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If your argument or point is obsolete or beside the point, it is moot.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