Monday, July 31, 2006

Editing for a state-run newspaper

A Canadian interning as a reporter at the China Daily laments the editing process:
Like a dove flying a gauntlet, my article flew out of my hands at 6 p.m. and landed in the next day's paper a flightless, ugly thing. It sailed the jet streams of copy editors, senior editors, and night editors, both foreign and Chinese, losing a feather here, a quote there, a harsh edge, a word, a thought, an idea, and, eventually, its point. What I read the next morning was still, in its discussion of political theory, riskier than the state-owned China Daily's usual fare, and that consoled me a little. But it had no bite.
Some of Iain Marlow's complaints are that of a typical reporter in the West. (It's obvious that his "dove" needs to fly some sort of "gauntlet," methinks.) But his best examples tell of the paper's edicts against mentioning censorship, revolution and Taiwan.

When he mentioned that the subject of his profile -- Canadian professor Daniel Bell, who is teaching in China -- had experienced some censorship: "The word 'censorship' was removed and replaced with 'restrictions' by one editor. Even that euphemism was obliterated in the copy that made it to print."

Marlow loved Bell's description of how he met his future wife: It was May 1989, and while he was falling in love, "she was cancelling dates for the revolution." But editors couldn't allow revolution, they said. How about changing the quote to "'cancelling dates' for the goings-on at the time"? (In thpublishedly copy, it became: "It was 1989 and among the Chinese students he was hanging out with was someone he met and fell in love with."

On being a friendly neighbor:
Hong Kong was, obviously, changed to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and China (in the same sentence) to "the mainland." This was, as an editor offhandedly remarked, not a politicized change but a matter of style. I promptly consulted the China Daily style guide. Oops. On other points of "style," the guide instructs its followers to use quotation marks around the title of any government official from Taiwan. And also, that "Taiwan is an inalienable part of China."
The China Daily piece is still online. But I wonder how long Marlow will be kept on as an intern if he keeps writing editing exposes for the paper back home.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Getting to know you ...

Pam Robinson has more Q&A's up at Words at Work, including ones from Bill Walsh, Doug Fisher, Heads Up: the Blog's Fred Vultee and me.

A teaser, from Bill's:
I find myself playing the descriptivist, the anti-stickler, at least as often as I'm the stickler you might expect. A recent e-mail was typical: One of my regulars was aghast at this "error" he had found in an otherwise reputable place -- "entitled" where it should have been "titled." I explained that "entitled" isn't wrong; it just isn't AP style, and it goes against the general principle that copy editors choose the simpler over the more complex, the shorter over the longer, all other things being equal. I find the online engagement between descriptivists and prescriptivists constructive.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Copy editor salaries

The latest Newspaper Industry Compensation Survey shows disappointing numbers for copy editors:

Pay for beginning copy editors, on average, rose 1.5 percent last year. Pay for experienced copy editors 1.4 percent.

The published material doesn't include an average base salary for copy editors, but here are some other figures E&P got:
Beginning reporters: $29,048
Sports editors: $52,632
Inside sales rep: $36,077

Want another reason to think about a switch to the Web? Online editors had an 8.8 percent increase in total direct pay.

Real or the Onion?

Spellcheck company corrects itself
News release touting error-checking software contained misspellings
TORONTO -- A company that sells software to correct irritating Internet spelling mistakes has reissued its latest news release to correct a minor snafu.

TextTrust, which says it focuses on "eliminating the negative text impressions on Web sites," re-released a Tuesday news release to correct a mistake that listed the most common spelling errors on "the 16 million we (sic) pages it has spell checked over the past year."

Illiterate Spirit Frustrates Ouija-Board Players
STRATTANVILLE, PA -- Late-night attempts to contact the spirit world proved more frustrating than enlightening for a slumber party of Strattanville teens Saturday when the only specter they were able to contact suffered from borderline illiteracy, sources said. The poorly educated revenant frustrated the seance participants, who quickly grew impatient with such otherworldly messages as "W-U-R-N-N-G -- F-U-M -- B-A-Y-O-N -- T-H-E -- G-R-A-V" and other hard-to-interpret information. Organizer Olivia Bamberger, 13, said they were all "embarrassed for the guy," and finally asked the wraith to tell them the future and "sound out the big words."

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

How to put your paper on the hook for libel

Ten years after Richard Jewell was falsely accused of bombing the 1996 Summer Olympics, he's still fighting the paper that first identified him as a suspect, the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

He's accusing the paper of libel and, because he became a public figure in the ordeal, has to prove actual malice. His lawyer Lin Wood is trying to prove that -- by using depositions from AJC copy editors. From the New York Times:
Part of the evidence is the taped testimony of Anita Harkins, a copy editor who said she had alerted higher editors to potential problems with a column that compared Mr. Jewell to Wayne Williams, the convicted killer linked to more than a score of Atlanta child murders.

As Ms. Harkins wrings her hands in her lap, sighs loudly and shifts her eyes, Mr. Wood repeatedly asks her to say what worried her about the column.

"Is it the truth, Ms. Harkins, that you also had questions or concerns with respect to this article about libel?"

"I thought that might be an issue," she says.

"That being the issue of libel?" Mr. Wood asks.


Three other copy editors also said on tape that they had had concerns about the column and that they too had gone to their superiors about it.

In a piece at E&P (thanks, Todd), Mark Fitzgerald points out that the tapes seem to show more careful consideration as part of the editorial process than they do any actual malice.

In any case, he says, the paper has a trump card. "The newspaper only reported accurately the FBI's inaccurate insights," he wrote. And truth is an absolute defense in libel cases.

The AJC couldn't agree more. Just look to this telling correction appended to the NYT story quoted above:

An article on Saturday about a hearing on a motion to dismiss a libel case brought against The Atlanta Constitution by Richard Jewell, a security guard who was identified as a suspect in the 1996 Olympic Park bombing and later cleared, referred incompletely to the newspaper's reasons for the motion. In addition to saying it believed the truth of what it published at the time and so lacked actual malice, the newspaper argued that its coverage was in fact accurate.

If you're feeling scholarly, check out this AEJMC paper: The Last Line of Defense in Matters of Ethics? Copy editors' ethics role conceptions. The abstract might grab you more than the title does:
Can newspaper copy editors, long known as the last line of defense against errors, be final guardians of journalistic ethics? Data from 470 copy desk workers at 100 newspapers indicate that most think their jobs should have an ethics-watchdog component but often do not -- apparently because of constraints in their newsrooms on who can raise what question. This conflict between ideal and real ethics roles was associated with lower job satisfaction.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Blogging, unfiltered

Daniel Schorr on blogging:
"What we have here is a medium in which there is no publisher, no editor, no anything. It's just you and a little machine and you can make history. I find that scary. Nobody should get into print or on the air without some kind of editor. I have an institutional belief that nobody can be above having a good editor."
That's from a USA Today profile on the NPR analyst, who turns 90 next month.

(Via Romenesko)

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Spelling Iraq cities

The AP Stylebook online has a section on Iraq city names, for consistency's sake. It deletes all prefixes (ad, al, an, etc.).
Tal Afar

Saturday, July 22, 2006

News to me

I had no idea:

ABBA is an acronym. It stands for the first names of the four group members: Agnetha, Benny, Bjorn, and Anni-Frid. So keep those letters capped. (And, of course, there's no need to replicate the backwards B. They didn't consistently use it in their logo, anyway.)

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Q&As with language bloggers

Pam Robinson, at Words at Work, is running interviews of bloggers who cover language and journalism.

The list so far:
John Rains of Writing Coach
William Z. Shetter of Language Miniatures
Bob Stepno of Bob Stepno's Other Journalism Weblog
Joe Marren of Joe Marren: Blog
Steve of Language Hat
John McIntyre of You Don't Say
John Robinson at The Editor's Log

Monday, July 10, 2006


Sorry for the light posting, everyone. I've been hobnobbing with relative at my grandparents' farm in Iowa, and now I'm headed to Colorado on a road trip with some friends. Expect posting to resume next Monday.

Until then, here are some things I might be blogging about if I weren't dreaming about mountains instead. Happy reading.

B#$A*()D W*$O^*R#$D@!S [Words at Work]
Heads above the rest [You Don't Say]
Bad grammar! [Commercials I Hate]
When alright is all right [New York Times' On Language column]
Alright, Alright, Alright [Stereogum]
Elite defeat [The Word column by Jan Freeman]
Prepositional ambiguity [Verbal Energy]
How the Web is Changing Language [NPR]
Language and the Web [Languagehat]
There's no battle, Morgan! [Language Log]
'Talking Right': Why the Left Is Losing, Linguistically [NPR]
ISU to remove papers with 'Dummies' headline [Des Moines Register]
Unofficial English [Languagehat]

Friday, July 07, 2006

Legally blonde

The shakeup at the Santa Barbara paper has been interesting to read about, if only in the train wreck sense.

A quick recap: Reclusive billionaire owns paper. She quashes news of the opinion editor's DUI sentence and then makes him publisher. Incoming publisher says he'll oversee some news operations, and journalists worry about the separation of news and editorial. And actor Rob Lowe is somehow involved.

One other edict that caught my attention: The reclusive billionaire owner has decided that, when referring to women, blonde will always be spelled with an E, noun or adjective.