Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Let's Get This Straight

John Kerry in a protective suit is not news.

His wife telling a reporter from a right-wing pub to "shove it" touches the outward periphery of news, but just barely.

The Democratic convention is news.

That's the lesson for today.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Daily Roundup

Yes, I know the Democratic convention begins today. No, I'm not going to write anything about it yet. I'm taking time to gather my thoughts.

Also, the folks at Romenesko are going nuts about the phrase: "It was as if an occult hand had ... " No, I don't understand it either, but it's supposed to be funny. I'm not linking to the Chicago Tribune story because it requires registration, and I only register for the New York Times and Washington Post (for now). Sorry.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Dirty Headline Alert

Parents, you might want to shoo your kids out of the room. This is why every copy editor should have the mind of a sex-obsessed middle-schooler. No, I don't want to explain it. If you don't understand why it's horrible, you're lucky.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Newspaper Spellings

In my post about headlines a few days ago, I called them "heads." This isn't the preferred newspaper spelling. The green-eyeshade folk use "heds."

Likewise, the beginning of a story isn't the "lead." It's a "lede." I've heard this was to avoid confusion between lead type and reporters' work, back in the days when dinosaurs roamed the planet.

"Paragraph"? Nope. Try "graf."

Now that I've gone to the trouble of mentioning these all, I'll also tell you that I don't like them. They're fine in a newsroom context. But in this blog I stick to readable, comprehensible names. (When I don't forget myself.)

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Sunday, July 18, 2004

An Unfortunate Name

Slate takes on the case of Dairy Queen's new beverage. Let's all remember to keep an eye out for stuff like this.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Quotes in Headlines

Let's examine a fake headline for a second. (I'll be using my newspaper's style, which accounts for the abundant capitalization.)

Martha Stewart On Sentence:
'I Will ... Never Surrender'

Do those ellipses bother you? They bother me. The copy editor's zeal to include a direct quote has thrown a barrier in front of quick and painless reading.

You do not fix this headline by just taking out the ellipses and leaving the quote marks. Please, do not fix this headline by doing this. You would alter a direct quote. This seems clear to me, but some don't see anything wrong about it.

You do fix this headline by taking out the ellipses and the quote marks, as well as changing a word or two.

Martha Stewart On Sentence:
She Will Never Surrender

You're giving up the authenticity of the quote marks. I admit that. But you gain an easier-to-read head.

A Plea To Readers

Nothing shakes things up in the swanky Copy Massage offices like receiving messages from those who visit the site. Our staff rushes around the hallways in excitement, throwing confetti in the air and singing Madonna songs. We're not sure what their deal is.

The point? We would love to hear with you. It's been too long since Madonna's perky tunes echoed in the corridors and boardrooms of the grand Copy Massage towers. Comment on the posts, ask questions, send e-mail. Whatever it takes.

We'll be waiting.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Brains in Jeopardy

Let's examine this lead from our friends at the Associated Press.

LOS ANGELES -- If the answer is Ken Jennings and his record $920,960 so far in "Jeopardy!" winnings, the question must be, how does he do it?

Notice anything wrong?

The lead doesn't follow the format of a true "Jeopardy" clue. The question should be something along the lines of: "Who has excited the TV world with his quiz show winnings?"

This lead does not make sense. It's stupid. It's a non sequitur. The follow-up paragraph doesn't improve matters:

A curious mind, good memory and astute buzzer technique, said Jennings, a Utah software engineer who will make an unprecedented 29th appearance on the syndicated quiz show tonight.

That's right. The story compounds the error by answering the question that should have been addressed at the start.

Did I notice this? Did I catch this monumental stupidity? Nope. An astute desk intern at my workplace saw the mistake on a page proof. Everyone agreed it was a terrific catch. Her fix:

LOS ANGELES - If the answer is Ken Jennings with $920,960 so far in winnings, the question must be, who holds the "Jeopardy!" record?

A curious mind, good memory and astute buzzer technique got him this far, said Jennings, a Utah software engineer who will make an unprecedented 29th appearance on the quiz show tonight.


You might expect that such bungling be caught and excised by major newspapers. You might expect that legions of sensible copy editors across the country made a similar rewrite. You might imagine that people had sense.

You would be wrong.

A simple Google search (the lame tool of lazy writers everywhere) shows the unchanged story appearing on newspaper Web sites aplenty. I think it's time for a little hall of shame for those who couldn't be bothered to read a wire story and consider if it made sense.

USA Today
Boston Globe
Wichita Eagle (which found the time to localize the second graf!)
Toronto Star (which changed the grammar of the first sentence, but not the problem)
Hartford Courant
Washington Post
Philadelphia Daily News
Miami Herald
Newark Star Ledger
Houston Chronicle

And on and on and on.

I don't mean to be unduly harsh. Wire copy usually slips through copy desks with the barest of reads. In many newspapers, copy editors have their hands tied with problematic local stories. Also, these stories may have been posted by web staff before editing.

But try. We need to try. We need to give wire stories thorough, meaningful looks. Or else we look more desperately out-of-touch than we already are.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Spreading the Love

William Safire writes up Bill Walsh in the latest issue of The New York Times Magazine. Read it here. Nice to see one of the online pack receive recognition -- even if he had to do it by writing books.

I like to think that if Safire were about 100 years younger and 100 times less cranky, he would also have a blog about language. Perhaps I'm projecting.

Tuesday, July 6, 2004

My Latest Exciting Adventure ...

... Into the world of Web pages can be found here.

Content-ish type material will appear there soon, I hope. But the crushing burden of this blog may complicate matters. You never know.

Monday, July 5, 2004

Essential Reading

Let's assume you're a young copy editor, just starting out. What books would you need to do your job? Thanks for asking. Recommendations follow:

1.) Dictionaries

More than one, please. Multiple dictionaries give you multiple opinions, quickly. Yes, it can be more fun to ask the person sitting next to you, but sometimes she's busy. I'm biased because I own dozens of the things, but no single volume (besides the AP style book, perhaps) will help you more.

2.) Some sort of thesaurus

I prefer The Synonym Finder, but any book that can jog your mind for extra words can help. Don't use it to produce unfamiliar words. Use it to stimulate your thinking.

3.) An almanac

This makes me sound old-fashioned, but having all the information on a printed page can help you. We too often turn to the Web when a paper source could do the job more authoritatively. You don't have to get sucked into a Google trap for every single question.

4.) A few usage books

Quite a few volumes about "correct" use of the English language crowd the shelves. Most won't help you directly. They make you think about the written word critically, though, and that's what copy editing is all about.

Thursday, July 1, 2004

Tasking My Brain

For that matter, what's with the word "task" as a verb?

Who decided this was a good idea? I suspect it was the same guy who invented "efforting." I defy someone to use it in a way that doesn't sound incredibly lame.

"He's been tasked to find the answer."
"We're tasking on that."
"I've tasked her with an important assignment."
"I'm tasking."

I'm sure you are. And why don't you actually work at the same time? With a verb. They're these things that, before administrators took over the world, used to propel language. Back when language was used to communicate, not obfuscate.

Words like this make me want to gouge out my eyes with pica poles. And those pica poles are old and rusty, so I'm sure they'll hurt.

(Multi-tasking, I can live with. Barely.)