Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Behind the quote

James J. Kilpatrick covers "presume" vs. "assume," and propriety during Stanley's meeting with Livingstone.

Common sense

An editorial in the LA Times turns Wired magazine's decision to lowercase "Internet" into a fun discussion about style, copy editing and the German language.
Writers on Wired News, or a large urban newspaper, are very conscious of style. InconsiStency looks aMAteurish and hard to Read. Committees argue fine points, compiling entire stylebooks on such things as capitalizing Earth but not heaven. Capital letters connote Import — Hurricane Charley. Their absence signals ordinariness — the net. Style also gives Writers and editors numerous arcane things to fuss and argue over.

If this Newspaper were published in German, as say the Los Angeles Zeitung, copy Editors would capitalize every Noun, an Idea our Founding Fathers initially thought made Senfe, if One requiring Adjustments by the Eyes of Readers.
How did Wired decide to take the plunge?
In the case of internet, web and net, a change in our house style was necessary to put into perspective what the internet is: another medium for delivering and receiving information. That it transformed human communication is beyond dispute. But no more so than moveable type did in its day. Or the radio. Or television.

This should not be interpreted as some kind of symbolic demotion. Think of it more as a stylistic reality check.
>A Not-So-Capital Idea (The Los Angeles Times)
>It's Just the 'internet' Now (Wired magazine)
>Rants & Raves (Wired readers weigh in)
>The 'i' in 'Internet' (Buzzworthy blog at SeattlePI.com)

Monday, August 30, 2004

Just a little cooler?

This one goes out to all you copy editors compiling celebrity news...

P. Diddy's dapper sidekick, Farnsworth Bentley, is going by Fonzworth Bentley now (real name: Derek Watkins).

He "wanted to make it a little cooler," he told the New York Post. "And who's cooler than the Fonz? So I remixed it a little bit, as we do in hip-hop."

But this Miami Herald story says there may have been a different reason: "Diddy later christened him Farnsworth, which was later changed to Fonzworth to sidestep copyright problems."

UPDATE: You may be able to ignore all of this after all. Read the comment on this post and then let out a sigh. (Of course we'll have trouble getting his name right. Look at how long the Puff Daddy to P. Diddy switch took.)

New overtime rules

This post on the ACES message board helps break down some of the ramifications of the new overtime rules. It's definitely worth a read. Here's a snippet:
If you're nonexempt, you are owed overtime pay if you work more than 40 hours a week. There is no such thing as "comp time," for private sector employees unless their work is controlled by contract. Although employees may refer to the time taken when they leave early on Friday afternoon off because of late work on Tuesday, that is not comp time -- it is simply an effort to keep your time under 40 hours. While it is a popular with employees to let them bank "comp time" and use it when they wish, Congress has never passed legislation to make that possibility legal. Major labor unions oppose it and say it would be abused.
The most-talked-about aspect of the law in our neighborhood is that some "creative professionals" are exempt from the overtime protection, meaning they don't earn it. So who qualifies as a creative professional?

The Department of Labor tries to answer some of the questions pertinent to journalists here. It says, in bold, that "the final regulations do not change the duties test for the creative professional exemption." To me, that says that if you're nonexempt now, you'll stay nonexempt. If you can earn overtime now, the law has done nothing to change that.

And, of course, your employer can always choose to give you overtime pay, even if you could be opted out. The government's not forcing anyone to stop that compensation. It's only setting guidelines for the people who must be paid.

Improving economy? Don't forget to factor this in

An LA Times story on outsourcing raises flags on proofreading and copy editing being sent to other countries, namely India:
Editorial work in the form of copy editing is already an Indian fixture. A few blocks from OfficeTiger is Alden Prepress Services, a division of an English printer that dates to 1832. Alden prepares for publication dozens of U.S. and European journals, including Foot and Ankle Surgery, the Journal of Molecular Biology and the International Journal of Fatigue.

Alden began in India five years ago with five employees, and now has 100 editors and 270 other employees. They review articles for consistency and intelligibility, and query authors by e-mail if there's a question they can't straighten out on their own. Alden then typesets the material and transmits the finished journal to the printer.
UPDATED: Find an interesting look from the other side of the aisle in this Times of India piece. It encourages Indians to revolutionize their publishing world as they did manufacturing.
Indian publishing is plagued by sloppiness and low wages, both of which would be challenged by winds of change. Editors and artists will be exposed to world trends and standards, which would, in turn, raise the quality of the domestic product.
It's nice to know we may still have accuracy and proficiency to list as reasons to keep our jobs. But watch out.
Indian manufacturing can respond well to a globalised environment by becoming lean and efficient, there is little reason to believe why publishing cannot. After computer geeks, watch out for an army of illustrators and editing freaks.

Friday, August 27, 2004


Need a quick list of irregular verbs? Why, there's one right here.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Leading the desk

John McIntyre, president of ACES and assistant managing editor for copy desks at the Baltimore Sun, offers some fantastic advice for desk chiefs on the ACES message board. A snippet:


Hiring is the most important thing you do. Put together a general knowledge/editing test for applicants that is as hard as you can make it. Get your colleagues in management to interview applicants as well, make sure that at least one of them asks hard questions, and then pool your information.

Evaluation is the next most important thing you can do. Engage your staff in the process; invite them to write self-evaluations for you to consider before your write up your evaluations of their work. And talk to them about their work more often than once a year. Get copies of the work they send to the slot and comment on how they’re doing. Talk to them over coffee. Invite their suggestions, individually and collectively, about improvements in the operation of the desk.

Training is essential. You can take half an hour at the beginning of the shift to do a mini-workshop that focuses on one story or one issue, and the paper will still come out on time. Do each mini-workshop twice in a week so that you catch people who miss one because of days off. Invite your subordinates to put together workshops.

Find rewards for good work. Get your cheese-paring masters to pay some or all of the expenses for a couple of copy editors to attend a national or regional ACES conference. It will energize them. See if you can get the occasional American Express gift check of $50 to hand out as an occasional bonus. Make sure that the copy editors are included in the acceptable graft — tickets to movies or sporting events, tchotchkes from advertisers and the like — that flows into the newsroom. Make a traveling trophy that you can award to one copy editor each month for good work, and make sure that it stays prominently on display.

Encourage your staff to have a life. They should be reading books, pursuing hobbies, getting together socially outside the newsroom. Organize an occasional pot-luck dinner for the desk on a relatively slow night. If you feel bold, invite the reporters and assigning editors to share in it.

Keep your people visible. Make sure that your masters know who is making good catches and writing lively headlines. Position your copy editors for advancement. Be in the bosses’ offices as often as the reporters are.
I'd add: Listen to your employees gripes and opinions; it helps them feel respected and valued.

Anything else?

Keeping it straight

The Daytona News-Journal has begun randomly fact-checking articles.

The managing editor for operations, Bruce Keuhn, is mailing a form to people who were quoted in randomly selected articles, checking on fairness and accuracy.

The form will ask:
  1. Were there any inaccuracies in the article, headline or picture caption?
  2. Was there anything left out?
  3. Is there anything you think should be followed up in another article?
Then it asks for additional comments.

The forms seem unlikely to affect copy editors much. When copy editors flag something questionable, that will still be handled by front-end editors, Keuhn told me. "Our intent is to keep the credibility letters purely random."

On top of this, the paper has a corrections editor who tracks where an how errors occur.

I'll be really interested to see where this goes. Will the paper find more inaccuracies than it expected?

The best defense ...

I read this sentence in a story last week. See what's wrong with it?
Her defense lawyer did not return a call for comment.
"Defense lawyer" is redundant here.

Her lawyer is the defense lawyer; he's in charge of her defense. But she doesn't have a prosecutorial lawyer. That's the other side's job.

You can simply write "her lawyer." There will be no confusion.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

The tricks of the trade

This piece from The Morning News has some interesting insider knowledge from different trades, including newspaper headline writer
If you can’t think of a headline for a story, use one of these three magic verbs: “weighs,” “mulls,” or “considers.” They’ll work for pretty much anything from court stories (“Hamilton mulls plea deal”) to government stories (“Governor weighs Paseo extension”) to entertainment (“Colvin considers new album”) to features (“Benson mulls those who consider weighing Kasey’s artwork”).
and proofreader
If you’re reading too fast, your brain can “correct” typos, preventing you from catching them. That’s why it’s sometimes a good idea to read a page upside-down. It forces you to pay closer attention to individual words out of context, and you can’t race through pages too fast.
I'd have to say that the advice for head writers is abysmal. But the advice for proofreading is spot-on, assuming that by upside down they mean reading the last graf first, etc. I don't know that I would be effective at actually proofing upside down.

Some other intersting revelations:

In Australia, the butchers have a secret language called “rechtub klat” that they use to gossip about customers without getting caught. The code is formed by speaking words backward. Old-timers could have entire conversations in the language, but these days a core vocabulary of about 20 to 30 essential words are used. Sometimes, if a word can’t really be pronounced backwards, a couple of letters will be traded around (e.g., “tish” for “shit”), or the first letter might be pronounced separately (e.g., “bmal” is pronounced “beemal”). The most common words are:—kool, toh lrig—cuf ecaf—on erom feeb/gip/bmal—traf—toor—doog tsub—tish—doog esra—gafNothing is more enjoyable than shouting at the top of your lungs to the other butchers that the difficult customer right in front of you is a “on doog cuf ecaf.”

Desktop Support

When desktop support technicians resolve a ticket, they are usually required to document the cause and solution to the problem. Supervisors see these records, so you have to be professional, but can usually get away with using the acronym “PEBKAC” in situations where the user caused the initial problem. PEBKAC stands for “Problem Exists Between Keyboard and Chair.”

Lounge Pianist

Never agree to Christmas sing-alongs if there is alcohol involved. Your singer will only remember the first two lines of his favorite tunes, or you’ll waste a half-hour on a drawn-out, stumbling, “12 Days of Christmas.” The singer will be forgiven when he sobers up, but you’ll look unprofessional.


Patients will occasionally pretend to be unconscious. A surefire way to find them out is to pick up their hand, hold it above their face, and let go. If they smack themselves, they’re most likely unconscious; if not, they’re faking.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Looking for a new job?

The Minneapolis Star Tribune is hiring copy editors on a couple of desks. (Don't forget: It is one of the best-paying union papers.)
The Star Tribune has openings for copy editors on our Nation-World and Night General Assignment teams. Both are full-time. The Night GA copy editor will edit stories, write headlines and cutlines and proof pages, usually for the front page and local news sections. For this position we are seeking an experienced copy editor who has excellent word skills and strong news judgment. We want a copy editor with a flair for writing headlines and other display type that will entice readers into the stories. Must be able to work quickly and calmly in the face of deadline pressure.

For the Nation-World team, we are seeking an editor with strong skills and a keen interest in national and world events. Most shifts will be as a rim editor, but ability to fill in as a slot or wire editor is a plus. The basic duties are editing copy, compiling wire stories, writing
headlines and cutlines and proofing pages. Candidates should have solid ability in copy editing, including accuracy, fairness and grammar. Strength in news judgment and headline and cutline writing. A quick and flexible approach to work, and strong collaboration and communication
skills. A flair for writing headlines and other display type that will entice readers into the stories. We value initiative and deft work on deadline and the ability to work well under pressure. The applicant should have a broad understanding of national, political and foreign

Candidates for both must pass the Star Tribune copy-editing test.

The Star Tribune is the largest paper in the McClatchy group. We are a Newspaper Guild company and have competitive salary and benefits.

Apply by Sept. 20. Send resume and cover letter to:
Brenda Rotherham, news recruiting manager
425 Portland Ave.
Minneapolis MN 55488

Brenda E. Rotherham
News recruiting & training manager
Star Tribune
425 Portland Ave.
Minneapolis MN 55488

Phone: 612-673-4422
Fax: 612-673-4526
Toll free: 800-829-8742, ext. 4422

Where did this come from?

A Denver-area news junkie writes to the Rocky Mountain News:
I'd also like to see him announce that all stories published in the News will include the names of not only the authors, but also the editors and headline writers who processed the stories and columns. If individual editors and copy editors are held as accountable for the completeness and integrity of the editorial product as bylined reporters and columnists are, we might get a better product, and the News might win a bigger audience.
I wonder where this idea came from, that copy editors are loafing about, not worrying about their jobs because their name is on them to keep them accountable. I know some university papers would credit the copy editor at the end of the piece. But, really, the point is for us to remain invisible.

Trouble with apostrophes

There's a column in the Riverside Press-Enterprise about problems with apostrophes. And readers have written in to share some mistakes.
Victoria Cunningham stumbles over "Bridget Jones's Diary." "I thought it should be Jones'." The Associated Press style gods agree. But Lynne Truss, discussing the subject in "Eats, Shoots & Leaves," cites "Fowler's Modern English Usage," which says "modern" names should end "Keats's poems," ancient names should end "Achilles' heel," institutional names (St. Thomas' Hospital) are up to the institution. And just about everything is open to violent argument.
Someone else takes the paper to task for adding apostrophes to such stores as Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons. The columnist must admit that he, too, has committed those errors.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Celebrate good times, come on!

Today is National Punctuation Day.

Quick to the point?

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram switched to its one-jump Sunday fronts today. Newsdesigner has a look at the before and after.

This was not what I was expecting. I was looking forward to succinct stories on the front -- the top news of the day without repeats of all the background information. Meat and bones but little fat.

Instead, it's a compilation of glorified refers with headlines taking up too much space.

God help me, but I like USA Today better.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

C'mon, this is the easy stuff

Need a few more reasons not to follow people's capitalization whims? Bill Walsh delivers.

To whom should go the blame?

James J. Kilpatrick's language column this week deals with "who" and "whom." A reader suggested they be abolished.

Kilpatrick protests: "The old fellows aren't dead or dying. They're only snoozing. There's life in them yet."

And I learned that the words' deaths have been predicted for some time:
Grammarian Richard Grant White observed in 1870 that "whom" was "visibly disappearing." In "The American Language" (1936), H.L. Mencken echoed the prediction. He thought "whom" was "fast vanishing." In 1980, critic Anthony Burgess reported that "whom" was "dying out in England."

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Suprising quote of the week

"If it's good enough for Associated Press and the secretary of state, it's good enough for me."

So says a candidate for the District No. 2 seat on the Public Service Commission in Montana. You won't hear that every day.

One less reason to wait

The American Copy Editors Society has introduced new membership discounts. If you pay for multiple years, you get a discount off the $55 yearly fee:
  • $100 for two years
  • $250 for five years
  • $500 for 10 years
  • $1,000 for lifetime
ACES has also changed to a rolling dues cycle. No matter when you join, your membership will be good for 12 months. (All memberships used to expire Dec. 31, regardless of the join date. )

Just because they look alike ...

Watch out before you call super-gymnasts Paul and Morgan Hamm identical twins. There's some disagreement here.

Their parents say they are fraternal, but that it is murky because they were born with separate sacs in a shared placenta. But Slate writer Josh Levin quotes a doctor as saying that 99.999 percent of these twins are identical.

So what should you go with? Levin decides to go with science and, truth be told, that's probably the right answer. But unless it's pertinent to your story, take out the modifier and just go with "twins."

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Job opportunity

The Rochester Democrat & Chronicle is looking for a copy chief:

I have moved into the news editor's position, so I'm looking for a strong candidate to fill my former job as copy desk chief. This person would report to me and be responsible for the morale and management of a 19-person universal copy desk team. Some newsroom management experience and a demonstrated proficiency at critical thinking are required. In addition, the successful applicant must be well-versed in style, grammar and word editing, be able to write catchy headlines and cutlines -- and teach those skills to others -- and be willing to take a lead role in the newsroom in maintaining our accuracy and credibility. The copy chief is also responsible for maintaining our in-house stylebook. If you think you have the know-how to do it right yet be a good boss, too, contact Dick Moss, 55 Exchange Blvd, Rochester, NY 14614, (585) 258-2626 or respond via e-mail (rlmoss@democratandchronicle.com).

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Watch out for Islamist

An "Islamist" is someone who follows Islam, not an Islamic fundamentalist. You'll see this used wrong a lot.

And I think an argument can be made that "Islamist" will be misunderstood by a good portion of the readership. I'd use care before letting it stay in a story.