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.

became color.

Manoeuvre became manueuver

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.