Monday, November 24, 2003

The Basics

Let's cover some simple points:

Exclamation points = bad
Active voice = good
Buried lede = bad
Short paragraphs = good
Cliche-based headlines = bad
Pithy headlines = good
Attribution other than "said" = bad
Accurate reproduction of quotes = good
Dashing out profanity = bad
Wide array of pertinent sources = good
No attribution = bad
Carefully written captions = good
Simple-minded lists = bad

Those Dropping By...

...this humble site lately wanted to know about:

"judy garland cigarette break wizard of oz"
"cat in the hat movie reviews"
"bob hope massage"
"basic back massage"
"massage steps"
"lawrence massage"

And a host of other massage-related searches. Just think -- if I actually wrote a blog about massage, I might be on to something.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Cat in the Ugh

Despite critics' and copy editors' yearnings to do so, it is not clever to rhyme in "Cat in the Hat" movie reviews.

Some offenders here, here and here. The Christian Science Monitor goes the dignified way, and quotes Dr. Seuss directly.

Why isn't it clever to rhyme?
Because people do it time
and again, bringing out the cliche,
Thinking to themselves, "Hey,
that's a clever way to write.
It would make me look bright."
But do such reviews do that,
When about "Cat in the Hat?"
Do they have the knack?
No. They're writing like hacks.

Anybody can rhyme, as I show
right here, and writers should know
when they're assaulting our ears. But
if they don't do that, please go and cut
Out the rhymes. At least you get it,
And that's why you copy edit.

If the preceding doesn't show why the rhyming is a bad idea, I don't know what does.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Good to Know

... That when the Massachusetts gay marriage decision gets tossed into the culture wars, we have ongoing Michael Jackson news to soothe us.

Speaking of which, if writers try to make cracks connecting gay marriage to the charges against Michael Jackson, flog them. Mercilessly.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

I'm Sure Everyone Else Will Link to This...

...But The Onion proves itself an astute media critic as well.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Why Do I Have To Explain This?

Just take a peek at Romenesko.

Plagiarism stories are everywhere. Reporters of papers large and small can be heard crying, "I had my notes mixed up. I forgot it was someone elseÂ’s work."

Shame on them. Shame on us.

Why do people dislike and distrust the media? Could it be because we expect exemplary behavior from our civic leaders yet employ and elevate folks who cut and paste the words of others? Just a thought.

Copy editors see plagiarism more than readers do. We sometimes catch it and rectify it. (Piece of advice: If the phrase seems too good to be true, do a Google search with it.) But we canÂ’t be counted on all the time, of course. No one can.

Cheaters make their way through. And we deal with thconsequenceses. Newsroom leaders can fire people. They can publish notes to the readers. But trust has been damaged.

Look. Why do we do journalism?

To tell the truth.

How can we tell the truth if the stories we print are ripped off from someone else? How can anyone toss in a paragraph from another source and feel right about it? Who are these people? Why did they ever consider journalism a career?

Harsh, yes. The media community, after all, tends to reserve its angriest judgments for those who manufacture quotes wholesale. These folks, it is argued, strike at the callingÂ’s very core. True, I suppose. Stephen Glass and his ilk did high-profile damage to the industry.

But these sociopaths don't pop up often. The garden-variety plagiarist infests more newspapers than we care to know. Every time another reader (or editor) catches a reporter spinning off words not her own, we must ask: Do we expect enough of ourselves?

Clearly not.

Thursday, November 6, 2003

Bonus Quibble

If you're loath to do something, you're reluctant to do it.

If you loathe something, you really hate it.

That "e" packs a lot of punch.

Wednesday, November 5, 2003

Stealing from TCE, Again

A Testy Copy Editors thread turns to an interesting subject: Should aspiring copy editors learn how to design?

It doesn't hurt. But I find myself agreeing with the folks who advise working on copy editing skills if you want to be a copy editor. Knowing how to design will make you more marketable. No question there.

It all depends on your priorities, though.

If you need a job above all else, you're better off knowing more. That's obvious. But if you have the luxury of some time, and words interest and excite you above all else, be selective.

I'm not in the business because I'm a designer. I'm there because I enjoy working with the language. If I had to learn design, I would do it. Probably even enjoy it. But it's not my motivation for the job.

Mangan Tackles Poynter

And comes out the winner, I think.

Monday, November 3, 2003

More About Our Visitors

Copy Massage attracts the great and near-great regularly, of course.

But what of the others? I refer to the everyday folks who accidentally walk into the lobby of this sumptuous blog, look around and say: "Gosh. This looks bizarre."

The search-engine queries that brought them here in the last 10 days:

copy massage
style of massage report
who claims to be a pulitzer nominee?
Bob Hope Quote Massage
bob hope's quote on massage
picture of a person having a massage
massage icons
stolen copy of the ged test

I hope they all found what they were looking for. Most of them, anyway.

Sunday, November 2, 2003

Festival of Nitpicks

Part of the great fun of copy editing is correcting people for mistakes they don’t know are mistakes.

Here are three favorites:


The first is the military term, related to bursting shells. The second is a derisive term for a press agent, spokesman, or some other such public-relations “professional.”


The first is a glove. You throw it down if you’re annoyed with someone and showing defiance. The second refers to, in the words of John Bremner, “a lane between two lines of men who beat some unfortunate as he tried to run through it.”

This, you run a gantlet. Not a gauntlet. That’s what you throw down.


I never saw this mistake until I moved to Florida. The latter spelling is preferred by both Webster’s New World and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate.

I suppose the first spelling has some use, if one regularly refers to women as “hot mommas.” I wouldn’t want to use “mama” in that construction. I don’t know who would use that description in a general-circulation newspaper, though.

Saturday, November 1, 2003

I Do Not Agree

Pet peeve: Reporters writing that people agree with other people just to make a transition. Happens all the time.

"Dr. Lawrence agreed with Professor Plum that black is white."

In the cases I'm griping about, Dr. Lawrence lives across the country from Professor Plum, and the two don't know each other from Adam. Yet they're both sources that made the same point in an interview.

Thus, magically, they agree!

In most cases, this smacks of dishonesty. I doubt the reporter read Professor Plum's comments to Dr. Lawrence and said "So, do you agree with that?" More likely, the reporter asked the same question to each person and got similar answers.

In stories about contentious issues, this pops up often. Reporters like to group people, one side against the other. All the agreeing makes it easy for rushed writers to distinguish liberals from conservatives and so on.

I think we can trust the reader here. Honest. Let people say what they say. Don't force them to agree with people they have never met.

If the story absolutely requires a transition, use something like this:

"Dr. Lawrence made a similar point."