.

I don't apologize for saying it. It's become sophisticated to say that you don't teach students grammar. Bologna! There's no such thing as a literary genius in elementary school or high school, and I would dare say even college.

(Singing) Do, a deer, a female deer. Re, a drop of golden sun. Do re mi fa so la ti do. (speaking) Where do we get that, by the way? You've been singing that since you learned it at your mother's knees, or some other joint. I don't know, but you learned it. Why do we sing do re mi fa so la ti do?

All music, ultimately -- or Western music, anyway -- Western music, comes from the scale. ... And all English language comes from the seven parts of speech. And one of the tricks of learning the language, to become a master of the language, is to put these things together. It's what's called syntax. You get into logic then, how to put them together logically. And then you get into rhetoric. (And not the debasement of the word rhetoric as we have it today. That's a bunch of rhetoric, we can't believe rhetoric. Rhetoric is the science, the art of persuasion of inducing beauty and ... to persuade people, to appreciate what you--

Noun, verb, pronoun, adjective, adverb, preposition and conjunction. There you have it. That's what it's all about.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Nice catch

The ombud at the Richmod Times-Dispatch lauds copy editors for some fine catches. (He includes changes to "A jaguar is still occasionally spotted in the Southwest," the "kitchen trailer had three confection ovens," and "On the ground, with the bull breathing in his face and armed only with a rolled-up newspaper, the man crossed his arms and tried not to look."

He included a quiz for readers, which is nice.

He also mentions that the paper has a monthly in-house newsletter from the Copy Desk, "A Quick Word," that includes good catches. Good idea, and it can produce fun examples.

Here are a few from the Wichita Eagle's in-house editing newsletter, "In Cold Type."
Her sister "said she received a standing ovation several years ago after singing the national anthem at a Mets game."
That's the favorite of copy chief Nick Jungman because it's so subtle, "but once you think about it, it's absolutely hilarious to think about this poor woman who actually thought they were standing just for her."
"One resident at the apartment complex ... told police he awoke shortly after 2 a.m. when a bullet struck his unit...."
Double ouch.
"In Butler County, flags lined many downtown streets in a show of support for the attacks that rocked the East Coast."
Supporters of terrorism in the heart of Kansas?
"A 15-year-old Wichita boy died Friday after he lost control of his motorcycle in north Wichita.... He was not wearing a seat belt."
Enough said.

Word choice

Roy Peter Clark has an article at Poynter that I enjoyed about choosing words carefully. He says, "Choose words the average writer avoids but the average reader understands." Good advice for memorable headlines.

Another way of looking at things

Thanks to Nick Jungman, we have the top 20 minimum salaries for reporters at Guild papers, comparing the cost of living with Dallas'. He made his calculations using this cost-of-living calculator.
1. Minneapolis Star-Tribune ($1165) ($60,580)
2. Baltimore Sun ($1131) ($58,812)
3. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ($1116) ($58,032)
4. Buffalo News ($1100) ($57,200)
5. St. Paul Pioneer Press ($1096) ($56,992)
6. St. Louis Post-Dispatch ($1083) ($56,316)
7. Chicago Sun-Times ($1077) ($56,004)
8. Toledo Blade ($1037) ($53,924)
9. Cleveland Plain Dealer ($1009) ($52,468)
10. Philadelphia Inquirer ($999) ($51,948)
11. Denver Rocky Mountain News ($950) ($49,400)
12. Denver Post ($944) ($49,088)
13. Boston Globe ($886) ($46,072)
14. Washington Post ($812) ($42,224)
15. Honolulu Advertiser ($726) ($37,752)
16. Honolulu Star-Bulletin ($718) ($37,336)
17. New York Times ($619) ($32,188)
18. San Francisco Chronicle ($584) ($30,368)
19. San Jose Mercury News ($572) ($29,744)
20. Dow Jones ($514) ($26,728)
I wish lists like this existed for non-union papers. It's nice to get a feel for what people are paying. But it's also important to remember that these are the listed minimums. You can easily make much more than this. I'd like to assume that's happening at some of the best papers on the list.

Then again, they don't list the minimum just for fun. Someone has to make it.

Fun browsing

Here is a list of the top minimum pay for reporters at Guild papers for 2003. I've listed weekly pay, followed by what would be the yearly salary.

The top 20 listed:
1. New York Times ($1445) ($75,140)
2. Boston Globe ($1260) ($65,520)
3. Philadelphia Inquirer ($1224) ($63,648)
4. Dow Jones ($1201) ($62,452)
5. Chicago Sun Times ($1193) ($62,036)
6. Minneapolis Star-Tribune ($1182) ($61,464)
7. Cleveland Plain-Dealer ($1130) ($58,760)
8. Honolulu Advertiser ($1122) ($58,344)
9. St. Paul Pioneer Press ($1112) ($57,825)
10. Honolulu Star-Bulletin ($1110) ($57,720)
11. Pittsburgh Post Gazette ($1105) ($57,460)
12. San Jose Mercury News ($1100) ($57,200)
13. Baltimore Sun ($1092) ($56,784)
14. San Francisco Chronicle ($1088) ($56,576)
15. Denver Rocky Mountain News ($1068) ($55,536)
16. Buffalo News ($1063) ($55,276)
17. Denver Post ($1061) ($55,172)
18. St. Louis Post-Dispatch ($1054) ($54,808)
19. Toledo Blade ($1052) ($54,704)
20. Washington Post ($1002) ($52,104)
What I'd really like to see is a comparison of these minimum pays with the city's cost of living. I might do that soon if I come up with a good way.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Staying vigilant

Most of you are familiar with the ruckus caused over the Boston Globe's publishing photos that it believed was evidence of U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi women.

The pictures turned out to be porn, and the Globe ombudsman wrote a column last week explaining how a picture of the photos (from a distance) shows the sexually explicit acts. What she discovered was that the photo was never flagged for discussion by the glass-office types.
Although several staffers saw it, no one set that process in motion; one raised a question but the message was not received in time.
I hoped that one late question asker was a copy editor. But Chris Chinlund, the ombud, told me that wasn't the case. It was a photo desk editor.

So why didn't copy editors flag this, too? My guess is that people assumed the photos had already been checked out by the higher-ups by the time they reached the desk.

It's a good lesson on why we should ask the questions once, even if they might have been asked before. Get that assurance.

AP Stylebook update

AP has changed its entry on United Nations. No longer do you need to spell out U.N. as a noun. (Feel that load lifting from your shoulders?)

The entry now begins:
United Nations Abbrev: U.N. (no space). The periods in U.N., for consistency with U.S., are an exception to the first listing in Webster's New World Dictionary.
Could U.S. be next?

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Give yourself a test

James Kilpatrick's latest language column covers American Heritage's new "100 Words Every High School Freshman Should Know."

The words include accentuate, antibody, aspire, bamboozle, bizarre, boisterous, boycott, camouflage, chronology, commemorate, cower, decorum, deduction, deign, despondent, dialogue, divulge, eclectic...

More specifically, Kilpatrick discusses specialized vocabularies (the list includes the scientific phloem and xylem and law's tort and chancery). It's a topic copy editors -- and writers -- think about every day.
Those of us who write for a living - or merely love the written word - clearly have a vocabulary all our own. It worries me all the time in writing this weekly column. I have to assume that my readers understand such elementary terms as noun, verb, direct object, subjunctive mood and dangling participle. But should I define "comma splice" by a specific example? What about "redundancy" and "tautology"? Is everyone clear that "redundancy" implies an excess and "tautology" implies needless repetition? These are judgment calls. Every writer has to make them every day.
Kilpatrick moves into a discussion of regionalisms in the Dictionary of American Regional English. DARE has published four volumes so far and plans a fifth next year -- and brings us quandy, pipjenny, savagerious, rutchie and proddy, among others.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Someone else who hates the word probe

Hartford Courant columnist Jim Shea talks about words he dislikes, and probe is on the top of the list.(Thanks, Tyra!)
I didn't always dislike it, but there comes a point in every baby boomer's life when the word probe takes on a whole new meaning, and your feelings toward it change.
But he ends with a word he does like: onomatopoeia. It's a trend.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Does Guinness track this?

This Texas politician may win Most Cliches At Once award:

"This was a real victory. The ballgame is not over, but instead of the Waco Veterans Hospital receiving a death notice, we received a green light."

Are yours included?

Merriam-Webster took votes on people's favorite words. The list includes 10 words:
1. defenstration
2. serendipity
3. onomatopoeia
4. discombobulate
5. plethora
6. callipygian
7. juxtapose
8. persnickety
9. kerfuffle
10. flibbertigibbet
Flibbertigibbet is good.

While I'm partial to hundreds of words in English, I do have one clear favorite in Spanish: libelula. Doesn't that sound nice?

What are your favorites? (I'm expecting Paul Wiggins to have something creative.)

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Must-read article at Poynter

Copy editor extraordinaire Barbara Wallraff sums up the ACES conference in 12 ideas -- "half of them about doing good work and half about feeling great about what you do." Her article, originally published in Copy Editor newsletter, is today's Poynter centerpiece.

These are her 12 ideas, to whet your appetite. Read the Poynter article, where she expounds and gives examples.

1. Be assertive.
2. Pick battles big enough to matter, small enough to win.
3. Be a writing coach.
4. Take readability formulas seriously.
5. Don't live in a house of rules; live in a house of guidelines.
6. Learn from your most capable colleagues
7. Recognition is always nice.
8. The more recognition the better.
9. Whenever possible, be flexible.
10. Build accountability into your system.
11. Keep your sense of humor.
12. Keep your sense of empathy.

More AP style updates

The Associated Press stylebook updated its entries on European Union to add the new member countries:
European Union EU (no periods, the more common practice). The European Union, based in Brussels, Belgium, was created by the Treaty on European Union signed in February 1992 and took effect Nov. 1, 1993. It is an outgrowth of the 1958 European Economic Community, which itself was formed out of the 1952 European Coal and Steel Community. The six founding members of the European Union are France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. Other members are Denmark, Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom, with Austria, Sweden and Finland joining as of Jan. 1, 1995. Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovenia, and Slovakia joined as of May 1, 2004.

It also changed its style on capitalizing nouns and adjectives derived from the names of planets and heavenly bodies. It had called for lowercasing martian and venusian, as well as lunar and solar. Now, it's:
Capitalize nouns and adjectives derived from the proper names of planets: Martian, Venusian, but lowercase adjectives derived from other heavenly bodies: solar, lunar.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

I want my headlines to say something

A classic example of the "no shit" headline.

AP style update

The stylebook committee has been busy lately.

This update is to the "caps, periods" section of "abbreviations and acronyms." It now says:
CAPS, PERIODS: Use capital letters and periods according to the listings in this book. For words not in this book, use the first-listed abbreviation in Webster's New World College Dictionary. Generally, omit periods in acronyms unless the result would spell an unrelated word. But use periods in two-letter abbreviations: U.S., U.N., U.K., B.A., B.C. (AP, a trademark, is an exception. Also, no periods in GI and EU.)

Use all caps, but no periods, in longer abbreviations and acronyms when the individual letters are pronounced: ABC, CIA, FBI.

Use only an initial cap and then lowercase for acronyms of more than six letters, unless listed otherwise in this Stylebook or Webster's New World College Dictionary.
The old entry (from my 2003 edition) said to use Webster's New World Dictionary and then said, "If an abbreviation not listed in this book or in the dictionary achieves widespread aceptance, use capital letters. Omit periods unless the result would spell an unrelated word." Period.

To lowercase acronyms of more than six letters is good, but I wonder why six. At the very least, I'd go with six or more. And I would prefer five or more, which I believe is the rule at the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

Want more? There's a related thread at Testy Copy Editors.

Check out Newsdesigner

It has a great rundown of the papers that ran photos with the beheading story. They are broken down by photo type -- U.S. and foreign.

The post also includes the Philadelphia Daily News' "BASTARDS" front page.

What's the Treasury's gripe with us?

Remember the Treasury ruling (discussed at A Capital Idea in April) that works from embargoed countries could not be copy-edited or translated or published? Its Office of Foreign Assets Control said that would be providing "services" for that country.
"Activities such as the reordering of paragraphs and sentences, correction of syntax, grammar, and replacement of inappropriate words by U.S. persons, prior to publication, may result in a substantively altered or enhanced product, and is therefore prohibited."
You could apply to the government to circumvent the rule.

About a year after an appeal, the department ruled that copy editing was OK. But many questions remain.

This article by the New York Press is the first I've seen that mentions newspapers and literary efforts.
Needing to secure the government's permission to publish didn't sit well with national literary groups like the international writers and editors' association PEN and its 2700 members, or the 310-member Association of American Publishers. The groups began talking and looked into the possibility of filing suit against the government. New York-based poetry journal Circumference added a subversive twist. It wasn't just going to flout the law. It was going to dedicate a whole issue specifically to works by artists from sanctioned countries (translated into English, of course).
Similarly, newspaper editors were worried how it could affect them.
Writing to OFAC Director Newcomb, the outgoing president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Peter Bhatia, asked a new question to OFAC regulators: What about op-ed pages?

"Any attempt to edit an op-ed for space by removing words, sentences or paragraphs would appear to violate the law," wrote Bhatia.

Licensing violated an international human rights treaty to protect journalists, he explained, and closed by asking whether newspapers, when they tweaked op-ed pieces from certain foreign countries, were in fact violating the law.
OFAC won't comment.

Embrace technology

Although a little long in the tooth, this column gives a good idea of what it was like to be a "telegraph editor" and copy editor 30 years ago.

I'm not even sure I would survive without Google.

(Start reading at "I started editing and headlining Associated Press news copy...")

On the telegraph editor: His job was vital in selecting, editing and placing wire stories from all over the world, his country, and region on pages throughout his newspaper, then laying out the daily Page One, writing the headlines and finally, shepherding the late-makeup pages to the printer/compositor and the press room on deadline.

On Linotype: For generations, the lines of lead type were created by a printer operator striking a letter on a keyboard on the Linotype, usually a Merganthaler. A brass matrix was released from a magazine at the top of the machine and when enough letters and spaces formed a line of column width, molten lead flowed into the mold to form a line of type, or slug.

And on editors: Age-old editing functions were changed with the creation of an "editing rim" when we moved to the new building. Five copy editors were arranged around a copy editor rim man, or quarterback. News from the local and regional desks, as well as all wire news, was routed through the rim editor who would decide where the story would go and what kind of headline and art work were required. Copy editors completed those functions, and after a rim man took a final look, the news item was sent on to be pasted up on the assigned page.

A question on that for any who would know: "Rim man?" I thought that was the slot and everyone who sat around him was the rim, hence the terminology today. Did it change somewhere down the line?

No prison abuse photos?

Mickey Kaus argues against publishing the photos of the Iraqi prison abuse.

Basically, he says publishing the photos is not moral because it will probably result in deaths "measured in the thousands and tens of thousands--once all the Arabs and others who are enraged enough by the pictures to become (or support) anti-U.S. terrorists are finished with their careers."

He has other reasons. I disagree with him on most of the points, but he explains himself well.

Yummy, yummy bacon

This is a bizarre column on verb-tense agreement. But I like bizarre, so here you go.

Is it "Two strips of bacon is my limit" or "Two strips of bacon are my limit"? Bubba breaks it down. Sort of.

AP style updates

The Associated Press has changed its entry on "innocent."
innocent, not guilty

In court cases, plea situations and trials, not guilty is preferable to innocent, because it is more precise legally. (However, special care must be taken to prevent omission of the word not.) When possible, say a defendant was acquitted of criminal charges.
The old entry said "Use innocent, rather than not guilty, in describing a defendant's plea or a jury's verdict, to guard against the word not being dropped inadvertently."

AP also added an entry on anonymous sources.
Use anonymous attribution only when essential and even then provide the most specific possible identification of the source. Simply quoting "a source," unmodified, is almost always prohibited.

Do not attribute information to sources -- anonymous or otherwise -- when it is obvious, common sense or well-known.

The basic guidelines for use of anonymous sources:
* The material must be information and not opinion and it must provide information of significant value to the news report.
* The information must not be available except under the conditions of anonymity imposed by the source. In some cases, it may be appropriate to say why the source requested anonymity.
* The source must be in a position to have accurate information and, to the best of the reporter's ability to determine, must be understood to be reliable.
* Be sure to seek more than one source for the story.
No word on whether Norm Goldstein and crew prefer "on condition of anonymity" or "on the condition of anonymity." But can we find guidance in the sentence "under the conditions of anonymity"?

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

A weird way to show appreciation, but we'll take it

Andrew Womack of The Morning News (online out of New York, not on paper in Dallas) gives an example of why editors matter in his "The Non-Expert: English" piece. ("Experts answer what they know. The Non-Expert answers anything.")

It's a good peek at what copy can look like before trusty editors get ahold of it. By babbling on and punctuating poorly, Womack is showing editors some thanks. It's sweet, actually.

One other reason I like The Morning News: It uses masthead correctly.

New AP entry

The Associated Press Stylebook has added an entry on illegal immigrant: Used to describe those who have entered the country illegally, it is the preferred term, rather than illegal alien or undocumented worker.

I know of a couple of papers that call for "undocumented worker." I like "illegal alien" much more and am glad AP went this way. (What if that undocumented worker isn't a worker? And exactly which documents must they be missing to remain undocumented?)

Monday, May 10, 2004


Time magazine has written a profile of John Carroll, to be published next Monday.

What do you think, after reading this lead?
John Carroll, editor of the Los Angeles Times, is sitting at the black marble table in his office, writing a headline for the next Sunday's paper. Never mind that this is normally the job of a copy editor. Carroll likes the story — about a woman seeking the truth of her father's death in 1948 and why the government covered it up — and he wants readers to be drawn in. But more important, Carroll believes that no detail is too small in making a great newspaper. And after four years of his leadership, the world is taking notice.
Some questions immediately spring to mind, namely: Was this headline just too important to leave to copy editors to write? And no detail is too small? Not even headlines, the most-read part of the paper?

Los Angeles Times wins headline contests [ACES]

Joining the bandwagon

This blog template has become the new default for blogs about editing. See Copy Massage and Common Sense Journalism.

You, too, can create a blog or change your template here.

I changed templates because this should give each post its own page, rather than putting a month's worth of posts together. And comments will scroll below each post. There were also a couple of housekeeping problems it solved.

Please do let me know if you find broken links or other problems.

Buttering up for an interview

The mention of Dave Eggers in the last post sent me back. I reread this piece, alluded to in here. There's this lesson on single-word quotes:
For example, if I was doing a Q&A with Dr. Heimlich (inventor of the manuever), it might look like this:
Q: Which of your manuevers do you like best?
A: I love that which is called the Heimlich manuever, because it seems to have saved many lives, and saving lives is good.
I have asked a question, and given the subject a chance to answer. I haven't bent his words or put any sort of spin on them. Now, if I'm a journalist with guile, working outside of the Q&A format, I could take that quote and make it look like this:
Dr. Heimlich claims that he "loves" his best-known maneuver, because it's "saved many lives" and he insists that saving lives is "good."
What's happened here is that I've used the words Heimlich provided, but by taking quote fragments -- words out of context, between quotation marks that cast doubt on the words' sincerity -- I've made something kind of snide and sinister out of something simple and straightforward. Note that by putting the word "love" between quotation marks, I've made Dr. Heimlich's sincere statement about his work seem false.
But even more intersting is Eggers' exchange with New York Times writer David Kirkpatrick.

A synopsis: Eggers doesn't want to be interviewed about the forthcoming paperback of his book "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius." After much persuasion, he relents and is promised a full review before publication. That doesn't happen, story has errors when it is published, and Eggers gets pissy. He reprints all correspondence with Kirkpatrick.

Reading about that interview get is fascinating, and I just spent more than an hour going over it again. Kirkpatrick's e-mails include this gem: "please, please, please call 212 556 XXXX, 917 XXX-XXXX." When begging doesn't work, he butters Eggers up: "Hello! I have to tell you, I belatedly read your book over the weekend, and I really was blown away---- I have never read anything even remotely like it." And then he tells of mutual friends. How this was the publishers idea and he's just going along with it. Self-deprecation: "I'm also not the fastest thinker/writer in the world, so it would be great if that could happen soon."

No one can say Eggers comes out of the exchange smelling like roses, though. He's certainly prissy and nit-picking (and not being able to review the article is largely his fault).

In any case, a welcome window into journalism from the interviewee's perspective.

The danger of single-word quotes

A blogger wonders about punctuation in this Australia Broadcasting Corp. headline:
Bush 'sorry' for Iraqi prison abuse
Why are there quotes around sorry? He says:
Bush did use the word “sorry,” but to take it out of context and put it between quotation marks casts “doubt on the [word’s] sincerity … [making] something kind of snide and sinister out of something simple and straightforward.” (As Dave Eggers wrote of a similar situation.)
He points out that the Washington Post went another route, "realising that there was no way to use 'sorry' in a headline without either (a) vouching for its sincerity at A1 headline scale or (b) making it appear insincere—sensibly avoided the word entirely."

Also interesting is a comment after the entry, making the argument that it is OK for the word to be in quotes because
Bush apologised for the hurt that was felt. He did not actually apologise for any actions -- of himself, Rummy, or anyone under him in the chain of command. His was the apology of someone cocky and self-assured, who says he's sorry that you felt bad when he insulted you, but does not apologise for the insult itself, or the fact that it came from him.
And that, folks, is a textbook example of why single-word quotes should be avoided.

A stupid law?

Another reason to embrace the hyphen.

Headline seen on Judge strikes down Gov. Bush's brain-dead woman law

Sunday, May 09, 2004

Unfortunate headlines

After reading in the New Yorker that the Iraqi prison abuse included "sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick," these headlines seem especially egregious.

Abuse Of Iraqi POWs By GIs Probed
Prisoner death, abuse probed
10 Iraqi deaths probed

Saturday, May 08, 2004

From was to were

From was to were

CJR's language column for May/June is posted online. It's on auxiliary-verb omission when you switch from singular to plural. In English, it's why this sentence has an error: "The field was set and post positions drawn."

The field was set, and the post positions were drawn. You can't make was work for post positions.

Read the entire article. It's short and sweet.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Violent tactics

From copy tonight:

"He said ... his political workers are also out registering voters and knocking in doors, and he pledged to match the Republicans person for person."

How news becomes news

Tim Porter at First Draft takes a look at why it took so long for the Abu Ghraib abuse to become high-profile: The abuse at Abu Ghraib became a big story when "60 Minutes" broadcast the photographs.

Media reports had surfaced months before without the photos, and the news organizations (CNN and the New York Times) didn't follow up on their initial reports. Porter argues: "To make a difference, newspapers must differentiate themselves from the crowd. If they don't, they're destined to continue writing Page 1 stories whose first graph contains the words "according to 60 Minutes" or "Seymour Hersh reported in the New Yorker."

Thursday, May 06, 2004

In which I diagnose a problem

Is it time to change to a more permissive definition of the word diagnose?

Some background: Some people object to the diagnosing of a person (She was diagnosed with cancer in 1990), saying only the disease can be diagnosed (Doctors diagnosed her cancer in 1990).

The Columbia Guide to Standard American English, 1993, published at, says: Diagnose is usually considered Standard with either a malady or a person as direct object: Physicians had diagnosed measles in the schools. Dr. Smith diagnosed Fred as having chicken pox. But some conservatives object to the use of a person as either direct object or subject of a passive diagnose, as in Fred's sister was diagnosed as having measles too, except in Conversational or Informal use, and some editors will not permit either use in Edited English.

Webster's and Merriam-Webster allow for the passive use. Most of the stylebooks I have don't mention the word, including the AP stylebook.

The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage has an entry: "The disease, not the patient, is diagnosed. Do not write: She was diagnosed with cancer."

Bremner's Words on Words says: "A condition is diagnosed, not a person."

This is a word that I see used more often "wrong" than "right," however. And, much like host and contact, there is no quick replacement. One can always write around diagnose. But I don't always think the rewrites are better. No one is confused by "I was diagnosed with ADD," just as no one is confused by "I'm going to host the party" or "Contact the source by phone."

Is there a reason to maintain the distinction?

Need good reading material?

Now is the time to subscribe to the Columbia Journalism Review and the American Journalism Review. Gene Roberts, formerly editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer and a friend to copy editors everywhere, is leading a drive to save the struggling publications.

Subscribe to CJR for $19.95.
Subscribe to AJR for $24.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Check your sources

The complete text of the Taguba report, on the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

Issues with issues

The newest post from Verbal Energy is a good one: on issue vs. problem.
Have you noticed that people who used to have relatively straightforward "problems" now have "issues" instead? Are issues really problems -- or questions? Or are we downgrading the language we use to describe the bad things that we have to deal with in our lives?
The definition at question is
a: a matter that is in dispute between two or more parties b: a vital or unsettled matter (economic issues) c: the point at which an unsettled matter is ready for a decision (brought the matter to an issue)
She also discusses the evolution of an economic downturn -- from panic to the euphemistic depression, which after the Great Depression "lost its euphemizing qualities."

Also, how much must a stock market fall before we call it a crash? How much conflict do we need before it's a war?

More than speed

In the last post, I mention a Swift boat that John Kerry and John O'Neill commanded. Should the S in Swift be capitalized? The topic is being debated on the ACES board.

I think it should be capped. It looks as if Swift is the boat's nickname. It's actually called a PCF (for personal craft, fast). This interview at says that because of their maneuverability, they were called Swift boats, or just Swifts.

I don't like the idea of lowercasing swift because it then looks like an adjective. Nickname or not, this is what the boat is called. Jim Franklin makes the point:
Frankly, I don't see why that should not be treated as a proper name, as we would treat the nickname of an Air Force plane (Falcon, Hornet, etc.).
Peter Fisk points out that Snopes says Swift may be an acronym for Shallow Water Inshore Fast
Tactical Craft. This would create some confusion. Surely, it would be a back-acronym (that's missing its last C). Plus it's more than five letters -- and so it wouldn't need to be capped as, say, AIDS is.

So, bottom line, I vote for Swift boat, as to not be confused with swift boat.


CJR's Campaign Desk points out a pull quote in the Wall Street Journal that is neither a quote nor is it pulled from the story.

The article in question? A commentary written by John O'Neill, who served in Vietnam. He succeeded John Kerry as Swift boat commander of PCF-94. In the '70s, he debated Kerry's assertion that American troops were committing war crimes in Vietnam daily. He does so again in this piece, calling the candidate a liar and saying "John Kerry is simply not fit to be America's commander in chief."

Campaign Desk says that in the print edition, this pull quote appeared:
'I was on Mr. Kerry's boat in Vietnam. He doesn't deserve to be commander in chief.'
But those words don't appear in the article.

In the online version, the passage is used as the deck (or summary head, or sumhed, the smaller words below the headline) with no quotes. That's better. But if I slotted that headline, I wouldn't let the first sentence fly. It's deliberately misleading, coaxing readers to the assumption that they served together. But O'Neill was on the boat after Kerry, not with him. I would say that when Kerry leaves, the boat is no longer his.

Pretending otherwise is lying.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Fine, but is it news?

Jason Kottke asks a good question: Why is a Google News source?

From what I can tell, the site is a news aggregate. Several people post links to stories that somehow prove a liberal point, then they give a synopsis and add commentary. An example, about a girl who goes to get an abortion and her boyfriend shoots her in the neck:
Does this just seem like, not to use a bad pun, overkill? That is why I find the position of many pro-lifers so hard to fathom, it seems like the life of the potential child is all important, and then this?
The site says it was started by someone named Spatula. Spatula and friends (such as The Hack, Gorthak and Striking Scorpion) are contributors.

Google says little about what it takes to be considered a news source on its Web site. It says it crawls more than 4,500 sites and will consider more if you send suggestions. But shouldn't Google draw the line somewhere a little closer to news? What makes this site different from blogs that publish links with commentary, which Google doesn't include?

Monday, May 03, 2004

Tomorrow's trends today?

In May's Common Sense Journalism, Doug Fisher tackles some of the rules that may be on the way out. In fact, I think you'll find that many copy desks have already adopted a lot of these changes.

How would you feel about loosening up on:
Another, which AP says should only be used for like amounts. If you have 10 soldiers, you can have another 10. But you can't have another nine or another 11.
None, which many people say means "not one." Many more say it can be singular or plural.
Percent, which AP says must be repeated in the phrase 5 percent to 6 percent. In "Elephants of Style," Bill Walsh says this can often be overkill. I'd agree.
Like vs. such as, which is going out the window on several copy desks.
Over, which AP likes to reserve for "spatial" relationships.
Web site, which Fisher says looks weird next to webcam and webmaster, no matter that "site" isn't a suffix.

More circulation numbers

Editor & Publisher analyzes ABC's data to come up with an average daily circ. Here is the top 10 papers based on those numbers, and the percent change from the last reporting period.

1. USA Today (2,280,761, up 2.2%)
2. Wall Street Journal (2,101,017, up 15.4%)
3. New York Times (1,133,763, up 0.3%)
4. Los Angeles Times (983,727, up 0.5%)
5. Washington Post (772,553, down 3.0%)
6. NY Daily News (747,053, up 1.4%)
7. New York Post (678,012, up 9.3%)
8. Chicago Tribune (614,548, down 1.1%)
9. Newsday (580,346, up 0.2%)
10. Houston Chronicle (549,300, up 0.1%)

Some other notable declines, using E&P numbers:
Buffalo News: down 7.6 percent
Philadelphia Daily News: down 7.1 percent
Denver Post: down 5.0 percent
Rocky Mountain News: down 5.0 percent
Arizona Republic: down 4.0 percent

What's in a name?

After reading this (great but long) New York Times profile, I'm wondering why we always refer to the American terrorism detainee as Jose Padilla. The story says he formally changed his name to Ibrahim in 1994.

Also, a hint on finding older New York Times stories. I initially searched for padilla on the NYT site and was told I'd have to pay to read this article. But by searching on Google News for padilla source:new_york_times, I found a free copy. I'm guessing the Google search goes back about a month, whereas the Times search goes only seven days.

Also, if you want to search Google for specific newspapers articles, you can usually type in padilla new york times and it will automatically search for the NYT as a source. If that wasn't what you meant to search for, it offers a link at the top of the page to revert to the original search term by adding a plus sign, padilla new york +times.

Circulation updates

The Audit Bureau of Circulations has released its latest numbers, for the six months that ended Sept. 30. Here are the top 20 U.S. papers, by their largest reported circulation -- usually Sunday's.

1. USA Today (2,616,824)
2. Wall Street Journal (2,091,062)
3. New York Times (1,676,885)
4. Los Angeles Times (1,379,258)
5. Washington Post (1,029,966)
6. Chicago Tribune (1,002,166)
7. New York Daily News (805,350)
8. Dallas Morning News (785,876)
9. Denver Post/Rocky Mountain News (785,671)
10. Philadelphia Inquirer (749,793)
11. Houston Chronicle (747,404)
12. Detroit News/Free Press (720,572)
13. Boston Globe (706,153)
14. Long Island Newsday (678,019)
15. Minneapolis Star Tribune (677,929)
16. New York Post (652,426)
17. Atlanta Journal Constitution (622,065)
18. Newark Star-Ledger (611,027)
19. San Francisco Chronicle (561,118)
20. Arizona Republic (547,860)

Time is running out

The deadline for the Summer Institute for Midcareer Copy Editors is Friday. If you're planning on applying, now is the time to finish your applications and send them on their merry way.

>Training Opportunity [A Capital Idea]
>National Fellowship for Copy Editors []

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Your 3 seconds of fame

For all you media whores out there, here's one more place your headlines become semifamous.

CNN's Aaron Brown discusses tomorrow's headlines today on his show every weeknight at 10 p.m. Eastern, toward the end of the show. Prove to your parents (or exes) that what you do matters.