Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Where are you running the photo?

Testy Copy Editors has a great thread discussing where papers are publishing this photo:

Is it too graphic for 1A? Is it better than those of charred bodies being hit by shoes? Does it pass the Cheerios test? Is that a ridiculous test?

Do we have a responsibility to show these photos when they are the story? By showing these photos do we encourage similar atrocities in the future?

I discussed all these issues and more over dinner and discovered that I don't have all my opinions on this nailed down. I firmly believe in the power of a strong photo and newspapers' responsibility to report the news even when it's disturbing. But we don't publish all photos.

Where to draw the line is up in the air.

Join the discussion.

Wherefore, must you?

Wherefore means why, not where. When Juliet says: "Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?" she is lamenting Romeo's name, referring to the feud between their two families. Why are you Romeo? The one man I'm forbidden to love?

This is wrong: Wherefore art thou, Romeo? and Juliet? on what would have happened had the couple lived.
And this: Wherefore art thou, Vaporware? seeking nominations for the killer apps that never were.
And this is just nonsensical: Shaista, Shaista, wherefore art thou? on a Pakistani couple who supposedly have troubles of Shakespearean proportions.

It's worth pointing out that if "the comma of direct address" is used, it's wrong. Juliet isn't addressing Romeo. It's a soliloquy. If you removed the address, it would simply be "Why are you?" and that is wrong.

More here at CJR's Language Corner.

Getting along with reporters

Copy editors' relationship with writers will always be adversarial. That can be healthy. But a little goes a long way.

There's a lot we can do to improve our newsroom relationships -- to keep a small fix on deadline from turning into Custer's Last Stand.

Here are some tips -- some from ACES, some from my experiences -- on how to get along.
1. Give reporters praise. It's harder to get mad at someone you know. And think of the times that a reporter has complimented one of your headlines. I can honestly remember every time.
2. People have a natural tendency to be defensive. Try to work past that yourself (deep breaths), and keep talking with reporters until they can do the same. They may say "no" at first, but get past that initial skepticism until you can talk about the real issues behind a change.
3. Don't be condescending. You're working at the same place, and management believes in that reporter as much as they believe in you. Treat your co-workers with the respect they deserve and that you expect in return.
4. As many times as you've seen errors in this reporters copy, he's seen errors inserted by editors. (OK, that's an overstatement.) Or headlines that are inaccurate. Understand reporters' fears about copy editors and work toward your common goal: engaging, error-free copy.
5. Have a problem? Have a solution, too. It's tough for reporters to get a call out of the blue on some faulty wording in Paragraph 23. Write it up as you'd like to fix it, and float that idea. The conversation will go faster, and a busy reporter or city editor will thank you for it.
Have any more?

New feature

I've added a search function on the right.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Capital, capital

I've already linked to Bill Walsh's rant on why it's e-mail, not email. But we've never talked about why it's e-mail, not E-mail. There's a nice discussion going on at Testy Copy Editors that, while drawing no conclusions, is interesting to keep in mind when these tech stories force the next compound noun on us. (You'll have to scroll down a bit to ADKbrown's query.) My post:
In one of Bill's recent rants on why e-mail gets the hyphen, he points out that E is there as the letter E, not some E-sounding syllable. You don't see xray or aframe squashed together.

But in X-ray and A-frame, the caps are retained. So why isn't the E in e-mail?

I just looked up X-ray in my at-home dictionary, and it prefers the lowercase X for the verb (but not the noun). As for A-frame, that refers to the shape of a building like the letter A, not the like the lowercase a. (In the same category is T-shirt and T-top.)

O-ring also springs to mind. It's capped in my dictionary. And the shape of an O is the shape of an o, so why does it retain a cap?

But none of these are really parallel examples of words that have been truncated to one letter, like electronic to e. Can anyone think of something similar?
The short answer: There seems to be no rhyme or reason to which get the capped first letter. Dictionaries even differ on some entries: X-ray and C-section, for example.

Just one more reason that dictionaries are handy. Sometimes, there are no rules.

For all you New York Times junkies

Jack Shafer has a list of the Times employees whose names have been made into verbs. Copy editors may be interested in Allan Siegal's:
To Siegal: To elevate a passing thought to an immutable principle. Alternatively: To make an iron rule out of an idle whim. Alternatively: To vigorously maintain standards while rigorously keeping ambitions in check. Alternatively: To express disappointment with the arch of a single brow.
Siegal is the Times' first standards editor.

An election plea

When you're running candidate bio boxes, and there's a mug shot with each bio, leave out the mug line (the line that says the person's name). No one will be confused.

In a similar vein, if you're running a refer about a dead elephant or a missing girl or whatever that includes a photo of the subject, don't include an "at left" or other descriptor. People will figure it out. Use that valuable space for something more illuminating.

Waaay off topic

This has little to do with copy editing, except maybe to point out the dangers of editing subjects we know nothing about, but I am fascinated by this story on ChatNannies. And this is coming from a tech dummy.

Just in case you live in Kansas ...

The serial killer that has resurfaced in Wichita is BTK, and he's a strangler, but he's not the BTK Strangler. He's just BTK. And maybe the BTK strangler. (Thanks, Nick.)

I know this story isn't getting huge play nationally, but AP has been running it wrong, and I saw it wrong on CNN's Web site.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Another Top 10 list

This is a handout from the ACES conference by Teresa Schmedding of Chicago's Daily Herald -- on "10 Things I Wish I'd Known."
1. Grammar and style are important; news judgment is more important.
2. What my company's overall goals are and how I fit in.
3. It won't hurt me to be nice to reporters; it's more important to coach them than to let them know how I saved them from looking like idiots.
4. Vertical and peer management are critical.
5. I'll live a lot longer if I take a dinner break.
6. How to resolve conflicts without crying or screaming -- or both.
7. Next month's paper is more important than the next day's.
8. You don't look stupid for not knowing something and looking it up.
9. Good copy editing starts long before the story leaves the reporter's hands.
10. The story is always the thing: Never put my own fears, pressures and personal opinions before readers' needs.
I learned several of these the long way -- not necessarily through egregious errors. But I didn't know them on Day 1.

I'd expound on a few and add a few of my own:
1. Read the whole story before you call the reporter. You don't want one question answered only to discover another, requiring another irksome phone call.
2. It's your job to find errors. Do it without gloating or pointing them out or expecting special kudos. But keep track of the good catches -- to read over when you're feeling discouraged or lacking positive feedback and to bring up during your yearly review.
3. Take pride in what you do, invest in your job, but don't work for free. You're working for a paycheck, and companies have the money to pay you -- despite their belt-tightening. Don't let your pay be one of the corners they cut. And if that means something doesn't get done, so be it. If it's really that important, managers will find a way to pay for it.
4. If something seems off to you, point it out. That's your job. You may be shot down; hell, you'll probably be shot down. But the two times out of 10 are worth it, for you and the reader. (And if a passage or fact hits you wrong, it'll probably hit readers wrong, too. You are the readers advocate. The Last Line of Defense.)
5. Bring up errors in fact, but make sure you know your shit. Find corroboration before you take the matters up, and make sure you're right. There may be nothing worse for a copy editor than editing in his own error.
Surely, that's enough preaching for one post. But feel free to add your own in the comments.

Put your chatting shoes on

Bill Walsh's online chat should start momentarily here.

Link roundup

Will CNN Please Hire a Copy Editor?

The Passivator detects passive voice in Web sites.

A bad, bad headline

Did I mention that this game was addictive?

Verbs? Not needing them

The start of this New York Times story is classic:
At 5:30 p.m. last Monday, Shepard Smith, the 40-year-old host of Fox News Channel's "Fox Report," was hunched over his computer in the company's bustling Midtown headquarters, poring over the script for his evening broadcast, and searching for verbs. Mr. Smith, let it be known, does not like verbs. Whenever he finds one, he crinkles his brow in disgust like a man who has discovered a dribble of food on his tie. He taps furiously at his keyboard, moves the cursor to the offending word and deletes it, or else adds "ing," turning the verb into a participle and his script into the strange shorthand that passes for English these days on cable news:

" celebrating a birthday! The Internet company 10 years old."

"Texas! A school bus and two other vehicles colliding in Dallas. The bus rolling over on its side."

"Outrage in the Middle East! A vow of revenge after an assassination and reportedly threatening the United States. Tonight ? how real the threat?"

Shepard Smith! Explaining to a reporter, why not the verbs?

"We don't communicate in full sentences anyway," Mr. Smith said as he continued working through his script. "We don't need all those words. And it allows us to go faster."
Note: Three full sentences from him. All contain verbs.

I don't watch much cable news, I guess, because I didn't know about this verb hatred. Of course, the reason they give for the success of Smith's show is that they're "formatting his program for a younger audience used to getting its information on the Web."

I'll give him that. I'm young. I'll read long pieces if they interest me, but I do enjoy the staccato hits of headline browsing. But I also like verbs.

What is this about? In the examples above, all the "ing" verbs can be replaced by simple present-tense verbs to make complete sentences without adding any syllables. It's no longer, and it doesn't sound like it's coming from a non-native speaker.

And it's hard to take this fast-talking seriously, anyway. It can get him in trouble. Remember this?
"J.Lo's new song 'Jenny From the Block' is all about Lopez's roots, about how she's still a neighborhood gal at heart," Shepherd declared innocently enough, before veering horribly off his teleprompted script. "But folks from that street in New York, the Bronx section, sound more likely to give her a curb job than a blow job!"

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Didn't make the ACES conference?

Well, ACES is bringing the conference to you. They've started posting stories covering individual sessions. Read the ones you're interested in:

Headlines as Poetry -- Bringing out the inner poet: Speaker encourages headline writers to seek words that add layers of meaning and texture to their prose.
Beyond the Daily Realm -- Not daily? Still crazy: Editors for magazines and special-interest media learn strategies for staying sharp outside the 24/7 environment.
You Don't Say -- Small mistakes deliver big blow to credibility: Speaker offers tips on weeding out nagging errors of fact, spelling, grammar and style.
Editing: It's Not Just Comma Sense -- Picture-perfect editing: Use your "mind's eye" to look for pictures in stories and visualize the elements that might be missing, speaker suggests.
Rhythm Room -- Hitting the right notes: Copy editors can preserve the writer's voice by picking up
on the rhythm of the story and going with the flow.
Secrets of Good Editing -- Editing that helps, not hurts: Short, simple, active, jargon-free sentences can sharpen a story and enhance the writer's voice.
10 Things I Wish I Had Known About Copy Editing -- What they didn't teach you in J-school: Practical advice dispensed for helping newbies (and veterans) survive and thrive on the copy desk.
What Jerk Wrote This? -- Newsroom diplomacy: Insults and criticism can taint the environment, but the relationship between reporters and copy editors need not be testy.
Ethics and Standards -- Keeping the public's trust: Ethics scandals betray readers, but newspapers' soul-searching has been a healthy response, said the editor of the Los Angeles Times. John Carroll also defended his paper's publication of the Arnold Schwarzenegger groping allegations and took aim at talk shows and other "pseudo media" outlets.
Rules that Aren't Rules -- Some taboos that really aren't: Despite what you've heard from slot editors and English teachers, some rules are made to be broken, if done thoughtfully and with good reason.
What Chaps Readers Buns -- Workshop menu features chapped buns, with plenty of beef: Reader advocates ponder the bottom line when dealing with complaints.
Wire We Here: A Philosophy of Wire Editing -- Wire services give clients an update on changes: New policies on anonymous sources and AP's new filing procedures were among the topics discussed between representatives of the services and an audience made up largely of wire editors.
Breaking in a New Boss -- Change of the guard may require change in approach: The new leader's personality type offers an indication of the best course to take in communicating the needs of the copy desk.

What are they talking about?

First, Howell Raines gave us this nonsensical quote:
These newsroom characters are regarded less as role models than as holy fools whose wisdom, no matter how wacky, is still magical and oracular. For example, some of the weakest writers on the paper are opinion leaders on questions of style and copy editing. Great value is placed on the act of "speaking truth to power," with little regard for the substance of factuality of what is spoken.
What does that mean?

Now, I read this in a review of "Penn & Teller: Bullshit," the raunch-fest on Showtime:
Although Penn and Teller narrate the episode while munching on spare ribs and other former animals, the animal-rights show contains less of P&TB's trademark humor than usual. That's because, Penn and Teller admit, they were scared by their own research.

''PETA is a scary organization,'' says Teller ... who ordinarily is silent. (He finally speaks in this season's premiere, but, predictably, it's a word that makes newspaper copy editors throw up.)
What word is that?

I can think of a couple of sentences that could push me to the brink (What do you mean by cq?). But a word?

Any ideas?

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Help for job hunters

There's a new copy-editing-related question at the Detroit Free Press' Jobs Page blog.
Can you tell me if it is standard practice for copy editors to acquire copies of unedited versions of stories that have already been published in the paper for purposes of adding to a work portfolio or as part of a job application?
You'll notice in Joe Grimm's response a couple of typos, just as you'll notice them in some of my posts, too. This has been covered a million times before, but it deserves a mention here, too.

One of the nicest things about blogs is their immediacy. But one of their biggest drawbacks is that they seldom get a second look before publishing. For blogs that mention copy editing, that looks especially egregious. But, hey, everyone needs an editor.

That being said, I am surprised that a blog linked to a newspaper isn't forced to go through some sort of editing. I can only surmise that the paper differentiates between readers' blogs and industry blogs. Or maybe it's never come up.

Just call it a lesson in how errors can detract from a message. Still, as blog readers, we must be able to get it over it long enough to glean something interesting from these sites.

Hello? Readers? Are you still there?

I finally got around to reading OJR's "What Newspapers and Their Web Sites Must Do To Survive." The findings:
The real solution for the industry's future doesn't revolve around simply adding multimedia to generic editions. It instead will require that the newspaper industry:

1. Use new technologies to match the newspaper's existing cornucopia of content to satisfy each individual reader's unique mix of interests
2. Understand that neither newsprint nor the Web nor digital editions nor wireless is the answer, but that the true convergence of all those into a single unitary product not only is necessary but likely within 10 years
3. Focus less on the industry's ability to produce content and more on its unique service of delivering to people a complete package of content -- a change that requires newsrooms and corporations to go beyond traditional definitions of "news" or "syndicated sources."
It's always edifying, after reading a piece like this, to compare the advice with the probable newsroom reaction to it. Journalists are fighting changes like this to the death.

When we focus on something other than daily newspaper production, people complain that we're losing focus of our true goal, that convergence is killing hard news, that we're dumbing papers down, that we're alienating our core readers.

But our core readers are alienating us -- either by choice or by death -- and we're not attracting enough new ones. Newspapers are a business. And when sales plummet, businesses need to look at ways to stem the flow, start turning those numbers around. (And the numbers really are staggering.)

As a first step, I'd like to see newspapers package content for readers online as Yahoo or some other sites do their homepages. You can choose which topics interest you, certain keywords to watch for, and those stories will show up on your homepage.

This would be in addition to some of the big news of the day. You might not have Russian politics listed as one of your topics, but you'd still want to know if Vladimir Putin was killed.

And newspaper employees need to be more supportive of reader-scouting missions. We're missing too many campers to not send out a search party.

Friday, March 26, 2004

"Corrections" on Corrections

I just love that whenever Slate publishes corrections, the ad at the bottom of the page is for Franzen's book "The Corrections" (which I recommend).

So much style that it's wasted

Bill Walsh will be conducting an online chat at noon Monday (Central time) about style and grammar and all the other nitpicky wonders that give our lives meaning.

The chat will be here. You can also submit questions there in advance. In fact, I'd call this, from Walsh's Web site, a challenge:
Have a question? Submit it now and get a well-reasoned answer Monday, or submit it Monday and see if you can trip me up.
But can your run-of-the-mill Washington Post reader adequately appreciate an online chat with Bill Walsh? I think not. So join in the fun Monday. Keep people on task (tennis questions should not be answered!).

And, perhaps most importantly, find out what we're facing. This should be a good look at the questions everyday readers (well, who have any interest in style) have about the jobs we do.


"The Top 10 Things They Never Taught Me in Design School" has tips that could just as easily be called "The Top 10 Things They Never Taught Me in J School."

Adapt these rules to your job; it's great advice:
3. If everything is equally important, then nothing is very important.
You hear a lot about details, from “Don’t sweat the details” to “God is in the details.” Both are true, but with a very important explanation: hierarchy. You must decide what is important, and then attend to it first and foremost. Everything is important, yes. But not everything is equally important. A very successful real estate person taught me this. He told me, “Watch King Rat. You’ll get it.”
I've never seen "King Rat," and I'm not sure this is a rousing endorsement, but I like the advice.

Tasteless headline of the day

Newsdesigner shares a doozie. I mean, it's bad.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Close, but not quite

If you stone someone to death or are involved in a stoning death, you're talking about pelting someone -- Monty Python-style -- with stones until they die.

If you kill someone by hitting him really hard with a stone, you have beaten him to death with a stone. It's not a stoning.

Sorry, sorry, sorry ...

... about the lack of posts today. I had another quick out-of-state trip (my poor car this month!).

Wednesday, March 24, 2004


Can someone give her a job?

20,000 words!

Gawker shares some quotes from Howell Raines' 20,000-word essay coming up in the Atlantic.

On blogging:
"The Times's image as a bastion of quality had become even more important as tabloid television, Britain's declining newspaper values, and the unsourced ranting of Internet bloggers polluted the
On writers:
Some of the weakest writers on the paper are opinion leaders on questions of style and copy editing.
Howell Raines in the Atlantic — Gawker
Preview of Howell Raines 'Atlantic Monthly' article — Editor & Publisher

My thoughts on the gas

Newsdesigner started a nice rant on Testy Copy Editors about stories such as this one on the average price of gasoline reaching an all-time high.

Yes, it's true that the average price of gas is at a record high. But not when you adjust for inflation. (Now, try doing a search for "inflation" in that CNN story linked above.)

Why does this matter? A dollar doesn't buy as much house as it did in 1970, and it doesn't buy as much gas, either. We have a duty to display these numbers in a meaningful way. Simple cost comparisons won't cut it.

Should we disregard this story, then? No. Rising gas prices affect people. A AAA spokesman put it this way in a Reuters story, "Economists may find it helpful to discuss inflation adjustment, but a big increase in the monthly gasoline bill is a large burden to this country's families and businesses regardless." We just need to explain this rise in a way that's not misleading.

Gasoline prices hit record high, AAA says — Philadelphia Inquirer
Analyst: Comparison Finds Gas Prices Aren't So Bad — Associated Press
Taking Inflation Seriously — Columbia Journalism Review
Cost-of-Living Calculator — News Engin
Indexing, Deflating and Adjusting — IRE training sheet
What is the real price of gas? —

Embrace the hyphen! You've nothing to fear!

I know this is a fight I'll take to the grave. But, please, tell me I'm not alone in thinking that "a pro-gay marriage group" is a marriage group that advocates for gays, not a group that advocates gay marriages.

That should be pro-gay-marriage group. That extra hyphen isn't optional. It's take-it-or-leave-it. If you hate hyphens, fine. But you'll have to recast your sentence.

This one's for Phil Blanchard

A word every editor should know, an affliction every headline writer should avoid: witzelsucht. (Pointed out by the Sensible Ass)

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

And now for something completely different

When linguists tell jokes. It's the comments that really get me.

Add to your files

The San Antonio Express-News has its stylebook online.

Why should you care? When a question pops up in the middle of a story and it's not in your local stylebook, or AP, or the dictionary, use other stylebooks to see if there's a consensus out there.

You can use some of the arguments and reasoning there to help you sort through your style, perhaps prevent problems you hadn't yet come across. And other papers' stylebooks can servce as an effective tie-breaker in a pinch.

Thinking about switching jobs? It's good to have a look at other stylebooks to become aware of what are hard-and-fast rules and what are just local idiosyncrasies.

Use this stylebook as a model for your desk's online guide. It's exhaustive -- with pictures, cross links and Web links on some subjects.

The hair apparent

Is bawdiness the new feminism, as Slate's Girls Gone Wild piece contends? This article reminded me of an AP style rule that may be rising in utility.

Use blond for the adjective, whether you're talking about men or women or both. He had cropped blond hair and boyish good looks -- and a glamorous blond fiancee.

Use blond as a noun referring to men, and blonde as the noun referring to women. She always had preferred blonds. She wished the other blondes weren't such competition.

Apply the same rules to brunet and brunette (although you seldom see brunet used as an adjective).

You are, however, likely to see blonde and blond used wrong quite a bit.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Type slowly

Someone just sent me a link to the Proofreader's Hall of Shame. It's a lot of fun -- actual ads with actual errors that you know (or hope) you would have caught.

ACES recaps

Tom Mangan shares business cards, and some stories to go with them.

Phil Blanchard draws some conclusions about the state of copy editing from comments he heard. Among them: Morale is down. Many small-paper editors show an encouraging lack of ambition. We all want recognition, but headline contests still suck.

Bill Walsh says this may have been the best ACES conference yet, but he was nonplussed with the city.

ACES shares some photos and speeches and promises more to come.

Ask the recruiter

I just discovered that Joe Grimm, recruiter at the Detroit Free Press, has a blog. He answers one job question a day, from what I can tell, and many of them have dealt with editing:

From court reporter to editing?
Editing is one of the few areas in journalism where a test can indicate whether a person has applicable skills. In fact, taking a test can be very similar to editing copy on deadline. I would push for the test and for an interview. Every piece of paper you submit, from résumé to cover letter to critique (if requested) will be seen as a sample of your work and must be, of course, perfect.
Where can copy editing lead?
The trick is to get the newspaper to see you as more than “just a copy editor.” Do this by showing some initiative to improve things outside your immediate job. Serve on task forces and committees (At a lot of papers, this will mean coming in before the copy desk shift starts.) Look for opportunities to be the lead copy editor on the newspaper’s most ambitious projects. Try to get involved early in them. Work into a leadership role on the desk, such as slotting.
Getting started as a copy editor?
You'll need a perfect cover letter and resume that follow AP style -- the standards are higher here than they will be for other journalists -- and examples of your best headlines.

A letter or two of recommendation, written by people who have seen your editing, may help more than before-and-after versions of articles you've edited. Few editors will take the time to make side-by-side comparisons.

Two strategies could put you into a job: ask for a tryout and ask to take the copy editing test, if the paper has one.
That's just a start. This is an invaluable resource for people with journalism-job questions. And the search function is super-handy.

Ah, an appreciative writer

Wendy Hoke, a freelance writer (and editor) in Cleveland, writes an ode to copy editors:
I'm often struck at those who snoot their noses at copy editing, many of whom reside in the business world ("that's only for newspapers" I've heard one consultant say). Well, I don't care if you're writing a newsletter, a sales letter, an annual report or a thank you letter, good grammar and clear writing will always prevail. I know the CEO of one large publicly traded company who writes amazingly well in his annual report. ... He said if you're CEO of a company and you can't communicate well, you don't deserve to be CEO. I couldn't agree more.
It's hard to trust those who argue against copy editing. I know it's a cost-benefit analysis that keeps many small publications from employing editors. But I think it's a misanalysis of the "benefit" to assume that copy editors can be discarded.

Many take one look at the nit-picking, the grammar quibbling, and say they don't need us. But it's the big-picture questions we ask, the errors in fact we find, the right-on heads we write that make the service so valuable.

OK, choir, I'm done preaching.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

When copy editors attack

Watch out if you get on a copy editor's bad side. Your words will nit-picked from here to eternity.

And Jayson Blair's a fool if he thinks that people aren't just poring over his book looking for zingers. Here's a start:
* The Times series "Race in America" won a Pulitzer for national reporting, not public service.
* Before it moved, Siberia, a journalists' hangout, used to be in a midtown subway station at 50th Street, not 54th Street.
* The Brooklyn courts reporter for the Times is William Glaberson, not Galberson.
* The former Times copy editor is Elinor Voldstad, not Eleanor Volstad. Both first and last name wrong.

The kids are uptight

Here's a language column from James Kilpatrick breaking down all right vs. alright and awhile vs. a while.

I'll point out before you do that the "Pigs Are Alright" head he blasts is probably a play off The Who's album "The Kids Are Alright." Does that make the alright spelling all right? Depends on how strong the allusion is. But it's certainly worth mentioning.

Lauding their own

The Los Angeles Times covers its award-winning copy editors.

As does the Great Falls Tribune.

My one gripe: I want more headline examples!


This is the second time this week that, fact-checking, I have come across a nonsensical site. They must have some purpose. What?

Stealth enemies

A pubic forum? A state statue?

It's easy to read over some misspellings. And when you can't rely on spell check (because these misspellings form other valid words), what do you do?

The easy thing: Train yourself to stop on those words. Every time I read "public" I try to look for that all-important L. I've heard enough horror stories of "Council seeks pubic input" to make me wary. The statue vs. statute problem is less egregious, but that makes it easier to miss.

More difficult but more effective: At least in pubic's case, talk to the people in charge of technology. They should be able to add or delete words to your Microsoft Word dictionary. If spell check stops at "pubic," the word is less likely to slip into the paper.

But you wouldn't be the first: pubic, statue.

The coolest copy editors in America?

Tom Mangan challenges you to beat this Friday night outing.

I had fun last night, but I didn't have that much fun. Anyone ... anyone?

Friday, March 19, 2004

A lesson in diacritics

For all you punctuation lovers out there, I offer An Open Letter To Umlaut.

A quick hit

Youth can be a noun meaning "the state of being youthful; youthfulness." And it can be a noun meaning "a young person."

But note that if you use youth to mean more than one young person, the plural is youths. With an S. Otherwise it comes across as the other meaning.

The guides of March

Don't forget that March Madness, Sweet 16, Elite Eight, Final Four and the Big Dance are all trademarked and need a cap. For some history on the phrases, see this.

And it's the Stanford Cardinal, not Cardinals.

ACES news

Here's a synopsis of the opening session at the conference.

And those of you who have read Bill Walsh's "Elephants of Style" will get a big kick out of the first graf:
Copy editors and Rodney Dangerfield have a lot in common, Houston Chronicle Editor Jeff Cohen said. They can both forthrightly say "I get no respect."

On your mark, get set, pronounce!

The 100 Most Often Mispronounced Words
(aka, Words People Will Probably Misspell)

(I'm disappointed restaurateur isn't on the list. Do you see any other good ones that are missing?)

Calling all language mavens

I ran across this science-fiction language page and am just fascinated by the concept:
This page is a pilot effort for the Oxford English Dictionary, in which the words associated with a special field of interest are collected so that knowledgeable aficionados can help the OED find useful examples of these words. This, our first project, is science fiction literature.

The OED aims to include all words that are frequently used in any field, and attempts to find the earliest example of every sense of every word it includes. For SF the OED needs earlier examples of terms it already includes, early examples of terms that have been slated for future inclusion, and any examples of terms that have not yet caught the editors' attention but are common in SF. Words used infrequently, words associated chiefly with a single author, or words so specialized that they are found only in a single subgenre, are not high priorities for inclusion.
So get in on some OED action. Here is the list of science-fiction words they're looking for.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

OK, now you can read it

It appears as if Poynter's copy-editing column is now live as the site's "centerpiece." (It has a "posted" date.)

Check out Poynter Online to see the display.

The article has changed since I published the link earlier. There's a new graf linking to the Testy Copy Editors thread on Basque separatists/terrorists. There's also a new list of related stories:
In Search of Black Male Copy Editors
Copy Editing for Diversity
Ten Things to Know & Love About Copy Editors
When Copy Editors Should Speak Up & Why
Start at the Copy Desk
Mind If We Watch?
Why Copy Editing Matters series
In Search of the Perfect Copy Editor

Welcome to the club, Paul

Everyone give a shout-out to Paul Wiggins, a copy editor from Australia who never fails to bring a smile to my face when he posts on Testy Copy Editors.

Hold your head up

ACES announces the winners in its headline contest:
Division I: Jim Webster, St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times
Division II: Vic Odegar, The Beaumont (Texas) Enterprise
Division III: Matt Ochsner, Great Falls (Mont.) Tribune
Division IV: None
Division V: The Los Angeles Times, Portfolio A

Some of my favorites:
McDonald’s takes quarter pounding

Woman who wouldn’t wear pants wins suit

Cry at Caltech: Oh, the Humanities!

As Poetry, Is
It Defensible?
Humorist Hart Seely has put together a book
of quotations from Defense Secretary Donald
H. Rumsfeld that contains some, uh, real gems.

Says who? ACES lists these judges:
The panel of judges was led by Vincent Rinehart, editorial copy chief of The Washington Post; Alex Cruden, chief editor of the copy desks at the Detroit Free Press; Richard Holden, executive director of the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund; Tim Kelly, editor of The Beaumont (Texas) Enterprise; and Michael Chihak, editor of The Tucson (Ariz.) Citizen. Judges included leading editors from The New York Times, The Denver Post, The New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun.

An Army of support

Dan Gillmor, technology columnist at the San Jose Mercury News, is publishing drafts of his upcoming book, "Making the News." He's looking for immediate feedback, a legion of online copy editors, to help him fill holes, fix factual errors and excise cliches. reports that at a conference, Gillmor said: " I've already gotten two corrections and some good comments. I have 1,000 copy editors and some really good thoughts on where I am going with this project."

I guess you can never have enough.

From the outside looking in

Poynter has a column by Matt Thompson about Web sites for editors -- namely, the ACES and Testy Copy Editors message boards and blogs such as this one and those run by Tom Mangan and Clay McCuistion.

Most of you will be familiar with the sites mentioned, if not through your own curiosity, then through the links on the side of this page. But it's interesting to see how non-editors* view our rants -- on the big issues and the "quibbling over semantics." This article is complimentary if not always in agreement (see "impact").

Even if you are familiar with the topics mentioned, you should still check the article out for the last couple of grafs. The author gives a Testy Copy Editors warning: No object is above the snark, especially not Poynter itself. Thompson is a good sport.

And this prompts me to repeat a reminder: What you write on these message boards is very public and can be repeated indefinitely. It doesn't appear that Thomspon interviewed anyone for this piece; he simply used people's postings. What have you posted lately?

Make sure your posts don't say something unwarranted or ill-advised about you.

*Why did I hyphenate a non- word? Call it civil disobendience. Although AP calls for us to drop the hyphen, I find that this can often lead to clunky or misleading words. With noneditor, it's easy to add the E to the non part, rendering it none. In most cases, I drop the hyphen. But not all.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

A round-up

My trip to Palacios, Texas, was nice; thanks for asking.

Some good posts at Copy Massage

I have my eyes peeled on Tom Mangan's site, waiting for word on how he finds Houston. (All the cool kids are there for the ACES conference, which starts tomorrow.)

Newsdesigner covers the doctored-photo problems.

More later!

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Quick tips

(I'm still out of town, but I snuck some Web time. Shhh ... don't tell.)

It's Jamaica rum, not Jamaican rum.

It's draft beer, not draught beer.

And use drunk as an adjective after a "to be" verb, but drunken before the noun. He was drunk from all the Jamaica rum and draft beer but didn't want to risk being pulled over for drunken driving.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Have some fun

Out of town again,
I declare this Comment Day.
Haikus only, please.

To hold you over,
A tip: Always thank those who
Track down your errors.

Now the show is yours.
Remember: Use your powers
For good, not evil.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Round 'em on up!

Links worth checking out -- some old, some new:

Autumn's peeved about hyphens: It's market timing, not market-timing.

Next time a reporter makes up a word, enter it here.

Check out your grammar aptitude and post it on your blog.

Play WEBoggle and get nothing else done all day.

Bob's Quick Guide to the Apostrophe, You Idiots (a cartoon)

Leap year strikes again

Since the deadly train bombings in Spain last week, there has been much speculation on who's responsible: ETA or al-Qaeda?

Among the reasons al-Qaeda's being mentioned? The eery coincidence that March 11, 2004, was exactly 911 days after Sept. 11, 2001. Hundreds of publications have repeated this.

Guess what? It's not true. It was 912 days later. Check it out for yourself.

Now, you could argue: "Nine hundred eleven, 912? Who cares? Close enough!" Or maybe the terrorists just forget to factor in that crazy, crazy leap year. That's fine if you're trying to convince your dog. But it won't work for newspaper reporting.

I noticed that some of these publications are saying "911 days in between" the two events. I guess that's technically accurate, but it seems disingenuous to me. We never report the days "in between." People are doing so now only to fit their point.

A snapshot of plagiarism

The Macon Telegraph fired a reporter last week after editors discovered striking similarities between his work and work previously published in other papers. We've heard so many of these stories lately that they begin to run together, but this one I had heard about before reading it on Romenesko.

One of these "similar" stories was published years ago in the Morning News (online link not available). So I thought I'd check the archive and see just how similar they were. What follows is a comparison of parts of "6-year plan becoming common at Georgia colleges" by Macon's Khalil Abdullah and "At 4-year colleges, a 6-year plan" by Dallas' Linda Wertheimer.

But the time Mr. Stanton is taking to graduate has become the norm in Texas and across the country. Most students, particularly in public colleges, are taking five to six years to graduate, and in many cases, longer.
The time Jackson is taking to graduate has become the norm in Georgia and across the country. Students, particularly in public colleges, are taking six years to earn their degrees, and in many cases, longer.
The reasons are numerous. Working multiple jobs, dropping classes, taking lighter loads and changing majors extended Mr. Stanton's undergraduate college career. Colleges also have added credit hours for many degrees.
The reasons are numerous.

Working multiple jobs, dropping classes, taking lighter loads and changing majors extends many students' college careers. Colleges also have added credit hours for many degrees.
Students' slower pace worries some state officials and college leaders, who are working to get students out of college faster, partly because of overcrowding and the financial burden on families.
The slower pace worries some state officials and college leaders. To tackle the issue, the state university system has formed a task force to find ways to move students through college faster, partly because of overcrowding and the financial burden on families.
Some college officials say the graduation rates are a reflection of the times and that six-year college stays will be the new standard. The four-year graduation rate is already passe on state and federal statistical charts.
Some say the graduation rates are a reflection of the times and that six-year college stays will be the new standard. The four-year plan is already passe on federal statistical charts.
This goes on for a couple of grafs more before this quote from Dallas:
"We live with the perception that it's still four years, when in reality, it's five and six years," said Brian Fitzgerald, staff director of the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, which advises Congress.
And in Macon:
"The perception is that it still takes four years, when really it's closer to six," said Ron Henry, provost of Georgia State University and task force chairman. "There are many reasons for it, but because we are behind everyone nationally we need to do better."
That quote marks a change in the story. Very little is stolen from that point on, but it does use the Dallas story as a template for the remainder. Subhed here, lead-in graf about state goals, supporting quotes, new subhed, etc.

It's writing by template.

I don't know that it's a firable offense like straight-up plagiarizing. But it certainly isn't ethical.

And it shows me one thing for sure: If I were a writer, this would make me cringe even more. I'd want to Google my work constantly, be on the lookout for frauds.

But even that wouldn't have helped in this case. The Dallas writer's story is from Nov. 1, 2001. Khalil Abdullah's is from Feb. 9, 2004, just a month ago.

That tactic probably allowed his offenses to rack up before detection. (One similar story, from the Washington Post, was written nine years before Abdullah's.) The Telegraph lists 20 such stories, spanning just 15 months.


Saturday, March 13, 2004

It's Sunday somewhere

Here's William Safire's language column for tomorrow. He has a bit on copy editors, where he tries to pay his penance for his article "Let's Kill All the Copy Editors!"
Copy! Copy editors win no popularity contests. Writers and reporters, under their breath, denounce those strict monitors of usage, spelling and grammar as rigid smarty-pants second-guessers who eviscerate lusty copy with their grim adherence to prissy stylebooks. I once contributed to this vilification with a piece that I titled, in an allusion to a Shakespearean villain’s derogation of lawyers, “Let’s Kill All the Copy Editors.”
He then tells a joke that I've heard before but isn't bad. It involves St. Peter and wings.
I pass that on as my penance, and in the fond hope that my copy editor has not changed the word piece -- a current term of art used above thrice in defiance of the stylebook—to the bland article. (She has not, her heavy wings proving not incapable of bending. . . just this one time.)
Copy-editing mentions aside, the "piece" is good, about cherry-picking and intelligentsia.

What are you doing here?

You should be reading Bill Walsh's new book, "The Elephants of Style." I found it in my local Borders (at 75 and Lovers Lane, you Dallasites) last night, fresh out of the box.

It's so fantastic, I might not have even stopped to post. But then I came to this, which was too much a coincidence not to share:
If you ask me about the Washington Capitals and I say, "I really like them," am I saying "them" purely because Capitals is a plural noun? I don't think so. Fans of the singularly named Tampa Bay Lightning don't say, "I really like it." Ask me about the band R.E.M. and I'll say "them" too. Heck, if you ask me about the selection at Safeway, I'll say "they" have good stuff and bad stuff.
His sage advice? Rewrite! (So that you don't have to use "it.")

Go buy the book. Don't feel like leaving the house? Do it anyway! This will be a perfect weekend to read about style.

Still don't feel like leaving the house and willing to delay gratification? OK, order it online at or at Barnes and Noble.

Who knew Grandaddy would bring up so many issues?

While I'm thinking about it, I'll discuss another issue I considered when making the concert post. Is Grandaddy an "it" or a "them"? My brain forced me to type "them" every time. It's how I think; it's how I talk.

Then I went back and changed every reference.

A band is an "it" when it goes by Grandaddy or the Postal Service or Hot Hot Heat. It's a "they" when it goes by the Unicorns or the New Pornographers or the Microphones.

What about Guided by Voices or Pretty Girls Make Graves? I'll call those "concept names." Sure, there's more than one voice or girl or grave, but the name is more an idea than a person, place or thing.

A rule of thumb: Is there a verb in that band name? If so, double-check it.

And here ends my school of indie rock.

Friday, March 12, 2004

A copy editor's dilemma*

With an unexpected Friday night off, do I:
1. Go see Grandaddy because it's a fantastic, poppy band that would cap off my evening quite winningly?

2. Boycott Grandaddy and its concerts because it chooses to spell its name with three Ds instead of four?
I think I probably won't go. But the real reason is that it's $25, which is ridiculous, and Grandaddy is headlining with Saves the Day, a band that sounds awful in this review. Why share my hard-earned cash with them?

*Is "dilemma" a mistake? AP says: "It means more than a problem. It implies a choice between two unattractive alternatives." However, this usage note in Merriam-Webster begs to differ: "Although some commentators insist that dilemma be restricted to instances in which the alternatives to be chosen are equally unsatisfactory, their concern is misplaced; the unsatisfactoriness of the options is usually a matter of how the author presents them. What is distressing or painful about a dilemma is having to make a choice one does not want to make."

It's a tabloid, for god's sake

I've never been known for my sensitivity, it's true. So it may come as no surprise that I sympathize with the New York Post's decision to run a front-page photo of a suicide plunge, a woman jumping from the roof of her boyfriend's apartment building.

To put it into perspective, read this letter to Romenesko from the paper's chief copy editor, Barry Gross. He says: "Sorry, folks. We are a tabloid." Think that's too callous? Read on.
Based on the arguments of all of the piously outraged, self-appointed moral compasses of good journalism, we might never have seen the classic 1968 photo and footage of South Vietnam's police chief blowing out the brains of a VC prisoner. The Zapruder footage of JFK's assassination? Too graphic. We must protect our audience.
I wouldn't put this photo on par with those shots. But I do think he has a valid point. (And no jokes about his last name being Gross.)

The event is news: It's the fourth recent suicide of an NYU student. The photo isn't gory. You can't see the woman's face.

To say that the paper is exploiting the tragedy is short-sighted. What do reporters' do when they knock on the house of the victims' parents? What do photographers do when they poke their cameras into grieving friends' faces? The line between news and exploitation is gray indeed.

Had I been the copy chief involved in this discussion, I can't say that I'd actively push for the photo to run. After years of hearing J-school ethics discussions and seeing namby-pamby newspaper decisions, I know better than to wholeheartedly espouse such a decision. But I can't despise a paper that does.

Nothing to see here; move along

This has absolutely nothing to do with editing, except that I edited a story it was in. But it's a quote that deserves as much ink as it can get. Simply bizarre.
Caught between Japan’s high labor costs and anti-immigrant sentiment, some mainstream politicians have even suggested exporting some of Japan’s elderly to Thailand and the Philippines, but that has never won much popular support.
The anecdote pulled out for the lede on this story is nice, too: It's about a human washing machine for Japan's elderly. Sounds heavenly.

Ch-ch-changes shows a before and after of the redesigned San Francisco Examiner.

Thursday, March 11, 2004


This correction has cracked me up each of the three times I have read it so far.
In the March 10 Daily Citizen article titled "Higginson nixes non-refundable water deposits," the headline and article should have read "non-refundable sewer connect deposits."
Let's see:
Higginson nixes non-refundable water deposits
Higginson nixes non-refundable sewer connect deposits

Yep, about the same size. Run it. (Even that first headline length is quite generous.)

Have a couple of hours to kill?

The latest issue of CJR's Language Corner, a column on grammar gaffes, covers "couple." Is it singular? Plural? Can it switch?
The principle grammarians invoke is "notional agreement" - if the idea is plural, make the verb plural. Deciding about that can require thought, though, not just a knee jerk. Worse yet, the difference in meaning is sometimes so minute that either singular or plural works.
If you've never visited this CJR gem, carve some time out to stay there awhile. It's written by Evan Jenkins, a former copy editor at the New York Times and Newsday.

The Web site is great, listing the last few articles in chronological order and then filing all the columns by issues such as Borne Out, with an "E", Danglers and That, Omission of.

A quick tip

You might not know it from reading the news, but "ad nauseam" is not spelled "ad nauseum."

It's an expression meaning "to a sickening or excessive degree."

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Watch those labels

It's nice when copy editors can try their hands at writing for a change.

But the label over this column, "From the Copydesk," could definitely send the wrong message to readers. (Link from David de la Fuente on the ACES message board)

Editors vs. designers

Tom Mangan hashes it out on a new Web forum for "visual editors," aka people who deal with typography, designing, graphics, etc. He gets the party started with:
I know designers gotta call themselves something, but all editing is visual, which renders the term meaningless.

The other subtly irritating thing about "visual" is the implication that everybody else is somehow vision-impaired.
Let the games begin!

I'm a broken record

Still recovering from last night, so sorry that the posting is light. But I did just read a bit about Jayson Blair worth sharing.

He's trying to argue that the title of his book, "Burning Down My Masters' House," in fact has nothing to do with screwing the Times. He told Larry King that he, Blair, was the master being burned down, like self-immolation.

Whatever, Jayson.

But an astute reader noted on Romenesko's letters page that if this was the case (rather than a racially charged refernce to his NYT bosses), shouldn't it be "Master's" rather than "Masters' "?

(Sigh) (Yawn)

To anyone who worked a primary tonight, or anyone who will be working one soon, or anyone who has worked one lately, or anyone who will ever work one: Bless you.

What a long night.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Math: Still an element of polls

A Gallup headline announcing a new poll says Nader's candidacy hurts Kerry.

Let's just call this a pop quiz on margin of error. You can e-mail your answers.

1. If Kerry drops from 50 points to 47 points, how significant is that with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points?

OK, pencils down!

While we're back on the subject, I noticed that AP's director of polling, Mike Mokrzycki, left a comment a couple of days after I posted "A day's not complete without polling news." He gives some context for the possible changes on AP's rounding policy.

Where to drop your hard-earned cash

Bill Walsh's second book, "The Elephants of Style," comes out Friday, which makes today a good day to pre-order it. Amazon has it for 30 percent off.

What I'm most excited about: more Curmudgeon's Stylebook. The book description says includes entries such as Snarky Specificity, Metaphors, Near and Far and Actually is the New Like.

One thing I noticed while ordering: Amazon can give you a lot of information. The page had a list of my Amazon friends who had already bought the book.

OK, one more

I figured I'd share this Jayson Blair tidbit only because it's gossippy and mentions a copy editor:
Blair says one copy editor on the metro desk, who favoured marijuana, "always seemed to be stoned and, at the same time, wrote some of the best headlines".
True? Probably not. But funny.

(And I'm going to guess Blair didnt write the British "favoured" but that the Australian newspaper changed it. Tsk tsk.)

Monday, March 08, 2004

Just saving you the time

Slate reads Jayson Blair's book so you don't have to. A couple of tidbits to get you there:
Page 69-73: Blair reflects on the June 2003 resignations of Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd, the top two editors at the New York Times: "I was no more responsible for their resignations than Gavrilo Princip, the man who killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, was responsible for starting World War I. I knew the groundwork for their resignations had been set long before I began fabricating stories, but it was hard, as the catalyst, not to take responsibility for the entire situation."

Page 253: Blair describes the Times' "dateline toe-touch" policy, in which writers report a story from afar and then travel to the scene to scoop up a dateline. (It's his most damning description of Times' practices.) After a series of "toe-touches," Blair gives in to a greater crime: the "dateline no-touch" policy, in which he submits datelines from cities he never visited.
This part makes me laugh. What's the difference, reporting wise, between a toe-touch and a no-touch? Both are as disingenuous to the reader; but one is disingenuous to the employer.
Page 165: Blair admits to spending between $500 and $1,000 per week on cocaine. When he needs money, he sells his stash at a profit to fellow "coke fiends" at the Times. He declares, "Call her by any name: Star-Spangled Powder, the All-American drug, blow, bouncing powder, or Carrie—cocaine was the woman for me."
That, truly, is atrocious writing.
Page 202: Blair says that he "performed, or received, a sexual favor for drugs." He offers few details as to the former.

Page 257: Blair strolls through the Times newsroom wearing a Persian head wrap and fake fur, with a Kermit the Frog doll balancing on one shoulder. He says later, "Perhaps I was crying out for attention."

Page 136-38: Blair says public relations officers will trade sex for mentions in Times news stories. Blair himself takes home a 23-year-old flack from an Internet company. At a critical moment in the evening, she asks him for a favor. Her company's name winds up in many of Blair's stories.
I'm glad I read the synopsis, but I'm not sad to miss out on the book.

Poynter considers the headline

Howard Finberg takes a look at why online headlines lack inspiration.

I have one idea: They have more tech training than headline training.

Editing saves the day, again

A Tacoma News Tribune writer of 15 years resigned after editors raised questions about his sources. They couldn't confirm the existence of most of the people quoted by Bart Ripp. The editor writes:
When I met with Bart two weeks ago to ask him about our findings he resigned on the spot.

He maintains he never made up a quote or a person in his reporting at The News Tribune. I offered to give him a week to find any of the people we couldn't. He declined.
This is just another case proving that editors can and should double-check every name when there's time. In addition to the surprisingly high number of spelling mistakes you'll find, you never know what you won't find. And that's our job, too.

This reminds me: When I worked in Wichita, the tech whizzes had taken public records of voter rolls and created a database for writers and editors. We could verify spellings, ages and often addresses and phone numbers of anyone who lived in the state.

Any database can have a mistake, but I can't remember finding one in that database. It did lead to the correction of scores of story errors, however.

A similar database -- and habit of checking every name -- might have led to this fraud's earlier detection.

Pronoun-antecedent agreement errors

Daniel Puckett of the St. Petersburg Times presents some persuasive arguments to use plural pronouns with singular antecedents (for example, "A person cannot choose their birth," and "If no one wants to visit, they shouldn't have to.")

For those of you new to the antecedent game, the rules of grammar hold that singular nouns must get singular pronouns. Of course, this isn't how we talk. The accepted alternatives to using "they" generally include assuming masculinity and going with "he," or using the stilted "he or she." But when we talk, no such distinction is made.

Puckett gives several reasons that this practice is silly, that readers aren't helped by the distinction. He then makes a call to action:
This is an opportunity to reduce the waste: We can stop enforcing a rule that does not enhance communication and that flies in the face of the language as its speakers, both educated and uneducated, actually use it. It's also an opportunity to burnish our image: Every time we enforce a rule that doesn't make any sense, we reduce the chance we'll be listened to while trying to enforce one that does.
It's not fun to be the editor pushing a radical (for us) change, but what Daniel's saying makes sense. I'd prefer the creation of a singular neuter pronoun, but I see that as unlikely.

I doubt I'll be fighting at the forefront of this movement for change. However, I won't fight its acceptance.

You call that recycling?

NYT ombud Daniel Okrent wrote about "using the same quote twice" in two stories by the same author, Elisabeth Rosenthal. Compare:
"I don't think I could vote for George Bush again when I think of the 500 people killed in Iraq and what's happened to the economy in this country," said George Meagher, an independent, who runs the American Military Museum in Charleston and said he now favors Mr. Kerry.
"George Meagher, a Republican who founded and now runs the American Military Museum in Charleston, S.C., said he threw his 'heart and soul' into the Bush campaign four years ago. . . . 'People like me, we're all choking a bit at not supporting the president. But when I think about 500 people killed and what we've done to Iraq.'"
An astute reader pointed out to Okrent that, first, the speaker's political affiliation has changed, perhaps to fit the slant of the story.

Second, there's some lazy reporting going on here. Don't want to get a new quote? Just reuse those old ones!

Third, and I think this could be the most egregious, Okrent makes it sound as if the quote had been altered. He talks of it being "in two different versions." I pray that Mr. Meagher just repeated himself during the interview, providing two different but similar quotes, and that Rosenthal didn't simply alter it to suit her story. That seems far-fetched, but I throw my hands up these days.

The paper did run a correction, which Okrent takes issue with, as well. And I agree with him. Read it here and decided for yourself.

My 2 cents on $2 words

I don't have any problems with running big words in news articles. Newspapers can teach more than just current events.

But if readers are sent to the dictionary, they'd be better be rewarded. Why bother using "chary" if the dictionary just says "wary"? You'd feel jilted if you went to look up "proffer" to find that it means "offer."

Try to work through that knee-jerk response to kill all fancy words. But feel empowered to wield that ax when writers are just being uppity.

Saturday, March 06, 2004

A round-up of Martha heads

These are all from the papers' PDFs on Newseum. Any favorites?

Martha Stewart guilty [Chicago Tribune]
Stewart guilty, vows to appeal [Fort Worth Star-Telegram]
Martha Stewart Found Guilty; Prison Likely [Los Angeles Times]
Stewart Found Guilty of Lying in Sale of Stock [New York Times]
Stewart Guilty on All Charges [Washington Post]

Trying to look ahead
Jury says Stewart cheated, then lied [Detroit News and Free Press]
Verdict threatens Stewart empire [Indianapolis Star]
Is Martha headed for jail? [Oregonian]

Trying to be clever
For Martha Stewart, a good thing ends [Charlotte Observer]
It's a bad thing [Erie Times-News]
It's a jail thing [Philadelphia Daily News]
Jury finds new label for Stewart -- guilty [Roanoke Times]

Stewart faces prison, ruin with convictions [Springfield (Mo.) News Leader]

Friday, March 05, 2004

Why editors matter, Take 121

A Philadelphia judge has some fun with a quick-typing lawyer requesting fees. It could have been, the judge says, if it weren't for all those typos. Like any good lawyer, he provides evidence:
One document said: "Had the defendants not tired to paper plaintiff's counsel to death, some type would not have occurred. Furthermore, there have been omissions by the defendants, thus they should not case stones."

In one letter, Mr. Puricelli had given the magistrate's first name as Jacon, not Jacob. "I appreciate the elevation to what sounds like a character in `The Lord of the Rings,' " Magistrate Hart wrote, "but, alas, I am only a judge."

In all of Mr. Puricelli's filings, he identified the Federal District Court in Philadelphia as the United States District Court for the Easter District of Pennsylvania.
The judge wrote: "Mr. Puricelli's complete lack of care in his written product shows disrespect for the court. Mr. Puricelli's lack of care caused the court and, I am sure, defense counsel, to spend an inordinate amount of time deciphering the arguments."

He reduced Mr. Puricelli's fee by $31,500. I would have edited the briefs for half that amount. If only Mr. Puricelli had hired me.

A shake-up at the Miami Herald

Newsdesigner has some Florida gossip.

While I'm complaining

I'm also tired of people apologizing for editorial cartoons. They are supposed to cause outrage. Sheesh!

Grow up, already

What is with all the hand-wringing about Jayson Blair's book, "Burning Down My Masters' House: My Life at The New York Times"? Do we review it? Do we ignore it?

Enough! If you work for a newspaper, you cover the news. And if this is a book that is getting a lot of attention, that's making news, you cover it. You review it. Period.

It doesn't matter if the author made your newspaper or profession look bad. There are hundreds of corporate scandals that newspapers devote ink to. There should be no double standard now that the scandal is in our back yard.

Can we embarrassed about what Blair accomplished? Absolutely. Do we have a right to hide behind pious indignation, to ignore the book to reserve space and "devote it to something worthwhile rather than make a rich star out of Blair"? Absolutely not.

There should be no question here.

Newspapers Throw the Book at Jayson Blair [Hartford Courant]
Keller: It "does not merit much attention" [Baltimore Sun]
Keller: 'We May Review Blair Book' [Editor & Publisher]

Thursday, March 04, 2004


Forget about "same-sex marraige" vs. "gay marriage" for a moment. Consider instead the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's style: Use "gay marraige," and put it in quotes.

The Arkansas Times points out that this is a style used inconsistently and points out these headlines:
A) Gay marriage ban faces 'high hurdle'
B) California judge won't stop 'gay marriage'
C) Gay 'marriage' foes file California suit
D) Democrats weigh death penalty, gay marriage at debate
E) Justices deny state's request to immediately halt gay 'marriages'
So what's the difference? Reporter David Koon called Frank Fellone, D-G deputy editor, to find out. Fellone said the gay marriages taking place in San Francisco aren't legal and therefore aren't actually marriages. They are put in quotes. But the issue of legal gay marriage is different and therefore doesn't get quotes.

We can ignore for a moment that it's a bad idea to use quotes to imply somthing substandard, ironic or so-called. Readers are confused enough about whether something in quotes has been said, if we're trying to emphasize words in quotes as many ads do, or whether we're trying to be funny or imply a double-meaning. There's no need to muddy this further.

But putting gay marriage in quotes border on editorializing. It places the paper in the style-rule company of the Washington Times (not known for its objectivity). And it sounds like a pissed-off manager was able to dictate a silly rule that everyone else is forced to implement, regarldess of the normal channel of style changes.

I don't know whose rule this is, but someone ought to get it changed.

Gay 'style' at the D-G [Arkansas Times]
Copy "editing" [Testy Copy Editors]

Those progressive operas

In an L.A. Times opera review, a copy editor changed "an incomparably glorious and goofy pro-life paean" to "... goofy anti-abortion paean." As you may know (if you're more cultured than I), "Die Frau Ohne Schatten" has nothing to do with abortion. The L.A. Times wrote a correction, and then corrected that correction to point out that it was not the reporter's error.

This could almost be an error orchestrated by Bill Walsh to prove why some corrections should assign blame.

Tom Mangan sums it up nicely here.
I can't imagine what the excuse was for an editor changing "pro-life" to "anti-abortion" in an opera review that had nothing to do with abortion, but whoever you are, well: Thanks for all your help.
A thread has started on Testy Copy Editors here.

A Romenesko Letters writer rails againts such search-and-replace mentality:
I remember something from a while back about automatic word-replacement done by an newspaper editor that, and this is approximation, changed "the company was awash in red ink but now is in the black" to "the company was awash in red ink but now is in the African-American."
LAT's anti-abortion opera [L.A. Observed]
Correction [L.A. Times]
Correction's correction [L.A. Times]

This is just My opinion

Check out this thread on the ACES board about capitalizing "His."

Should a newspaper capitalize the pronouns referring to God, Jesus or any other deity? I'd say no.

Sure, the Bible does. And Christians tend to in most other writings, as well. But as long as you're writing for a secular publication, you should use secular capitalization rules.

And if you're going against AP, you should have a better reason than "That's what I learned in Sunday school."

Associated Press says:
Capitalize God in references to the deity of all monotheistic religions. Capitalize all noun references to the deity: God the Father, Holy Ghost, Holy Spirit, etc. Lowercase personal pronouns: he, him, thee, thou.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Naming names

Publisher's Weekly has confirmed that former ambassador Joseph Wilson will reveal in his book the identity of the person he believes leaked his wife's name to Novak.

Will Novak cave? Probably not. But it'll be interesting to see if someone will squeal before the book's release date of May 20. The book is sure to get attention, considering that a federal grand jury is hearing testimony on the case now, and that Wilson is working as a foreign policy adviser on Kerry's campaign.


I added the Explainer link to this morning's post on questions about same-sex marriage.

I also added a related article on whether transsexuals have to marry according to their old sex or their new one.

What, is it Christmas?

All you Bill Walsh junkies, take note. On his Web site, he marks the March release of his new book and some upcoming appearances, including an online chat.

Mark your calendars.

Put on your learning caps

Beginning in April, Copy Editor has a smattering of workshops throughout the nation with Barbara Walraff and local editing celebs.

Dallas -- April 6 with Paula LaRocque
Atlanta -- April 8 with Ray Cox
Los Angeles -- April 20 with Katya Rice
San Francisco -- April 22 with Amy Einsohn
Chicago -- May 4 with Margaret D.F. Mahan
Washington -- May 6 with Bill Walsh
NYC -- May 18 with Norm Goldstein
Boston -- May 20 with Luise M. Erdmann
Seattle -- June 3 with Sherri Schultz


Regrettable puns I've used as headlines at the in-flight magazine for which I work. [McSweeney's]

Should have been a West Coast bride

USA Today has a good Q&A on gay marriage, with some facts we should be familiar with. Example:
Q: Have other states amended their constitutions to ban same-sex marriage?

A: Hawaii, Alaska, Nebraska and Nevada have amended their constitutions. Several other states, including Ohio and New Hampshire, are considering amendments.
What isn't answered there is probably covered in Slate's Explainer on the topic. Questions (and answers) include:
If Massachusetts (or any other state) passes a law saying that same-sex couples can marry, do all other 49 states have to give full faith and credit to that law?

Will gay and lesbian married couples in Massachusetts and/or San Francisco be able to call themselves married on their 2005 IRS tax forms?

In order to bring a lawsuit, don't plaintiffs have to claim that they have suffered a concrete and particularized harm that is traceable to the action of the defendant? How can conservative groups in California have standing to bring charges against the city of San Francisco for issuing same-sex marriage licenses?
On a related topic: Same-sex marriages are not legal in all of Canada, only the provinces of Ontario and British Columbia. Are those marriages valid in the United States? No.

On another related topic: What if you were a man but are now a woman and want to marry a man? Depends.

Fun reading: My Amendment [New Yorker]

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Looking for a new job?

The Chicago Tribune is hiring a copy editor for the national and foreign desk. It sounds promising. Three years of experience required.

Someone always knows more than the know-it-all

This column in the Guardian UK is about Lynne Truss, the author of "Eats, Shoots and Leaves," the bestselling grammar book. The author is a grammar teacher who had Truss as a student. Read the whole thing if you like, but I didn't find it all that interesting.

At the end, however, is this little quiz given to applicants where the author teaches.
1. Give me, quickly if you please, an example of an adverbial phrase.

2. When would you use a colon: when would you use a semi-colon?

3. What is the difference (in terms of sense) between the following: (a) "The butler stole the necklace" (b) "It was the butler who stole the necklace"?
Stumped? Of course not. But in the never-try-to-test-an-expert category, read this thread on the alt.usage.english newsgroup. As one person put it:
I hope young Truss's punctuation skills are better than the ones Sutherland exhibits in this sentence.

How not to motivate workers

Read this memo from the Cincinnati Enquirer's special projects editor blasting today's A and B sections.

Here's a tease (emphasis mine, ellipses hers):
** Where are the photos? Everybody wants to see that 84-year-old Leap Lady on the bottom of B1. Everybody wants to see the Museum Guy who's answering Five Questions on B2. Everybody wants to see the new Country Day chief, especially since we put a big old 54-point head on that story, also on 2B....... To continue the trend of annoying readers, we have a nice family photo with the bike trail story on 3B -- but who cares? What you wanna see with that story is a MAP of the bike trail...... And how in the world did we manage to put Cliff Peale's picture with John Eckberg's name in the "Daily Grind" column on Business? Is anybody seeing page proofs at night??
I'm all for straight shooters in the newsroom. Managers can get so lost in compliments that you run out of time to make the paper better. But this memo is at the other end of the spectrum.

To make matters worse, her points are probably all valid. But when they're couched in such comments as "Is anybody seeing page proofs at night??" they do little good.

I'm hoping for some reaction on Romenesko's letters page.