Friday, June 9, 2006

Status update

Hi there. How long has it been anyway? (Cough.) Awhile, I know.

How have you been? Good, good. I've been doing well myself.

I've been kept busy at work, attempting to take on new challenges in the design and online worlds. That's right, design and online -- two things that have precious little to do with copy editing.

Oh, I still do that. I still do that every day. But as I've mentioned before, work at a community newspaper can sprawl across many disciplines. Some of the new areas are ones I've sought out, too, eager to try new stuff.

The point is, I suppose, that this blog has fallen by the wayside. It did lead to my current work with the online world -- blogsNH. That's a community blogging project hosted by the Concord Monitor. I'm the "blog wrangler," one of those looking after our stable of local writers.

I've hit the big time. Or not. But blogsNH (where I have a space of my own) has become my spot on the web now. Copy Massage has been supplanted -- at least for the next couple of days.

But let's not weep. After all, only three people still read this blog, and one of them is my sister. Instead, let's celebrate the opportunities that blogsNH offers. Newspapers have figured out that blogs will become a critical part of the new media multiverse. I figure I should help make that happen.

What of this space?

I won't take it down. Copy Massage will remain up, and I may drop by from time to time. Perhaps I'll delete some spammed comments or revise an old post. Perhaps I'll write a new post.
Perhaps I'll change this into an entirely different blog.

The possibilities stretch before us, infinite. But for now, drop by blogsNH.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

ACES Article

I have a piece in the latest issue of the American Copy Editors Society newsletter. For those who don't receive the newsletter, here are the first few paragraphs.

My copy-editing blog, Copy Massage, began with a specific purpose. I wanted to show up a friend.

Perhaps that overstates things. But a friend and fellow wordsmith did begin a blog about copy editing in the summer of 2003. He covered subjects usually found in usage books and on the tongues of curmudgeonly editors. Like vs. such as. Who vs. whom. Persuade vs. convince.

His blog entertained, but it wasn't my style. I wanted to address editing from a different, more thoughtful perspective. So in September 2003, I created Copy Massage. The blog would transcend stylebook squabbling (or so I supposed) and talk about subjects of real importance.

In the years since, I'’ve had mixed success. The blog has drifted away from that early, pure goal. After all, how many times can you write: "Put yourself in the reader's shoes" before boring yourself to tears?


For the rest, take a look at the newsletter. (My piece continues on in much the same vein, so perhaps you're not missing much if you don't.)

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

More on Philly

An interesting article in Editor and Publisher. The potential buyer says some smart things.

I see the whole Knight-Ridder sell-off as an opportunity for communities to experiment with alternative methods of newspaper ownership. The St. Petersburg Times, for instance, is owned by a nonprofit journalism school. I've always wondered why more didn't look at such an approach -- or at least consider an alternative to the sometimes-brutal world of public trading.

In a decade or two, it wouldn't surprise me at all if many newspapers were owned or operated by nonprofits. The stock market hasn't proved the most congenial of masters for what is, after all is said and done, more a calling than a business.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Perhaps I Blogged too Soon ...

Word on the street is that McClatchy wants to sell a dozen of the Knight-Ridder papers. So the drama continues.

My thoughts go out to folks at the:

Philadelphia Inquirer
San Jose Mercury News
Philadelphia Daily News
Akron Beacon Journal
Wilkes Barre Times Leader
Aberdeen American News
Grand Forks Herald
Ft. Wayne News - Sentinel
Contra Costa Times
Monterey Herald
Duluth News Tribune
The St. Paul Pioneer Press.

I think particularly about the Philly papers. I worked a summer at the Inquirer nearly five years ago, and that city has two fine, fine newspapers. They deserve to thrive.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Knight-Ridder Sale

If reports coming in this evening prove true, and McClatchy indeed plans to buy Knight-Ridder, I think a lot of people will be breathing sighs of relief. Perhaps we can start thinking about journalism itself more and the journalism business less.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Recent searches

How did people come here? This is how.

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Monday, February 27, 2006

Headline Advice

You want to write headlines? Here are five tips.

1.) Avoid writing them as questions.
2.) Don't be cute just because you can.
3.) Don't engage in wordplay that makes no sense.
4.) Accurately reflect the story.
5.) If you don't have the space you need, ask for more.

Boiling those five points down to one produces this:

Don't write headlines for yourself or your pals on the desk. Write them for your readers. We don't create the newspaper to amuse ourselves.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Future of Newspapers Update

I haven't seen as much hand-wringing in the past couple of weeks. Perhaps people want to watch how the Knight-Ridder business works itself out.

Interesting points have been made, though, on the difficulties of establishing "citizen journalism." Exhibit one: The Bayosphere. Analysis here. And the founder of Craigslist thinks too much has been made of it altogether.

He says: "The deal is, there's no substitute for professional-level writing and fact-checking and editing. One of the tenets of the effort I'm involved with is to drive more traffic to professional news sites. People have gotten too excited about citizen journalism, and they're not addressing the balance well."

Hmm. (That's my profound point. Hmm.)

Saturday, February 25, 2006

What an Editor Does

I picked up a copy of "The Years With Ross," humorist James Thurber's account of his time with New Yorker editor Harold Ross. In the introduction to this new edition, essayist Adam Gopnik offers one of the best descriptions of editing that I've read.

Editors are, he writes, "before anything else, taker-outers, lighteners of the overpacked sentence."

He also reflects on the writer-editor relationship:

"In their hearts, writers think of editors as little as society ladies think of maitre d's: one tips them heavily and listens wide-eyed to their advice on the menu, but the point is to keep that table." (And, in their hearts, all editors think of writers as maitre d's do society ladies: spoiled, demanding children -- if only, sigh, you could run a restaurant without them.)"

Not that I personally think this way.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Follow-up and Another Blog

Response to the dietitian / dietician post of a few weeks back came quickly.

The word is not really a legitimately formed word, and I'm pretty sure both are correct (or incorrect, depending on how you view it). The OED lists both uses (all condescendingly). I remember reading about 'beautician' (Fowler?), and how ridiculous they made it seem. Generally, the -ician suffix is reserved for words ending in -ic (etc.) Mathematic(s)-> mathematician.Readers of this blog reveal new wells of information all the time.

I suppose I can understand usage experts' disdain, but what the heck do you call the person who's an expert on meal planning? The diet guy? The diet dude? Diet-woman the magnificent?

I mean, come on. Sometimes, inelegant uses persist because we don't have a better alternative. AP's mention suggests they haven't figured out a better way.

The reader who left that response has an interesting usage blog. You can find it here. The creator promises "some of the most boring, academic pedantry on the web." Who can resist?

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Poynter on Grammar

Mervin Block, "a newswriting coach" and author of "Writing Broadcast News -- Shorter, Sharper Stronger," critiques recent slips by "60 Minutes."

A couple of examples:

3) "She was big box-office, made a total of 50 movies." (April 3, 2005.)

Delete a total of. Without it, the sentence means the same, except that now it's leaner. Strunk and White tell us in their "Elements of Style": "Omit needless words. Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words ... for the same reason a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts."

5) "The Brooklyn Bridge was built in 1869. It's still one of the best-looking things on Earth." (Oct. 9, 2005.)

Work on the bridge began in 1869. It was completed in 1883. Thing is something I was taught to avoid. My teacher had a thing about it.


Block catches some poor writing, yes, but some of those quoted "mistakes" are attempts at colloquialism. I don't know if those should be put at the same level as factual errors. We should banish cliches. But we should first verify those quotes and dates.

Stuff like this makes writers hate editors. We put our own prejudices ahead of what works for the story and the basic facts it contains. I would say we don't see the forest for the trees, but I don't want to lapse into dreaded cliche.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Note from the 'Real World'

The partner and I have spend most of the past week preparing for a guest. Although the guest has nothing whatsoever to do with copy editing, grammar or journalism as a whole, these preparations have taken up valuable blog-cogitation minutes.

Not to worry. Many small, annoying bits of grumbling float in my brain. I merely have to pluck them from the ether.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Spelling Point of Order

You spell the word dietitian, not dietician. I admit, I did not know this off the top of my head.

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

From Gauntlets to Profundities

The comment I referred to in my gantlet /gauntlet follow-up came from Tongue-Tied, a blogger in New York. In a post today, Tongue-Tied summarizes our discussion on the difference or lack of same. She/he winds up in an interesting place:

I’m creeping toward heresy here, so I might as well go over the edge: Clay states that it’s better to be consistent than right. But why is consistency sacrosanct? If you wrote “run the gauntlet” one week and “run the gantlet” the next week, would anyone even notice? Would there be any consequences whatsoever? (On the other hand, people would notice if you spelled it differently in the same article or issue--though if you’re using it more than once in the same article, you’re overusing it.)

A couple of points.

One: Tongue-Tied works as a magazine copy editor. I would argue that magazines, because they publish less often and are thought of as more literary than newspapers, have less to gain from across-the-board usage rules. A daily newspaper has an interest in keeping basic points of style consistent -- it's a credibility issue for readers. Folks study the newspaper to find out where we fouled up.

Two: I hate to use the slippery slope argument, but I'll dust it off here just for kicks. If you allow misuse (admittedly, of a somewhat arbitrary distinction), where do you draw the line? What usages won't we ever allow? What ones will we allow sometimes? What ones aren't that important? I would hate to see the difference between literally and figuratively lost, for example.

Okay, I feel better now. Let me argue the other side for a bit.

One: The slippery slope argument is bogus. Any copy editor makes distinctions just like that all the time. If you're attuned to the language and its flow, you can't make changes willy-nilly and expect writers or readers to respect you. You have to be both a grammar enforcer and an interested reader.

A lot of usage books will tell you to replace the word "like" with "such as" in sentences like this one. But you can kill a sentence with that extra syllable. I only recently overcame my reluctance to allow the "like" to stay. I found the colloquial voice -- in rare circumstances -- to be worth it.

Two: I started "Copy Massage" as a reaction against blogs that make too much of points like (there, I did it again) gantlet / gauntlet. You can fill a blog with such nitpicks, and you can become the next grammar guru bemoaning the falling standards of our language. Good luck.

I don't want to do that. Misuse of language does interest me; a large part of my job involves fixing mistakes, after all. But I find the wider field of editing, journalism and related issues much more attractive. That's why I named this blog "Copy Massage," as opposed to "Copy Hacking" or "Copy Perfection."

I have a great deal of sympathy for Tongue-Tied. We may not be on the same page, but we're reading from the same chapter.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Future of Newspapers Pt. 4

My editor weighs in. Kind of. The post begins in TV news territory and migrates to newsprint.

Future of Newspapers Pt. 3

What I've never understood about the media deathwatch mentality is the idea that Google News, let's say, will supplant newspapers. At this point, Google News is newspapers. It compiles content.

The entire blog world feeds off the mainstream media. Few bloggers do their own reporting, and even if they do, they certainly don't produce the amount of quality content that even a mid-level or small newspaper does.

That doesn't mean bloggers shouldn't report. Of course they should. It doesn't mean Google News shouldn't hire reporters. It might makes sense. But at this point, both of these media spheres -- which are the "alive," "happening" ones, happen to be entirely dependent on the "declining," "mature" old media.

A strange contradiction, no? It would seem that each side has an interest in keeping the other going. But you wouldn't know it from the way people rant.

Future of Newspapers Pt. 2

Dave Barry says they're already dead. Nice to see the optimism spreading.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Terrific Column ...

... On the Poynter Web site. Read it.

In it, journalist Cristian Lupsa writes:

Journalism is increasingly an insider culture. The craft is plagued – especially in high places – with hypocrisy. We write about what our friends do and call the doings “trends,” we spend too much time enjoying the company of politicians and public figures, and we are arrogant enough to characterize this behavior as part of “doing our job.”

Much to think about in terms of the big players in the news media.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

In Praise of the Semicolon

I'd like to mention that I have recently begun using the semicolon more often in my writing; I find it a handy way to join thoughts that would otherwise be separate sentences. For a long time I avoided the semicolon; like many others, I regarded it as a juiced-up comma, fit mainly for use in complex series ("He is survived by his only daughter, Alexis; his three sons, Tom, Dick and Harry; and his dog, Fido).

But the semicolon can be used for so much more; think of the sentences I can join now that I couldn't before; think of the Proustian lengths these sentences might now be able to obtain, especially if I throw in a comma or two, or three, or four; and imagine the excess that could result if I added a colon toward what you would imagine to be the end: Now that, friends, that would be a fine thing.

Problems can result, of course; after depriving oneself of a punctuation mark for so long, one might be tempted to overuse it. I doubt that would happen with me and the semicolon, though; we're just getting acquainted.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Future of Newspapers?

How's that for a title, eh? Makes you think I'm going to go all crazy analytical, right? Makes you think that I'm going to drop some mad serious statistics about times to come, right?

Sorry, bub.

Nope, this entry will contain only a couple of points. I haven't conducted any rigorous research, tested this out on any focus groups, or attended any workshops. I've just given it some thought. Here and there. Now and then.

Newspapers will survive. In what form, I don't know. They certainly can't thrive as exclusively paper products. They have to concentrate on the content -- the articles, reporting and writing -- that attract readers. They should pay less attention to whatever medium conveys that message.

Newsprint won't disappear. Neither will Web sites. Learn to use them both.

We have to be prepared to learn and change. We can't expect that everything we see in the newspaper world today will survive. Some newspapers will close. Some jobs will disappear. Some positions will change. But none of this affects the need for good journalism, or the qualities that make good journalism what it is.

The more we fixate on the transitory business shake-ups, the less we're able to look to the long term. So learn what a blog is. Learn how to use Web publication software. Learn why people use the Web for news.

And keep your head. Media folk love to panic. But to preserve what makes newspapers good and lasting, they can't panic. They have to focus. They have to have fun. They have to not take themselves so seriously.

Things will change. But when have they not changed? Enjoy it.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Gauntlet / Gantlet Pt. 2

More on the Jan. 16th post. An alert reader posted in the comments section:

The more you look into this, the more complicated it gets. M-W's Dictionary of English Usage gives a tangled history of the words in which "run the gantlet" appears to be older than "run the gauntlet," and they say the notion that "gantlet" is more correct is "mistaken," and at any rate the words were never etymologically distinct. They also note that "British dictionaries never recognized the distinction, and "gantlet" has long since dropped out of use as a spelling variant in British English." What to do? Go with what people say or with what AP, et al., decree with very little solid justification? An excruciating dilemma!

Many style quibbles reach this point. We follow these rules not because of sound historical evidence, but because an editor somewhere (in this case, Norm Goldstein of the Associated Press) decided it was the best thing to do. He probably inherited it from someone else, who learned it in a high school classroom at the turn of the century.

Style doesn't necessarily have to be logical, or even right, to be style. It merely has to be consistent. Yes, gantlet and gauntlet have confusing histories. Yes, people may use them interchangeably. But the newspaper copy editor's bible, the AP Stylebook, has made its determination.

You make the call.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Great theater / re

The U.S. spelling of the word is theater. It follows our practice of simplifying the British spelling of certain words.

Colour
became color.

Manoeuvre became manueuver

Centre
became center.

And (you see where I'm going with this, I'm sure) theatre became theater. Whever we write about a place where people put on plays, we're writing about a theater. The owners of the establishment may choose to name it "The World's Best Theatre," and if we use the proper name, we would of course spell it their way.

Once we leave the realm of proper names, though, and enter the inviting fields of generic land, the word becomes theater. That's how our version of the language spells it.

Monday, January 16, 2006

No one gets this right ...

... Although they should. I blogged about this in November of 2003, for those of you keeping track, but I figure I can resurrect a word gripe after two years and two months.

A gantlet is, according to Webster's New World: "A former military punishment in which the offender had to run between two rows of men who struck him with clubs, etc. as he passed." In other words, an ordeal.

A gauntlet is, according to the same source, "a medieval glove." It was sometimes thrown down to challenge someone.

Therefore, you "run the gantlet" and "pick up the gauntlet."

The AP Stylebook has made its preference known in this matter. The gamut / gantlet /gauntlet entry reads quite clearly. The words mean different things, so we should use them in the appropriate circumstances.

But people don't say "run the gantlet." They say "run the gauntlet." They don't write it correctly either. Dictionaries don't make the matter any clearer; Merriam-Webster's defines gantlet as a variant of gauntlet.

Urg. It feels like the "literally" debate all over again, but with a less-popular word.

Sunday, January 8, 2006

Efforting Away

When last we checked, in October, Copy Massage was the third hit on Google when some poor sap searched for the abomination of a word "efforting."

I'm pleased to report that the blog is now up to No. 2.

First place? It's a column by Barbara Wallraff. She writes:

There'’s no point in inventing "“efforting"ƒ” when so many familiar verbs are available to do its job. Make an effort -- will you? -- to persuade your colleague that "“I am efforting" is foolish English.

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Saturday, January 7, 2006

More on the miners

Reputations tarnished!

News media invalidated!

The public crushed!

Such are the over-hyped reactions to the coverage bobbled involving this tragic story. I doubt any of them stick.

Everyone I know of (myself included) simply wanted to tell the story accurately. Newspapers fell between the cracks of deadline. TV coverage could simply update its stories; Web sites could replace their front page information.

As I wrote a few days ago, newspapers simply don't do this kind of story as well as other news media. That doesn't mean we cover them terribly; it means we have to scramble to make our product competitive. We have to deal with the limitations of a media that publishes once every 24 hours.

As long as we create newspapers that reflect daily events, situations like this will crop up. The situations may be rare, yes, but they will still appear. News happens. Things change. Paradigms shift (to throw in some jargon). We will struggle to stay up to date, and we will keep working.

If newspapers transform themselves to value considered storytelling more than the daily report, situations like this may trouble us less. We would refer readers to Web sites and other media that could report instantaneously.

But would this transformed product be a newspaper? Beats me. That's a question for another time, context and blog.

Ultimately, we do our best. Nothing I've read about mine coverage makes me think people acted in incompetent or vicious ways. Everyone tried to report the news. The news turned out to be wrong.

We correct ourselves and move on.

Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Miner Coverage

The editor of my paper writes about issues brought about by this "they're alive!" then "no, they're not" story.

He writes:

I was also reminded that while many things have changed in the news business, an essential thing about the daily newspaper remains true: It is a snapshot of a day's events. The last deadline --– the moment the press rolls, or in this case, the moment a diligent editor replates the front page to get in the latest news -- is the shutter snapping on the day. If something happens between 1 a.m. and morning to change events, so be it.

I will comment at length on this later, but this seems a story where newspapers, frankly, don't do a perfect job. When events change quickly, and when they change quickly at deadline, newspapers can fall behind. We don't have the capabilities of Web sites, television or even radio.

But we're also in the news business. That's our job. And that's our struggle in these situations.

Sunday, January 1, 2006

Happy New Year!

Happy 2006 from your friends at Copy Massage. In this coming year, Copy Massage will find more and better ways to insinuate its spicy blend of grammar gripes, journalism jabs and plain old crankiness into your life.

All the best.