Saturday, December 24, 2005

What a Difference a Year Makes

I would not write this entry, in this way, now. Having worked for the past eight months at a community newspaper -- in the best sense of those words -- I see matters differently. The holiday season gives us an opportunity to help out those in great need. In a state the size of New Hampshire, state assistance can be difficult to sort out.

With all that being said, I thought I'd quote my Christmas entry of last year. It still makes some pertinent points.

My holiday wish this year is to not hear anyone's holiday wishes. ...

I understand this season sees more charitable donations than any others. I understand that many charities depend on it to make their budgets meet. But is it really the role of a newspaper to perpetuate this ... ?

Look, big cities (and the smaller ones, too) bulge with the needy. They stand on the street corners with shopping carts full of possessions. They wait in lines for soup. They ask pedestrians for change. And they do this 365 days a year.

I see these folks every day. In December, yes, but in January and February too. They don't just magically appear for this single 31-day span. ... Yes, that little homeless boy would love toys this month. But he would also like to have a place to live, and food to eat, and other toys to play with, and a life worth living for the other 11 months of the year.

If those in the journalism profession want to spread the word about how their readers (and viewers) can help the less-fortunate, they should take a longer-term, more realistic approach. ...

My employer takes this more realistic approach, I'm pleased to say. Stories about poverty and need run in months other than December. Please, folks: In this season of giving, think about the other seasons.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

I Don't Know What to Make ...

... of this Slate article. I read the New York Times piece and it struck me as odd.

When a reporter becomes such a large part of a story, the dynamic of journalism fundamentally changes. The craft depends on a certain distance from the events covered -- not because we don't care, but because we want to produce a fair record.

One the other hand, does this distance require us to relinquish our humanity? Or does that formulation present reporters and editors with a false choice? How much does my concept of the craft depend on outdated notions of what journalism does?

How many rhetorical questions can I ask in a row? So far, four. But watch out for one more. As I said, I don't know what to make of this story, reporter or debate.

What would I do in a similar situation? I have no idea.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Top Keywords

I've shared a lot of information with Copy Massage readers about those who, like them, visit this site. I've posted several times about the top search phrases that lead people here. Recently, I posted about readers' countries of origin.

But let's break it down further. How about the individual words that draw browsers? My trusty tracking device has kept a list since this blog's beginning. Here are the top 10, along with the number of times they've been used in searches.

massage (1915 times)
copy (326)
quotes (252)
gay (217)
efforting (187)
icons (149)
stories (130)
the (107)
blog (102)
tampa (88)

I don't know what that says, really, other than a lot of people like massages. Perhaps if I limited the vocabulary in my posts to these words alone, a lot more people would visit.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Pause Button

Nothing like novel-writing to slow the progress of a blog.

I've spent the past couple of weeks resting, working and immersing myself in L. Frank Baum's Oz books.

I've also found that, for some reason, spending a lot of time actually doing journalism can make one less likely to write about it. In the last couple of months, I've spent a lot of time working on the newspaper's A1. After a hectic night, I don't necessarily rush to Copy Massage.

I go to sleep.

More will follow this month, however. The holiday season has arrived, and with it a bucketload of crankiness from yours truly.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Novel Thoughts

Nothing like churning out thousands of words to remind one of the risks and joys that writers face, and also the obstacles posed to newspaper reporters every day.

In writing my book, I was constantly aware of the difficulty of actually communicating. I can turn out a lot of words with relatively little effort. Can I make them serve a purpose? That's tough. Can I do it in a limited amount of space? Even tougher.

Editors should never take writers for granted. I've hammered on this point before, and I'll hammer on it again. Writers do a marvelous thing: They create. They create, on deadline and to length.

At the same time, what an exciting experience. As I watched the words pile up, I would sometimes find myself giddy, just imagining the next plot twist, the next character interaction. Lest we forget, writers and editors choose this field because it's fun.

It can be fun, at least. Let's not forget that.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Nano Update

For the final day, a few sentences.

Word count: 50,151
Last lines:

"Thus ends a poor excuse for a life," Blanchard said. He fished in Barber's coat pockets and found the key to my handcuffs. He unlocked them quickly.

"I don't know what to say," I told him.

"How about 'thank you,' for a start."


Monday, November 21, 2005

Nano update

Word count: 33,327
Last sentence: "It all made sense now."

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Nano update

Word count: 31,146
Last sentence: "Don’t look for me until you’re there."

Don't worry. Soon I will return to writing about editing and assorted issues. Only 10 days of National Novel Writing Month remain. But the siren's song of fiction compels me for now.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Nano Update

Word count: 30,705
Last sentence: “It’s saving the human race from extinction.”

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Nano Update

Word count: 26,144
Last sentence: "But the town’s spirit could now be glimpsed only in the low buildings hugging the shoreline of the river that snaked alone its borders."

I apologize for the construction of the sentence. But such are the challenges of cranking out a novel in 30 days. I must serve the word count. I must serve the word count.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Nano update

As you might be able to discern, I've written like a busy bee the last few days. If a busy bee could write, that is.

Word count: 17,141
Last sentence: "But in a situation like this, it's simply indecent."

Friday, November 4, 2005

Nano Update

Word count: 8,186.
Last sentence(s): "How I could I weave these disparate strands into something coherent? I had two hours."

Thursday, November 3, 2005

Nano Update

Word count: 6,180
Last sentence: "I had to keep Lyle, who managed to take nice photographs when not blitzed out of his mind."

Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Nano Update

Word count: 4,177
Last sentence(s): "Ah-hah. I understood now."

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

National Novel Writing Month

Once again, I'm embarking the adventure National Novel Writing Month. In 30 days, I'll try to produce a 50,000-word manuscript.

I expect this to impede blogging a bit. I'll try to add copy editing tidbits here and there, but who knows how substantial or flavorful those tidbits will be.

As a backup, each day I'll post the word count from my novel (tentatively titled Pandemic) and my last sentence from the day's writing. When December rolls around, the thrills should resume.

Word count: 1,812
Last sentence: "I saw stars, then nothing."

Monday, October 31, 2005

Clay versus / v. / vs. the stylebook

What's the deal with the AP Stylebook entry on "versus," anyway?

You're supposed to spell it out in most situations and us "v." for court cases. Therefore, you'd write about "his plan for peeling potatoes versus her plan for making coleslaw." You would cover continuing controversy about "Roe v. Wade."

That's right. "Roe v. Wade."

Who actually, in their everyday life, uses the word this way? Doesn't just about everyone use "vs."? Wouldn't you use "vs."? I know I would. So why does the Associated Press do this? I doubt many AP people follow it.

I'm cranky and traditionalist in many areas. But I don't see what we gain by avoiding the use of "vs." (Yes, I know AP allows it in short expressions; that's not enough.) Let common sense and common usage prevail.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

"Efforting" News

The Hartford Courant addresses the efforting debate. I figure this blog deserved a mention, given that I first took on the word more than a year ago. But no.

Also, if you search for "efforting" on Google, this site now comes back as the third response. Not that I'm keeping track or anything.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Derivative Points

Thanks to Nicole of A Capital Idea for spotlighting these copy-editing related items.

First, from a Detroit Free Press article about author Elmore Leonard. He's written a serial novel for the NYT Magazine.

It's the first time Leonard has written serial fiction for a newspaper. It's the first time he's written a serial, period. The work took him all summer and really cut into his tennis playing.

And that was before the Times copy editors got it. Now, the idea of Elmore Leonard and his expletive-spouting bad guys being edited for a newspaper that still identifies women as Mrs. So-and-So is hilarious. In time, Leonard will probably think it's funny, too.

Right now, though, he's listing the things that the detail-oriented Times editors said were no-nos. "Getting laid." The Gray Lady's gatekeepers X'd that one.

"Arkansas." Arkansas? In newspaper style, it's abbreviated Ark.

But what if a person is saying "Arkansas"? You still abbreviate, because it's in the stylebook. Even if you're writing fiction, it seems.

Sutter fought the Times' copy editors on that one, and you can see his victory in Chapter 2. But Sutter's still hot about it.

"They don't realize this guy's got a sound. Every word. Ar-kan-saw. That's a big word for Elmore," Sutter says. "He sweats every word."

Nicole posted this awhile back, and she said she was skeptical about it. I'd like to add my voice to hers. This is nonsense. The chance that a copy editor at the Times -- a superbly well-edited newspaper / Web site / magazine / whatever else -- actually pestered Elmore Leonard about style seems slim.

Copy editors are vulnerable because we deal with details. We work on a level of detail that baffles others. Like Elmore Leonard, we sweat every word. And we sweat every word for the same reason he does. We care about the overall picture. Those details affect how people see the newspaper /Web site / magazine /whatever else.

Part of managing details, of course, is knowing when to leave deviations from style alone. It's knowing when the rules can be bent or broken. If I know that, I trust the editors of the Times know that.

Permit me a theory. I suspect that a copy editor found incorrect word usage or factual errors and told Leonard. I suspect that annoyed the author, and he decided to exact a little revenge by painting us as anal-retentive creeps. Grrr.

On to a second item from Nicole.

This classic clips comes from a "yes, we make mistakes," article from the Post & Mail of Columbia City, Ind.
For starters take Associated Press stories. Writing for the AP is a dream many or all journalists have at some point because it is seen as the pinnacle of journalism, but even they make mistakes.

Mistakes don't happen often, but occasionally an AP story will be used that has a grammatical error, missing word, double word or something else wrong with it.

Newspapers are not allowed to make ANY changes to an AP story, no matter how glaring it may be. It's a rule we must follow and sometimes the story with an error is the only one on the topic, and if it's important enough we have to run it.

The only exception to changing an AP story is cutting off paragraphs at the bottom so the story will fit.

Nicole didn't quote the first two paragraphs, but I think them the most remarkable. I know folks that have worked at the AP, and while most enjoyed it, I doubt they would refer to it as the "pinnacle" of journalism. I also wonder if the intern author of this piece has ever spent time just reading the wire. If so, he'd quickly notice that mistakes happen all the time in AP copy. That's one of the reasons they update stories regularly.

I don't know who told this poor kid that AP stories couldn't be changed, but they shouldn't take advantage of an innocent.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Effortlessly Eventful Efforting

For some reason, folks flock here to read about the word "efforting." That horrid term was in eight of the last 20 search engine queries pointing browsers here. Out of all keywords that have produced traffic for Copy Massage, "efforting" has tied (with "stories") for sixth place.

In case you missed my earlier musings on the word, see here and here.

"Efforting" has spread in the last year-and-a-half, obviously. I'm not sure why, although I have my suspicions. I doubt newspaper writers have taken to it with gusto, because grumps like me would stop them in their tracks. Thank goodness. That points us toward our friends in the broadcast media.

Although I watched little televised hurricane coverage, I expect that people were "efforting" to improve conditions in areas hit by Katrina and Rita. I expect anchors were "efforting" to get in touch with correspondents. In times of stress, people speaking off the cuff can propagate unwieldy formations. (Note this "the language is going to hell" article from the Hingham Journal.)

Viewers, unfamiliar with the word, typed it into their search engines and ended up here. Indeed, if you type "efforting" into Google, this site turns up as the ninth result. Hi there.

Don't use "efforting." Please.

The word "trying" has two syllables. It comes from a perfectly nice verb. "Efforting" has three syllables. It comes from a noun. Why would you ever use it instead of the tried-and-true"trying" ? A noun is a thing. A verb is an action. They are different.

When we write and speak, we should do so accurately, succinctly and grammatically. "Efforting" is none of those things. Please, for the love of the language and my ears, don't use it.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Summarize This!

Depending on his or her workplace, a copy editor can do any number of jobs. She can design pages. He can correct grammar. She can scour the wire for stories to fill inside pages. He can grapple with the intricacies of assigning gender to indefinite pronouns.

But nearly every newspaper copy editor tackles the headline, often in conjunction with a subhead or some other bit of accompanying text. Much has been written about the craft of shaping headlines. We must make them sing, we're told. We must (or must not) include clever word choices or turns of phrase. We must seduce the unsuspecting browser into reading the story.

But headlines also summarize. Few readers devote time to every story in a newspaper. That holds true, I think, for the most devoted reader or the smallest paper. As general interest publications, newspapers by definition print a vast array of material, some of limited interest. Headlines help readers navigate through these articles. They offer a pithy summation of the news, big and small.

In many cases, they will be all the reader sees.

We spend time and energy worrying about the biggest headline. We sweat and strain to produce a great banner for the A1 main bar. But because we've positioned one story as the most important, most people will at least read its first few paragraphs anyway. Despite all our work, people will race past the headline to the story.
The stories pushed to the bottom of the page or huddling inside the paper -- these are the stories for which the headline is most important. For them, the headline is it. The headline carries the weight of not only saying what has happened, but offering some detail or shading that allows the reader to understand the information in context. In other words, the headline must summarize the story's facts and spirit.

Let's pause. Let's take some time with these poor, obscure stories. Let's show them we value them as much as the big scandal splashed across A1. And let's show readers we value them enough to give them accurate, subtly shaded summaries of current events.

Recent Referrals

Here at the luxurious Copy Massage offices, we're always interested in our audience. How do people come here? Why do people come here? What features keep them coming back for more grammatical fun?

Beats us. But according to the trusty tracking software, these terms have led visitors here:

massage icons
clay concord monitor
"Why Proofreading is Important !"
stories containing lefts and rights
"GED" Copy editing
Mr. Dictionary
hunter s. thompson handwriting
Inspirational thought for the day

By the way ... don't hesitate to add your comments to the site. With Copy Massage shedding its Floridian pastels and donning some New England plaid, a new(ish) era has begun. Flame away.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

A Blog to Check Out ...

... Would be the one by my boss, Concord Monitor editor Mike Pride. He covers journalistic issues, sure, but he also addresses current events and life in New Hampshire. He likes Bob Dylan, too.

Few blogs come from the newsroom leaders. More should. Well-kept blogs could show editors as active, caring members of their communities. They reinforce old bonds and create new ones. They could even attract new readers.

Mike's blog deserves a larger audience, so spread the word.

Grumpy as I Wanna Be

I don't like "evacuee." It's a painful back-formation, a nouning of a verb. I understand that some people believe that "refugee" has negative connotations, but the word accurately describes people who have fled from their homes seeking refuge.

I'm on the losing end of this, though.

The overwhelming human toll of Katrina has made members of the news media particularly sensitive to their traditional role of defending the underdog. Thus, they were quick to change when objections surfaced. The wire services are using "evacuee" almost exclusively now.

I don't change the word to "refugee," but, as I said, I don't like it. Words only have the power we choose to give them.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Why Am I Here?

Why did I do it? Why did I leave a big newspaper in a big city for a small newspaper in a small city?

It didn't have to do with the folks at the Tampa Tribune, I'll tell you that. My experience there was great, and I enjoyed working with my fellow copy editors.

I wanted a change of scenery. I wanted to live in a place that had seasons. My partner and I had never planned to make the rest of our lives in Florida (we were brought there by an internship), and we both decided that New England seemed like a nice place to settle down.

Then a position came open at a well-respected community paper. I interviewed and was impressed by the paper and the dedication of the people who worked there. After some thought, the deal was done.

We left Florida toward the end of April, and I started at the Monitor a few days later.

My job has changed. In Tampa, I dealt almost exclusively with text. It had most often been read a couple of times before it crossed my computer screen. It would be read a time or two more before the page was sent off to the presses.

In Concord, I also design the pages, work with reporters as a line editor, and crop and tone photos. I've taken up book reviewing as well.

I like this. I knew it would be this way, and I welcomed the opportunity to do many more things. I spend more time at work, true. I bear more responsibility, true. I take on more stress, true. But I think it all serves to make me a more rounded journalist and copy editor.

It all serves the writing. The copy remains at the core. Without clear, sharply written stories, none of rest of the newsroom paraphernalia would function. The principles of good editing and good journalism have been brought home time and again on this more intimate scale.

Copy Massage will reflect these changes. My perspective has broadened. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Back to blog

I didn’t mean for it to take this long. Honest.

But what with the moving from Florida to New Hampshire, the starting of a new job and the deluge of related issues, I was delayed. Having a life and a blog is difficult, if not impossible. I also wanted to make sure that I had clearance to keep up this persnickety forum about copy editing and journalism.

The life has calmed down. Folks at the new workplace have asked about further entries. The time has arrived.

Many entries to follow.

Saturday, April 9, 2005

Where I'm Headed

The truth can be revealed. Later this month I will start a new job at The Concord (N.H.) Monitor. I'm excited at the opportunity to work at a thriving community newspaper, and I look forward to living in New Hampshire.

The partner, the dog and I will drive up the week after next. It will be sad to leave the Tribune, which has been a wonderful place to work and learn. I will not, however, be sad to leave the single, continuous season that is Florida weather.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

What's Going On?

You may ask. No posts for a month. A suspicious silence in Clay land. Well, I can't tell you yet. But stay tuned for news.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Suspicious Minds

Despite what you may have heard on TV news, a suspect does not rob a bank. A suspect does not kill a person. A suspect does not commit whatever misdeed you care to mention.

A person does. A man. A woman. A somebody.

A man robs a bank. A woman kills a person. A man and woman commit whatever misdeed you can imagine.

When police apprehend someone and accuse them of committing one of these crimes, that someone becomes a suspect. But the crimes themselves were still committed by a person, because we know that the crimes occurred.

When someone goes on trial for an obvious criminal offense, such as burglary or murder, the actual damage is seldom the issue. The house has been broken into. The person has been killed. We can take these things as facts. The court decides whether the person on trial did those things.

The applications to news stories, I hope, are obvious.

What we don't write: "The suspect killed fifty people on the subway. Police arrested Bob Dylan and said he was their prime suspect."

What we do write: "A man killed fifty people on the subway. Police arrested Bob Dylan and said he was their main suspect."

You'll notice that by saying "suspect" instead of "man" in the first example we actually implicate Mr. Dylan more than in the second version. Not that I think he would do such things.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Similar, Yet Different

Let's turn to Merriam-Webster for a quick definition:

"Acronym: a word (as NATO, radar, or snafu) formed from the initial letter or letters of each of the successive parts or major parts of a compound term; also : an abbreviation (as FBI) formed from initial letters : INITIALISM."

And another:

"Anagram: a word or phrase made by transposing the letters of another word or phrase."

Thus, an anagram of the word "god" is "dog." "God" on its own is not an acronym.

But wait a second. If you have an organization called the "General Order of Dirigibles," then GOD indeed serves as an acronym. Isn't language fun?

OK, I'll shut up now.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Farewell ...

... To Hunter S. Thompson. Whatever one can say about the gonzo journalist/essayist/hell-raiser, the world will be a profoundly less interesting place without him in it.

Sunday, February 6, 2005

I Can't Stop Thinking ...

... About the whole CBS / Dan Rather / dubious memos business.

I understand that I'm months behind the rest of the world on this. I thought about tackling the subject at the time, and I pondered it in the weeks that followed. But everyone else had their axes to grind and political bile to spill.

Let's look at this with fresh eyes. If you examine the documents in question, they should make you suspicious. I'm not saying they're fake. I haven't heard the definitive word one way or the other. But come on. They look much like documents produced on a popular, name-brand word processing software.

That's just the first point. These suddenly unearthed documents that appear to have President Bush in their sights just happen to look newly minted.

The second point? The signature of the guy who supposedly wrote the memos doesn't seem to match the signature on them. Sure, his handwriting might have been on the fritz that day. But what are the chances?

That's the second point.

So. You're a professional journalist. You see these two points in front of you. Let's not consider what the late man's family and friends might say about the memos' contents. Let's not bring up the inaccurate military terminology used. Just consider these two basic points.

What do you do?

If you have sense, you raise hell. You tell whoever found these documents to check them and check them again. You bring in competent document and handwriting experts who can reassure you beyond the shadow of a doubt the papers are authentic. In short, you work night and day to uncover the truth.

You do all of this because viewers (or readers, or Web surfers) deserve the truth. They also don't have reason to trust you if you don't present them with the truth.

Like it or not, these situations apply to all of us. In the seven-plus years I've been copy editing and reporting, I've handled similar problems. If you're a professional journalist, you probably have too. You come upon a story that's too good to be true. Or that seems to have someone else's words inserted without a credit. Or that relies on dubious sources. Or that just isn't ready for publication.

Not all of these instances rise to the level of the CBS memos. They don't have to.

Ask yourself, when such a story appears: Does it pass the smell test? What would a reasonable person off the street think? What does my gut, apart from any political considerations, tell me?

It should tell you to make damn sure the story is right. This holds for assigning editors, reporters, copy editors, slots, managing editors, on up the line. Check it out.

Do the right thing.

Saturday, February 5, 2005

Drawn and Headquartered

Why, oh why, does anyone use the word "headquartered"? A business has headquarters. They are located in a specific city. They are not headquartered there.

This is how English works: "Headquarters" is a noun. It's a place. According to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, it was coined in the mid-1600s. "Headquarter" is a verb twisted out of that pleasant old noun just this last century.

But you don't hear people use that active form of the word often, do you? Why? Because it sounds bad. So why use a passive form of a verb that shouldn't even be one in the first place?

I'm not being a fuddy-duddy. Honest. The verbed word sounds clunky. It doesn't save the writer any space. It brings up, at least to me, unpleasant associations with being drawn and quartered.

Just write, "The business has headquarters" in such and such, and all will be well. Trust me.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Journalism Linkage

Slate on the supposed divide between bloggers and mainstream media. This encapsulates my thoughts pretty well. So far, blogs have served readers as a medium to find interesting writing and commentary. They haven't worked -- so far -- as a replacement to traditional news outlets.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

A Silent Point?

If, for some reason, you can't speak, you are mute.

If your argument or point is obsolete or beside the point, it is moot.

Therefore, if someone is still arguing for the election of John Kerry, their point is moot. Unless they are surprised and speechless, in which case it would also be mute.

Execrable Efforting

During the summer, I noted the use of the word "efforting" on the radio. I fervently hoped it was a once-in-a lifetime experience.

No such luck.

Take a look at Tom Williams' letter to Romenesko this month. Other examples followed. I weep for humanity.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Warning! Ambiguity Ahead!

I don't understand why reporters persist in using the word "some." As an adjective, it adds little. It actively muddies the waters of understanding.

Remember this equation:

Muddled Writing = Muddled Thinking.

"Some" illustrates this. No, no, don't bother digging up the exact figure. Please, don't even try to estimate a "many" or few." Just toss in a "some." That will do the trick!


Let's look at some examples.

"Wilkins, the banker, said he made some money in the stock market."

"Gov. Bloomberg closed the speech with some thoughts about the budget crisis."

Cut out the "some." That's right, throw it out. The word adds next to nothing in these situations. Try it. You'll like it.

Even when "some" appears needed, take a critical stance. Examine this sentence from the New York Times:

"That could undermine his leverage in Congress, where even some Republicans have expressed concern about major aspects of Mr. Bush's Social Security plans."

This reporter should be questioned about the meaning of "some." Have a couple of Republicans voiced their worries? Have dozens? Try to pin down what the word means.

Because, of course, once we know the quantity that "some" refers to, we don't have to use it.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Why the Caps?

OK, this one shouldn't take long. Don't run the following sentence:

Store General Manager Ellis McWhirter said rabid dogs had destroyed the pet food aisle.

Why not? "General Manager" is a descriptive title. It tells us McWhirter's role in running the supermarket. He was not elected to the post. He was not chosen by a government official for the job. He's general manager Ellis McWhirter.

I've worked for newspapers on both ends of the spectrum. At one end, a former employer required all titles be lowercase -- except for those of elected officials. At the other end, my current employer has a liberal policy, allowing for "Professor" and "Principal."

In any event, we don't bestow extra capital letters on supermarket management. Sorry.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

The Code Returns

You've seen it before. Let's take a look again, at a further-revised version. "The Copy Editor's Code," as handed down by the deities on high to their most humble servant, C. McCuistion. Or something along those lines.

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.

We do this job for those who pick up the paper in the morning (or log onto the Web site). We answer to them.

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.

Sometimes, this means asking stupid questions. Sometimes, this means seeming dull-witted. Sometimes this means acting like an asshole. We didn't go into this for the glamour. We went into this for the truth.

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

Reporters. Photographers. Designers. Graphics artists. Assigning editors. We handle their creations. We sometimes take that responsibility 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. They will be our readers as well.

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

This precept occupies the lowest spot, 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.

Testy Copy Editors Thread of Note (But Aren't They All?)

This discussion raises some interesting points. Favorite bits:

The Wolcott Gibbs quote: "Try to preserve an author's style, if he is an author and has a style."

And: "A few writers have voices. Many of them merely have problems. The ones with voices often write well enough that you will never talk to them."

Newspapers should publish interesting, pithy writing, make no mistake. But self-indulgence wears everyone out.