Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Technical Terms

Let's turn to Merriam-Webster Online for a moment.

Internet: an electronic communications network that connects computer networks and organizational computer facilities around the world

World Wide Web: a part of the Internet designed to allow easier navigation of the network through the use of graphical user interfaces and hypertext links between different addresses -- called also Web

Thus, I prefer to write that someone has their interactive site on the Web -- not "the Internet." Thus, I prefer to direct readers to the Web, not "the Internet" to find information.

Look.

It would be perfectly accurate, when identifying someone in a story, to write that his or her house was "in the United States." But wouldn't it be better to write that their house was "in Cleveland"?

The latter statement tells you much more than the former. The fact that the house is "in the United States" is packed into the information that the house is "in Cleveland."

Many things go through the Internet that don't appear on the Web. If you retrieve your e-mail through a program other than your Web browser, you didn't "surf the Web" to get it. It went through the Internet's pathways to your computer.

People use the terms interchangeably. Don't do it. Each of these words has a specific meaning that it behooves us to preserve.

Friday, March 26, 2004

Acronym Anger

The only acronyms used in a piece of writing should be ones commonly understood on their own. That is: FBI, CIA and the like. No others.

I don't care if the article mentions the IGRJTYAA (the International Great Regional Jam and Toast Youth Association of America) over and over and over again. Don't use the acronym. Call it the youth association on second reference. Call it just the association.

For God's sake, don't call it the IGRJTYAA.

Just because the story covers the group doesn't mean readers know the acronym, or that they will become accustomed to said acronym in a few paragraphs. Give them -- give everyone -- a break. Use real words.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

What I Learned at ACES Houston

Bring nearly 400 copy editors together for three days in a confined space and you produce magic. And bitching.

Grammar ticky-tacky can be overrated. Especially when so few agree.

The world of copy editing can be disconcertingly small. In my first session, I met two people with whom I attended college.

Tom Mangan is three steps ahead of us all.

Phil Blanchard is as dashing in person as he is at the TCE board.

I'm happy that I do what I do.

More Copy Editing Convention Business

To anyone I didn't speak with at the Houston shindig, I apologize. On the first day (Thursday the 18th), I was operating on slightly more than an hour of sleep. On the second day I had it pretty much together, but by day three (Saturday the 20th) I was packing up to leave. I flew out that evening.

The result of all this: I spoke to fewer people than I hoped. Some disappeared before I could reach them. Others frightened me. I also didn't plug this blog nearly as much as I planned -- I figured it would look tacky.

Anyway.

I learned a lot, and I hope to share some tidbits as this blog (as featured at Poynter) continues. I'm glad to have talked with those of you I did. Drop by Copy Massage now and then, if you would. Leave insulting comments for all to see.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Back to Florida

I've returned, with books and papers aplenty. More to come, as I assemble my thoughts. Fun times.

Copy Massage Mentions

Thanks to the folks at Poynter, who mentioned Copy Massage in an article posted Thursday.

Quite a few folks dropped by, it seems. Thanks.

Jotbook News Service links to Poynter and the article. They have these kind words about me:

"As far as I'm concerned, copy editors in their twenties should not be allowed to do anything but get coffee until they have cleared adolescence, at, say 33."

Thursday, March 18, 2004

So, I'm Here

In Houston, that is, for the ACES conference. Met and chatted with Tom of Prints the Chaff and saw old coworkers and college folk.

I'm using the free computers provided, and there's a line, so I'll wrap up. I'm operating on slightly more than one hour of sleep.

Copy Editor Code

I'm off to the ACES convention today, tomorrow and Saturday. In honor of that, I'll repost a piece that gained positive attention back in October. It's my set of simple precepts for copy editors.

I'm sure more could be added, but these five points sum up my basic beliefs about the craft. As I said then: "The basics are important -- and easily lost in the thicket of style quibbles."

1.) I will be a reader.

It's the most important factor of all. The newspaper begins and ends with the people reading it. A copy editor stands in for the reader at a critical point in the process. We can change things if they don't make sense.

2.) I will strive for accuracy and clarity.

The two go together. They fight sometimes, but it makes their relationship stronger in the end. The newspaper must be as accurate as it can be. It must put that information across in clear prose.

3.) I will express my concerns.

Copy editors do their job toward the end of the production process. Their concerns, therefore, can be dismissed in the headlong rush to print. We have to be heard. Not all battles can be won, of course. Not all battles are worth fighting. But we have a job. We must do it.

4.) I will respect those who entrust their work to me.

I planned to pen the usual "do right by the reporter" kind of thing here. Then my journalistic conscience spoke up. "Um, Clay," it said, "The work of many other people besides reporters passes through the hands of a copy editor. Why don't you mention them?"

The little devil had a point. Photographers. Designers. Graphics artists. Assigning editors. We handle their creations too. We sometimes take it too lightly. We should consider the reporter's intent. We should consider the photographer's intent. We should look at the page layout and consider what the designer meant to do.

These folks all started the process. Now it's up to us to finish it with aplomb.

5.) I will know and use my newspaper's style rules.

Low on the list for a copy editing blog, I know. Perhaps we should think of the numbering system as separate from entries' importance.

Anyway. You should know the style before you use the style. Rules and guidelines are seldom absolute. They can be bent, broken or changed. But we should know when that happens and why. Style ensures consistency and readability. It differentiates a newspaper from a collection of stories thrown together.

It is the voice of the paper.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Quick Annoyances

Don't you hate it when a story with a dateline uses the word "here"? I do.

An example: "MOSCOW -- The streets are quiet here, as Russians prepare for a new week."

If the dateline says Moscow, readers will be able to make the connection that the streets run through that Russian city. I guarantee. The "here" strikes me as an affectation, a word meant to drill the reader with the reporter's on-the-spot-edness.

Cut it out.

In the same vein, why do reporters feel the need to attribute quotes so redundantly? " 'I got the idea for the series of paintings while watching Oprah,' Jones said in an interview."

How else would Jones say it? Does Jones wander the streets at night, explaining the motivations behind his work to strangers? Does he call random people from the phone book to talk about his artistic intentions?

Of course not. We called him up and interviewed him. It goes without saying he said it in an interview.

Some stories, in which the subject makes a public presentation and then talks to a reporter afterward, need such a distinction. I might allow "said in an interview" in that case. But most of the time "said after the speech" works just as well.

Greetings ...

... To new blogger Paul Wiggins. The intrepid Australian editor's blog is linked in the right column (as Morose Copy Editor). Good to have you aboard, sir.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Two Types of Editing

Those of us lucky enough to work on the rim do two main kinds of copy editing.

1.) We copy edit for readers.

2.) We copy edit for ourselves.

The first covers all the "obvious" work we do. Did we spell the name right? Does the story make sense? Does that telephone number connect readers to a dubious psychic rather than the local quilt club?

The second covers the stuff we love to chew over. Did we master this arcane point of grammar? Did we smooth the sentences to absolute perfection? Did we substitute generic names for any trademarks?

Both types of work are important.

1.) We have to serve our readers: That's the basic job of a newspaper.

2.) Us copy editors have to serve ourselves. Sure, we might err on the side of persnickety. Sure, we might infuriate the occasional narrative journalist. But we're practicing a refined craft, and it makes us feel better to know someone knows why "impact" is a lousy verb.

The first type of editing takes priority. If a story has been edited for other copy editors, and not readers, we haven't done our job. Never lose sight of the folks who make this all possible.

Monday, March 15, 2004

“Hastily called press conference.”

Let’s never use this phrase again, OK? It shows up time and time again, imparting a false sense of urgency. The murky haze of cliché has settled over “hastily called press conference” and seems unlikely to lift soon.

Do writers routinely use the phrase “deliberately set-up press conference”? Do they routinely draw our attention to careful planning of a question-and-answer session with journalists?

Of course not.

Writers use “hastily called press conference” to add zest when they’re flagging. The cliché stands in for meaningful context of description of what’s going on. It hits readers over the head with a mallet, yelping, “I’m important, dammit!”

We don’t need the phrase, though. We need the context.

Think about it. If a building bursts into flames at 10 a.m., and the fire chief hold a news conference at 11 a.m., do we have to tell readers that the gathering was “hastily called”? Readers can put it together. I trust them on this.

If a writer absolutely had to draw attention to the thrown-together nature of such an event, I might allow “impromptu.” But I wouldn’t be happy about it.

Finally, another problem with the original phrase is “press conference.” Let’s use “news conference,” unless we’re sure the only reporters there worked for print media.

Same-Sex Marriage ...

...Hits the San Francisco Chronicle. Ow.

Tough issue there. Tough decision to make.

I understand the newspaper's concerns. The question, however, is where this stops. Can a gay journalist cover issues about gay people effectively? Can a black journalist cover issues about black people effectively? I think most people would say yes to both questions.

So where is the line drawn? When is a person too involved in an issue to cover it effectively?

May you be cursed to live in interesting times ...

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Advertising Follies

Driving to work I heard a radio ad with a sentence that raised hairs on the back of my neck. I will attempt to reproduce it here, and then shred it. You will have to imagine the annoying announcer’s voice on your own.

“Please buy a grill from Frank’s Grills, the company who literally invented home grilling.”

Problem No. 1. A company is not a person or an animal with a name, and therefore should not be referred to as a “who” or “whom.” Please use “that.”

Problem No. 2. How do you figuratively invent home grilling? If you can’t figuratively do something, then a reader has to assume the action is literal.

Otherwise, you would write, “He literally walked to the neighborhood grocery store. Then he literally bought a bag of groceries, literally paying for them with cash. After that, he literally visited a strip club.”

Don’t use “literally” as a garden-variety intensifier.

(And yes, I know this entry has shown up later than the 13th, but that's when I wrote the thing. In the interests of chronological accuracy, if not blogging preciseness, I've bumped it back.)

Thursday, March 4, 2004

The Issue Comes To Arkansas

The press there has some gay marriage issues.

Thanks to Romenesko for the link.

The article neglects the Washington Times, however, which also uses the quotation marks.

Tuesday, March 2, 2004

LBGT Answers Aplenty

Much of what I promised to post about terms used for gay and lesbian people has been addressed on the American Copy Editors Society message board.

Go there and be enlightened.