Saturday, April 30, 2005

Challenge those numbers

I've been remiss in reading the Numbers Guy column at the Wall Street Journal. (Actually, I've been remiss in reading almost everything I normally try to catch.) So it is with my head hanging low that I bring you news of the April 22 column this late.

But you gotta read it.

Carl Bialik looks at how aging statistics end up being recycled in media reports for years -- with no one looking at where the numbers came from or whether they still hold true.

He uses three great examples. The first is from an Associated Press article that said, "Canadian police estimate that more than 100,000 Web sites contain images of child sexual abuse."

Bialik did a little digging:
It turns out the Canadian police were citing the statistic from a three-year-old article in a magazine that stopped publishing in 2003. The magazine's source is a U.S. agency that no longer exists. And the agency that has replaced it can't track down the original source of the stat. The lesson: An old stat can get new life when "experts" repeat it, especially when there is no conflicting version of the number.
But even the source doesn't matter that much.
Even if the number wasn't so old, there are still plenty of reasons to question it. Counting Web sites is not an exact science (Google provides only estimates of hits for searches). Also, it's unclear how active the sites were. If just one site carried child porn, but it had the traffic of, say, Yahoo, that would be far more troubling than 100,000 unvisited sites.
His most recent column deals with another dubious stat, and this story is a good read, too. It starts with the Texas House trying to pass a law restricting gay and lesbian couples from serving as foster parents.

Of course, the topic was covered endlessly by quote machines on CNN, and one of them served up this: "Children in foster homes with same-sex parents are 11 times as likely to be sexually abused as those with heterosexual parents."

Bialik traces the statistic's path:
To get on CNN, that number snaked through a twisting path, from a little-noticed Illinois study published by an antigay scientist/activist in a psychological journal, to several conservative Web sites, to, finally, the attention of a Texas activist who presented her misinterpretation of the study on national television, essentially unchallenged.
My main point (besides "Read the Numbers Guy!") is that we have to get in the habit of looking at numbers -- not just at checking that they compute, though that's very important. But we have to make sure these stats make sense, prove what they say the do, and have some basis in reality.

To let them go by because we're scared of numbers is even more dangerous once we see that publishing them once lets others recycle them for years.

Blogger vs. Reporter

An interesting take (from the Literary Review of The Hindu) on the benefits of blogging vs. writing for the traditional media:
Press Guy is asked to cover something different all the time. He has four days to investigate an unknown (to him) technology and write a two-page article. The editor insists pieces must have a proper introduction, body and conclusion, and must be accompanied by an illustration and a sidebar or two. Press Guy doesn't know who he's writing for. His copy editors will decide after he sends in the piece. It doesn't take him much time to figure out the nuts and bolts, since he's smart, but he's lost when it comes to explaining what this technology really means. That sort of insight takes time to observe, and time he has not. Maybe he'll look up Google and copy a line or two, inviting the wrath of his copy editors who'll instantly recognise the difference in writing styles. Maybe he'll cook up something and slip it past them, inviting the wrath of a clued-in reader. An introduction and a conclusion? Huh? How do you do that? Who is reading this article? Is the reader a stay-at-home mom who got a computer to talk to her son abroad? Maybe I should explain with a simplified analogy to make it easy for her? Or is my reader her tech-savvy son, who will be offended by the analogy?

Blogger doesn't have a waiting audience and isn't paid to write. Blogger writes because she discovered something that she's simply bursting to share. Blogger is under no pressure to write about something else tomorrow, or to write at all. Blogger writes simply because she feels like it. Reader feedback is immediate. There's no waiting for the issue to go to press and feedback arriving in the mail. This absence of pressure allows Blogger to explore both her writing skills and technical mastery.

Notice the critical difference here. With traditional media, the new writer is given an audience he didn't earn and doesn't know how to handle. It's a steep, painful curve. With blogging, the audience builds around the writer. The blogger grows to speak to the audience as an old friend.
To this I say: Four days to investigate? Try four hours for a lot of people. This is one of the great reasons why many knowledgeable people will never get news about anything they're interested in from the paper. They see more what we don't know than what we know.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Oh, to have a digital camera ready

Doug at Common Sense Journalism saw a classic mistake:
A flashing S.C. Transportation Department sign on my way to work today had this helpful message:

Lanes closed
That's one I'd love to have documented.

One man's deet, a mosquito's poison

It got above 90 degrees in Dallas yesterday; I'm not kidding.

That, and a release from the CDC on how to ward off mosquitoes, reminded me that it's about time to send out this warning:

Deet, "a colorless oily liquid insect repellent C12H17NO," is thought to have come from d.e.t, "di- + ethyl + toluamide (C8H9NO)."

Or maybe it was from d.t., for diethyl toluamide.

But I don't see anyone saying it's from d.e.e.t. There's no need to cap it. (Not to mention the fact that the dictionaries I've looked at have all listed lowercase deet first, with maybe a mention of "often capped." )

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Corrections? You're fired!

The readers representative at the Minnesota Daily, Libby George, writes about flaws in opinion writing.

Here's an interesting part (and just try to read over the errors):
The same trap has ensnared other Daily writers, as have other opinion-writing blunders such as making sweeping generalizations, drawing conclusions based on assumptions, not facts, and ignoring significant gaps in the argument the columnist is trying to make. While these are all different scenarios, they can all lead to misleading and inaccurate writing. That's where Editorials & Opinions Editor Tim Burnett should come in -- but apparently not in Noyes' case.

"For an editorial writer with 3 1/2 of experience (like Noyes) I usually don't worry about accuracy," Burnett said. "There's a lower standard. I check for taste, not for facts."

With newer columnists and guest columnists, Burnett said, he does "basic fact-checking" based on what he knows about the issue (a prerequisite for his job is to avidly follow the news). While he is devoted to catching unsubstantiated or misleading statements, he said, he doesn't have time to be "perfectly thorough." All columns also go through editing by copy desk, but opinions pieces are trickier for copy editors, because it is hard to know whether a writer has facts to back up the argument. That's why Burnett's role is so crucial.
Because they've had problems with bad facts making it into the paper, a new policy has been put in place.
[Editor in chief Jake] Weyer recently changed the Daily's corrections policy so that any writer with two corrections in the same semester will be officially written up and any error after that could warrant termination.
There's no word on whether that would hold for nonwriters; I've sent a note to George; I'll update if I hear back from her.

Albom discipline

Phil Rosenthal has a column at the Chicago Tribune about the Mitch Albom flap dying out. It says Tribune Media Services will continue syndicating the column, too.

And it also mentions that Tribune Media Services wonders why its own copy editor didn't catch the error.
The Free Press announced last week it was disciplining Albom and four others, but Albom's column would return. That was good enough for TMS, which, apart from questioning how one of its own copy editors handled the column, did not independently examine Albom's work.

"There was a failure here, too," said Twohey. "An alarm should have gone off."

On the other hand, the Albom column can be a little confusing. It's available for Sunday publication, distributed on Fridays and called "Tuesdays with Mitch."
(Twohey is John C. Twohey, vice president of editorial and operations for Tribune Media Services.)

Anyone know if copy editors are being questioned at the other papers that ran Albom's column?

Intriguing job opportunities

These positions at the University of Missouri School of Journalism caught my eye.

The first came from the ACES message board.
University of Missouri School of Journalism

You're a newsroom assigning editor or team leader who loves the work but longs for the chance to pursue new ideas or handle a big project. You're a senior reporter who'd like to try editing without permanently surrendering your byline. You're a copy editor who wants to walk on the other side. Or maybe you just want a change of venue and a new intellectual challenge to recharge your professional batteries.

This is the fellowship you've been looking for: no need to abandon the newsroom to re-enter the classroom. As a professional-in-residence at the Missouri School of Journalism, you'll help edit The Columbia Missourian, a daily community newspaper. The Missourian, led by professionals and staffed by talented student reporters, photographers, designers and graphic artists, is a perfect laboratory for innovation and ambition. We have the resources, freedom and desire to dare new things.

You'll teach a course or two, and work with Missouri's Knight Center in Editing to help define and develop programs for 21st century journalists. Along the way, you can explore your favorite subject in one of the university's many courses. If you want to take risks, polish your skills and help shape the journalists of tomorrow, this is the place to put your talent and leadership to the test.

You'll receive a stipend of $50,000, to cover salary and expenses, for an 11-month fellowship. You'll return to your newsroom with a fresh outlook, ready to raise the editing bar.

Interested in joining us at the world's first and finest journalism school?

Send a resume and cover letter summarizing your experience and interest in a fellowship. Please include a 1,000-word autobiographical essay that defines your journalistic vision, a separate 1,000-word proposal for the kind of project you'd like to do as an editor at The Missourian, and samples of six stories you wrote or edited.

Please send all application materials to Anne Colmery, University of Missouri School of Journalism, 120 Neff Hall, Columbia, MO 65211 or via e-mail to (preferred method).
This next one comes from the ACES jobs board.
Instructor, News-Editorial

The Missouri School of Journalism has an opening for an instructor to serve as a news editor helping produce the Columbia Missourian, a six-day community newspaper managed by professional faculty and staffed by journalism students. We're looking for an editor with solid news judgment and outstanding copy editing and design skills. This editor will also help implement EmPrint, a new process for digital delivery. As instructor, you will work with some of the best students in the country in the newsroom and in the classroom. The job includes producing pages, proofing, paginating - -- all the things large and small that editors do every day, while coaching students seeing things for the first time. There is also opportunity to learn by taking courses toward an advanced degree.

Details: This is a 12-month appointment. Some night and weekend work is required. You must have a bachelor's degree or better. Three-plus years professional experience is preferred.

Send cover letter and resume to Anne Colmery, News Editor Search,School of Journalism, 120 Neff Hall, Columbia, Missouri 65211 or e-mail materials to (preferred). E-mail questions to Mike Fuhlhage, search committee chair, at

Look at the big picture

You know those quick meetings where everyone huddles around 1A to see if they notice anything big? We all should be having them ... for reasons like these headline juxtapositions. (Yes, it's tough to write a perfectly good headline, only to have it killed for reasons out of your control. But them's the breaks.)

Image hosted by

This one, showing world leaders holding hands, is from the April 26 cover of the Dallas Mornings News.

The example below is from an April 26 edition of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. (As Newsdesigner points out, it looks as if this problem was fixed for some editions. Their Newseum page had "It's decision time for college-bound.")

Image hosted by

(Via Newsdesigner, via Matt Haughey)

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Context is king

Sentences That,If Used by Judges in a Spelling Bee, Would Prove Totally Unhelpful to Contestants Attempting to Derive the Meaning of the Word. [McSweeney's]

Example: "______ is a word you will never hear outside these halls."

More photos

I have a few more pictures posted from the ACES conference here.

For some other photos, see:
Phil Blanchard
Bill Walsh
Tom Mangan
Rusty Lang
Will Albritton (includes "how to tie a bow tie" series with John McIntyre and pictures of copy editors dancing)

ACES promises to have some photos up on its Web site soon.

Anyone know of others I'm missing?

(Updated to add Albritton photos)

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Should blogs be edited?

Doug Fisher and I presented a session at the ACES conference on blogging.

The best discussion point that emerged is whether the blogs that are hosted on newspaper Web sites (for example, at the Ventura County Star, the Lawrence Journal World and the Dallas Morning News) should be edited.

I say they should be -- though not in the same way news articles are edited. I'd like to see editing for spelling, obvious grammatical errors (think verb agreement, not sequence of tenses), and fact checking.

What's less necessary, in my opinion, is the line editing -- work on organization, framing the question, etc. It seems as if this is usually handled by follow-up posts in the blog world, where you have 12 posts to get it right, maybe create a conversation, instead of just the one-and-done nature of news articles.

So why not just let the bloggers edit as they wish, as they would if they started a blog of their own? Because newspapers are offering these blogs under their banners -- as a way to lure readers and fill a perceived "voice" void. The blogs are hosted on news sites. They need not embarrass us or make us look like amateurs, or we risk alienating as many readers as we hope to gain in the endeavor.

And a couple of other thoughts, which I posted on a discussion at Testy Copy Editors:
Copy editors are *one* of the many institutional protections we have against scandal and inaccuracy. The problem here is that allowing completely unedited blogs to be hosted by a newspaper's Web site removes most of those safety nets.

The immediacy of blogs seems to be a big issue here, and one of the hardest to get around. Employing after-the-fact editing may be one solution; it's certainly better than nothing. But I've noticed that most of the blogs hosted by news sites aren't the 12-posts-a-day you'll-never-guess-what-just-happened types. Maybe waiting a half an hour to get some editing wouldn't be the end of the world?

And no matter how careful you are about who you invite to blog, mistakes will still be made. It happens to well-esteemed professional writers, too (think Mitch Albom).

There may be reasons to use less editing on paper-sponsored blogs than other copy on the Web, but these surely aren't them. ...

If we had unlimited resources, would we still be having this conversation? I bet we would hire the editors without question; it makes sense. All this talk of editing ruining blogs' "voice" seems contrived to me.
More reading:
> Standards [article at Testy Copy Editors by Mary Ellen Slayter]
> Standards comments [Testy Copy Editors]
> The Case Against Editors -- Why it still pays to not have one. [Mickey Kaus at Slate]
> News Leaders Debate: Building Audience with Blogs [Poynter]

This is not deja vu!

In a post on Bookslut, I read a teaser that caught my attention:
Print outlets are simultaneously encouraging their staffs to get out and "do" television, even if that means appearing as experts in dubious venues. Take the Newsweek correspondent who found himself vamping through a "Britney's Pregnant!" segment last week on Headline News' "Showbiz Tonight." The only things missing, in hindsight, were a kazoo band and floppy red shoes.

This mandate to entice younger readers -- to be more confrontational, lively and provocative -- invariably comes at a price. It's terrific in theory, until the facts inconveniently begin to get in the way and credibility suffers.
That anecdote sound familiar to anyone? Anyone who went to ACES, perhaps? And was in the entertainment session?

It should. It was uttered by Variety's Brian Lowry. And that quote is from a column in Variety by Brian Lowry.

I don't have any salient points to make about this, really.

It's just weird. And quite the coincidence.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Albom's copy editors disciplined?

Carole Leigh Hutton, editor and publisher of the Detroit Free Press, tells Editor & Publisher that the internal ethics committee studying Mitch Albom's problem column is also looking at the paper's policies on editing columnists.
She said the committee ?is reviewing whether we edit different people differently. ...

?We have a lot of columnists at the Free Press, and we want them to be edited vigorously,? she told E&P. ?I have heard from a lot of copy editors in recent weeks who have said they have always edited him vigorously. But we wanted to see if we edit some people too lightly.?
Albom was not fired for writing a column about an event that never occurred, and Hutton would not say what his discipline was.

Four others at the paper were also disciplined, Hutton said in a letter to readers Saturday -- "each of whom had some role in putting the April 3 column into the paper and each of whom had the responsibility to fix errors before publication." (I guess we can assume that that includes a rim and slot editor. So let's take a lesson from this to stay as focused on precious columnists' work as we do on anything else.)

Hutton told E&P that the paper will publish a story about the investigation. "I would expect it would say more than my note."


I made it home from Hollywood last night around 11 p.m., and I'm exhausted. There's much to write. But in the meantime, you'll have to settle for some pictures.

Find more here.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Could this be any more fun?

The first day of the conference is going great. I've learned quite a bit already -- but mostly about how charismatic copy editors can be. (In addition to being a fantastic dresser, John McIntyre is also a fantastic speaker.)

I've been to one session so far, on how to deal with different problem personalities in the newsroom. Up next: the famous "Rules that aren't" from Bill Walsh, I think.

But it's true: My biggest complaint about the conference will be too much good stuff to choose from. Every time I decide for one, I'm deciding against another. 'Tis a pity.

Headline winners were announced this morning. I'll try to get a list of those to post. (Off the top of my head, I know the New York Times won the staff portfolio award, with the Tampa Tribune coming in second.)

More to come!

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

In Hollywood!

I've made it to California for the ACES conference. With Wi-Fi in the lobby only, expect blogging to be slow till next week. But I'll try to get a few posts in here and there.

If you're here, say hello! I'm looking forward to meeting a lot of you for the first time.

And now, a beer or two ...

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Second rate

The Motion Picture Association of America is going after fan-fiction sites that use its movie rating system -- G, PG, R, etc. -- accusing them of trademark infringement.

A story in the New York Times reports:
Recently the association sent e-mail messages and letters to people who write online fan fiction, demanding that they stop tagging stories with the ratings. Fan fiction, which uses characters from popular TV shows, movies and novels in original stories, has used movie ratings for years as a way to help adults find stories with mature content and to steer children away from it. Too many children looking for Harry Potter stories were stumbling onto new and unexpected uses for wands.
But others are arguing that it's not a slam-dunk case for the association.
Wendy Seltzer, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, argues that the association would have a point only if the fiction sites had claimed that association reviewers had rated the works. Using the ratings as a rough comparison is not a trademark infringement, she said: "It's like saying a beverage tastes like Coke."
One person pointed out that the ratings system is also used by some foreign film board and is therefore not exclusive to the MPAA.

But many of the fan-fiction sites are taking the cease-and-desist letters seriously -- one could see why -- and are switching to new rating systems.

(Link via Charles Apple at the Visual Editors board)

>Trademark Checklist

A good read

The Romenesko Effect: How a one-man Web site is improving journalism.

Getting "blogged down" -- and gagging

Jay Rosen writes in to Romenesko:
Copy editors, take note:

Getting Blogged Down in the News (Washington Post, April 17, 2005)
Blogged Down (New York Times, March 20, 2005)
Blogged Down (American Prospect, March 4, 2005)
Blogged Down in Iraq (Time magazine, Jan. 31, 2005)
Blogged Down (Washington Post again, Dec. 19, 2004)
Blogged down in Web fantasy (Star-Tribune, Sep. 29, 2004)
Firms find way to avoid getting blogged down (Chicago Tribune, July 23, 2003)
Blogged Down in the PR Machine (Online Journalism Review, May 16, 2001)

I think that's enough for what was a pretty miserable pun to begin with.
If you haven't heard it, it's new to you, I know. But consider this fair warning.

(And I don't think this is a headline that makes sense literally, which should always be your first test when writing a punny headline. It might work for a quick one-off. But it's not nearly as clever as some might try to argue.)

Outsourcing editing

Um, did I say "nap"? I mean delicious night of sleeping snugly in my own bed.

But here's that post I promised:

I've talked here before about the prospect of copy-editing services being outsourced to India and other countries.

Although this article is about marketing, the author mentions an e-mail he received from a copy editor in Mumbai.
I received an email from a gentleman in Mumbai who introduced himself as a leading copyeditor. It was a breezy well-written missive and presented what seems like an unbeatable business proposition. Copyediting is expensive. Copyeditors think they are slightly lower on the ladder than galley slaves but when you add up the benefits and the overtime and the free coffee and other perks, they do show up in the cost structure. Why not, asked my unknown correspondent, use his services instead? He pointed out that he was based in India and therefore would be happy to work for an incredible pittance by U.S. standards. Also, because of the time difference, it is feasible to send off a packet of work in the evening and have it done and waiting for you when you come in the next morning.

All kinds of services are being outsourced to India— medical transcription, customer service, technical assistance, inbound and outbound telemarketing. Why not copyediting? The same cost advantages apply. There is a pool of skilled employees who are able and willing to do the work. I will lay you a substantial wager that, by this time next year, there will be many companies that are flourishing by providing copyediting services to companies in the U.S. and other English speaking countries.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Off the road again

Just got back into town. And after four days out of town -- and more than 30 hours spent on the road -- I'm exhausted.

But this wedding was beautiful, too. It wasn't on a beach (there are few in Iowa), but it did have more than 400 guests, and that's nothing to sniff at.

Posting to come after I nap and find a beer.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

A formal introduction

Do you use a comma or a colon to introduce a quote?

The Associated Press Stylebook gives us some oft-ignored pointers in the punctuation section, under "colon."
INTRODUCING QUOTATIONS: Use a comma to introduce a direct quotation of one sentence that remains within a paragraph. Use a colon to introduce long quotations within a paragraph and to end all paragraphs that introduce a paragraph of quoted material.
So ... what does that mean?

Introduce a quote with a comma if it has one sentence.
He said, "I have no idea what you're talking about."
But introduce it with a colon if it has more than one sentence.
He said: "I have no idea what you're talking about. This keeps getting crazier."
He said, "I have no idea what you're talking about. This keeps getting crazier."
Or, as Bill Walsh succinctly put it in "Lapsing Into a Comma": "Full-sentence quotes should be introduced with commas. Multiple-sentence quotes should be introduced with colons."

And an exception: Some newspapers will have you use a colon with one sentence if you're flipping the attribution ("Said he:" vs. "He said,").

Waging war against the copy desk

A freelance reporter, Patrick Lackey, wrote in to Romenesko last week looking for reporters' horror stories about copy editors. He ended the request with "Admittedly, editors are necessary evils and occasionally forces for good."

In another post, he made it even worse. He told the story of spelling the publisher's name wrong after his death. A copy editor caught the error, saving his career, he says. And so he wrote a poem.

His stubby pencil
was the lone lance
protecting legions of readers
from a phalanx
of reporters' errors.
But he was no hero.
Inside his cold heart
was a hard spot.
I'll guess that the examples he's looking for are going straight to him. But complaints about his attitude are being directed to Romenesko.

Inky copy editor Wendy Contos wrote: "Undoubtedly there are editing horror stories. However, as many copy editors out there can attest, we are the last attentive eyes before something hits the presses. Where I work, reporters have thanked me for my help and said, 'I love the copy desk.'"

Paul Wood, at the News-Gazette of Champaign-Urbana, Ill., walks the middle ground: "There are certainly times an alert editor saves a reporter's ass. And the job is truly undervalued, which is why I left it for the much more ego-satisfying job of having my name in print. Nevertheless, there are copy editors who, chafing at their jobs, don't feel like they are working on the same team with their writers, and make changes that hurt stories."

Dan Meisler of the Livingston County (Mich.) Daily Press & Argus wrote: "In my experience (mostly as a reporter, with a stint as editor) most of the tension in reporter/copy editor relationships comes from ego-heavy reporters who regard their copy as sacred. The ability to remove oneself from one's own copy is rarely found."

And the best response came from John McIntyre, president of ACES and bigwig at the Baltimore Sun:
Some years back, a colleague came to my office to warn me that one of our assigning editors was compiling an anthology of "the sins of the copy desk" and inviting other editors to contribute. What, he asked, was I going to do about it?

Nothing, I said. They can't complain about changes we make in editing without also showing what they sent us, and much of that can't stand up to examination.

And indeed, nothing ever came of this campaign.

So if Patrick Lackey wants to collect dumb changes made by copy editors, he can find them. There are copy editors whose rigid adherence to real or imagined rules leads them to bad choices. There are copy editors who make changes without checking. And all copy editors, compelled to make scores of decisions in a limited time, make mistakes.

But if Mr. Lackey wants to make war on copy editors, he had better be armored. Copy desks have a vast supply, renewed daily, of howlers committed by writers. Cheap shots are easy from both sides of the aisle.

But it seems to me that a more profitable expenditure of time and energy would go into discovering ways to acknowledge our common fallibility and to explore possibilities of collaborating more effectively as colleagues.
Are there copy-editing horror stories out there? Sure. I've made my share of embarrassing mistakes, too.

I don't take issue so much with Lackey's asking for the stories. While reporters cringe, copy editors can learn a thing or two from them. (First, do no harm!)

But Lackey's attitude could use an adjustment.

We go together like ...

I've been seeing this error enough lately that I figure it's worth a post.

When listing a series of things, you don't have to repeat the article if it goes with every noun in the series: She found a cat, dog, parakeet and walrus in her bedroom.

But when the article doesn't work across the board, every noun needs to get its own.
WRONG: The project will include an atrium, garden, swings and fountain.
RIGHT: The project will include an atrium, a garden, swings and a fountain.

An does not go with garden and can therefore not be shared by all the items in the series. You have to make everything parallel.

And watch out especially for a and an switches. Those can sneak up on you.

Training opportunity

Applications for the 2005 Summer Institute for Midcareer Copy Editors are now available.

What is the program? It's a week of training by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Journalism and Mass Communication, sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The tentative schedule for this year's institute includes an AP style update from Norm Goldstein, a session on managing people from the Washington Post's Vince Rinehart, and refreshers on grammar, math, libel, privacy and geography.

They pay for the training, airfare, lodging and breakfasts. You cover other meals and incidentals.

The institute is July 10-15. The application is due May 13.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Bespoke? I beseech thee!

James Kilpatrick, are you reading?

Normally, I wouldn't ask, but this is just such a coincidence.

I had never before heard of "bespoke suits" until I read a New York Times article about lexicographers. I blogged about it March 28.

And at the end of Kilpatrick's most recent language column, on neologisms, he writes:
What is a "bespoke suit"? Last month another Times critic, Michiko Kakutani, reviewed Michael Rips' autobiographical "Face of a Naked Lady." The author's father was "the well-to-do owner of an optical factory, an executive who wore bespoke suits and perfectly starched suits." A bespoke suit is a tailor-made affair, custom-made. The adjective dates from 1607, the same year I landed at Jamestown, in a mail-order suit from Land's End.

Shrinking employment field

Some figures on copy editors from the 2005 newsroom census from ASNE:
  • Newsrooms lost nearly 1,000 reporters, nearly 600 editors, nearly 300 photographers and artists and just over 400 copy editors from 2001 to 2005.
  • Men make up 65.2 percent of all supervisors. They are also 58.8 percent of all copy editors, 60.1 percent of reporters and 72.6 percent of photographers.
Last year, 65.8 percent of all supervisors were men. They were 58.6 percent of all copy editors, 60.4 percent of reporters and 73.9 percent of photographers.

Praying for copy editors?

Editor & Publisher's Joe Strupp is writing tidbits from the American Society of News Editors convention. Here's one entry:
With all that bad luck at recent conventions -- and with newsrooms seemingly under attack from all said -- did conference planners think editors needed some spiritual help? The possible message wasn't lost on ASNE members when a gospel group was chosen to entertain them during the opening of this year’s convention Tuesday. E’ Marcus Harper and Friends, donning hip-hop attire over their traditional choir robes, belted out “Stand” and “Yes We Can” for the newsroom leaders.

“There’s a great vibe in the room,” Harper declared as the music flowed behind him. “We know it’s not easy to do what you do. We want to sing a song for you when you don’t feel appreciated.”

There is no truth to the rumor that some editors got on their knees and prayed for more copy editors.

Dawn Eden update

Dawn Eden (previously covered here and here) is back in the newspaper copy-editing business.
Former New York Post copy editor and right-wing blogger Dawn Eden has returned to the tabloid business, joining the New York Daily News April 11. Her new position, much like her last one, has her being a copy editor, editor-editor and headline writer.
What the hell is an editor-editor? I don't know. But the New York Observer piece (which you can find here today, but I bet it will be gone tomorrow) gives us some insight on what Eden has been up to since being fired from the New York Post:
Soon after Ms. Eden’s dismissal from the Post, National Review Online’s editor Kathryn Jean Lopez gave her a month-long gig editing such writers as John Derbyshire and Victor Davis Hanson on the conservative magazine’s Web site. Ms. Lopez also published an op-ed Ms. Eden wrote making fun of playwright Eve Ensler’s orchestrated readings of The Vagina Monologues on college campuses around the world (“V-Day”).

Among the headlines Ms. Eden wrote for were “Girls Just Want to Have Pundits” (for an article on female op-ed writers) and “One ‘Ring’ Leads to Another” (for a review of the movie The Ring 2). Another recent piece by Ms. Eden, attacking Planned Parenthood’s “Teenwire” Web site, is in the April issue of Touchstone magazine.
So, with her public firing, I'd guess the Daily News was pretty upfront about what she can and can't do on the clock. Eden makes a small mention on her blog: "With my new job, this must needs be a nighttime blog—posting will resume in the wee small hours."

(Link via TCE)

A broken record

Copy editors are in the news again -- for another error missed, this time in Mitch Albom's future-seeing column.

(Miss it? A synopsis: Albom wrote on a Friday that stuff happened the following Saturday, for Sunday's paper. And that stuff never happened.)

Albom screwed up. But so did any copy editors who let this column go through, as this Chicago Tribune article points out.

But that's not the end of the story. We should be able to assume that some copy editor read Albom's column, if for no other reason than someone had to write a headline for it. But we don't know if any copy editors raised a red flag and were ignored. (It wouldn't be the first time.)

And we don't know if Albom's editors allowed much copy editing. You can raise questions and be shot down only so many times before you stop raising questions.

The Free Press is investigating how this happened. Let's hope the inquiry shows copy editors' involvement.

And while we wait for those results, let's enjoy the story of a copy editor getting some attention for a change she did make. The Chicago Tribune did a survey of all the papers that picked up Albom's column, and only one changed the wording.

Nikki Overfelt, who graduated in May from KU, edited the story at the Duluth News Tribune.
Overfelt reworded Albom's copy to read that the two players "will be" at the game and "will sit in the stands."
She should have gone further, to say they "planned to be" and "planned to sit," but at least it was a change.

Still want to read more? There's plenty. There's a thread at Testy Copy Editors. Free Press readers wonder where the copy editors (or "reviewers") were. And find comments from Romenesko fans and other Poynter readers.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Origins: helpmate and posh

From my Word a Day calendar:

Helpmate The existence of the synonyms helpmeet and helpmate is the result of an error compounded. God's promise to Adam in Genesis 2:18, as rendered in the King James version of the Bible (1611), was to give him "an help [helper] meet [fit or suitable] for him." The poet John Dryden's 1673 use of the phrase "help-meet for man," with a hyphen between help and meet, was one step on the way toward the establishment of the phrase "help meet" as an independent word. Another was the use of "help meet" without "for man" to mean a suitable helper, usually a spouse, as Eve had been to Adam. Despite such usages, helpmeet was not usually thought of as a word in its own right until the 19th century. Nonetheless, the phrase "help meet" probably played a role in the creation of helpmate, from help and mate, first recorded in 1715.

(I noticed at the wedding this weekend that the pastor, who quoted that passage from Genesis, used both "help meet" and "helpmate.")

Posh "Oh yes, Mater, we had a posh time of it down there." So in Punch for September 25, 1918, do we find the first recorded instance posh, meaning "smart and fashionable." A popular theory holds that it is derived from the initials of "Port Out, Starboard Home," the cooler, and thus more expensive, side of ships traveling between England and India in the mid-19th century. The acronym POSH was supposedly stamped on the tickets of first-class passengers traveling on that side of ships owned by the Peninsular and Oriental Steam navigation Company. No known evidence supports this theory, however. Another word posh was 19th- and early 20th-century British slang for "money," specifically "a halfpenny, cash of small value." This word is borrowed from the Romany word pash, "half," which was used in combinations such as pashera, "halfpenny." Posh, also meaning "a dandy," is recorded in two dictionaries of slang, published in 1890 and 1902, although this particular posh may be still another word. This word or these words are, however, much more likely to be the source of posh than "Port out, Starboard Home," although the latter source certainly has caught the public's etymological fancy.

(The acronym etymology had caught my fancy, too, although I can't for the life of me remember where I heard it. I do know it was years and years ago, before I had much of a specialized interest in such things. How such things get started is fascinating.)

Intermittent posting

I've returned to Dallas after a long weekend in beautiful Tampa to attend a family wedding. I'll get to as much posting as possible this week, but I go out of town again Friday morning for another family wedding, this time in Iowa. I'll be back for a couple of days after that before I leave for the ACES conference on the 20th.

So ... April is a busy month. I'll try to hang in there.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

April fools

April Fools' Day turned some gamers into copy editors at PC Games. They announced the release of World of Wordcraft:
Set in the fantastical land of Pagination, World of Wordcraft pits you in the role of a heroic wordsmith saving the kingdom from the malevolent "Typos," horribly misshapen creatures produced by the maniacal wizard Douglass C. Perry.

Although there's no combat in World of Wordcraft, you obtain experience points, and gain levels, by increasing your typing speed over time, setting advanced indentations and correcting spelling and grammar errors in a timely manner. Achieving new levels in World of Wordcraft allows you to unlock advanced functions.

In other April Fools news, read about pranks in the news that were picked up by other news outlets in Minnesota.

Or check out the Steele County Press weekly's story about an underwater creature that could be killing family pets. The story fake-quoted the sheriff and several residents, with their permission. It was revealed as a prank at the end of the jump, which (surprise!) most readers didn't get to.

What about the sanctity of news? Owner John Flatland said:
"Yeah, one of the first things they tell you is not to mess around with the news. But we've had so much bad news around here lately, I thought we needed to lighten things up. Besides, the week after Easter is always a slow news week."
(Last two links via Romenesko)

Monday, April 04, 2005

Pimp his column

Here's a roundup column on language from the Winston Salem Journal that has an interesting start.

A reader complained about a Zits comic. (It has Jeremy looking into his lunch bag to find bologna and cheese on white bread, corn chips and an apple. He tells his mom, "Pimp my lunch.") The reader asked columnist Richard Creed: "Any ideas about definitions suitable for family discussion?"

Creed explains some newer meanings of the verb "to pimp" and how it ended up in the title of an MTV show, "Pimp My Ride."

I like this premise for an article; it's not as if most people are going to find the definition of "pimp" they're looking for in a dictionary. But the writing suffers from a common pitfall in teen trend stories: He sounds older than time.

Consider this sentence:
I wrote that among teen-agers pimp had become an adjective describing someone who looks great and, in teen parlance, "has it all together."
And this:
To pimp something is to make it new, fresh and fashionable. To Jeremy, a lunch consisting of bologna, cheese, white bread, corn chips and an apple is none of those. The lunch his mother prepared is cold, but it certainly isn't cool.
I think the key here is to stick to explaining whatever concept you're explaining. Do not litter your story with other bits of slang that you think will give your column that youthful air. It usually does the opposite.