Monday, August 25, 2014

Editing basics: Post hoc, ergo shut up

No, you can't go home after you run the spellcheck. Somebody still has to look at the stuff and make sure it's true about all the things it's allegedly being accurate about -- even if, or especially if, the glass offices desperately want it to be so.

Such, alas, is the case with the offlede from today's Washington Times:

... Since Illinois started granting concealed carry permits this year, the number of robberies that have led to arrests in Chicago has declined 20 percent from last year, according to police department statistics. Reports of burglary and motor vehicle theft are down 20 percent and 26 percent, respectively. In the first quarter, the city’s homicide rate was at a 56-year low.

Pretty interesting correlation there. Too bad a clear conscience and a pure heart can't turn correlation into cause, no matter what your first named source says:

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Pancho was a robot boy

What did all the federales say there, Mail Online?

You might think there's already enough random episodic stuff to be terrified of out there, but then you'd miss this candidate for Most Thorough Claim Quote of the (no longer young) Year:

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Today in security studies: The perfect front page

This home page from Thursday afternoon is Fox in a grain of sand. The downpage stories are perfect: there's a little reactive devaluation (sexual harassment in the military is a fey librul plot, until our side mentions it), some primal race-baiting (just go read the comments) and a reminder that 2016 is always in season ("the claims about Clinton's cigar preferences follow a string of reports about Bill and Hillary Clintons' sky-high speaking fees and special requests while on the road"). But the real gem is the lead story:

Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday that his Justice Department is opening a criminal investigation into the brutal execution by Islamic State militants of American journalist James Foley, in the latest move by the administration to use the criminal justice system to pursue terrorists.

The announcement comes as the Obama administration steps up its airstrike campaign against the same militant organization -- and mulls additional American boots on the ground in Iraq.

That might strike you as a bit of a contradiction. If you keep up with Fox, you know that pretty much the worst offense you can commit is imagining that terrorism is a law enforcement problem, rather than the sort of matter you deal with by blowing the hell out of things with naval aviation, and the Kenyan usurper is selling us out by doing the former even as he cranks up the ... does your brain hurt yet?

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Today in ... oh, forget it

Would you go over the relationship between diet and ... what's that technical term again there, Nation's Newspaper of Record?

An Op-Ed essay on Monday described bald eagles and ospreys incorrectly. They eat fish, and their poop is white; they do not eat berries and excrete purple feces. (Other birds, like American robins, Eurasian starlings and cedar waxwings, do.)

Why does the New York Times think the symbol of our freedom poops purple? Why does the New York Times hate freedom?

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Editing basics: Stick to the question

Sometimes the nice folks at Ask the Editor just take their, and everybody else's, eye off the ball:

Q. Regarding the use of gender neutral nomenclature, how should we refer to manholes and manhole covers? – from San Francisco on Wed, Aug 13, 2014
A. Use the impersonal pronoun it for an inanimate object.

Yes, but that's not the issue, is it? Nobody's really wondering whether a manhole cover, like a noble ship of the line, ought to be "she" on second reference, or whether such decisions show us as we want to be seen in the great social scheme of things. The writer has a simple question, and a simple answer -- how about "utility hole"? -- will let everybody go about their business.

Lesson for editors: Don't overthink the easy ones. The nearest exit may be behind you. Time you waste is time you can't spend on something that matters.

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Editing basics: That's what 'corrections' means

That "corrections" label at the top? It means the story got something wrong (or "gave erroneous information," or "had incorrect information"). You don't need to repeat that in the text. The correction needs to explain what you got wrong and then provide any necessary non-incorrect information.

The "erroneous information" about the first appears to be its appearance in a breakout box of downtown stores that "have recently closed" (why that includes a Caribou that closed a year ago is a different question). As for the "incorrect information" about the second -- imagine if you had people around the office who read stuff before it was published and considered it their job to ask questions like, you know,  whether two Spanish-themed coffee shops was a little much, even by Royal Oak standards. You could call those people "copy editors." (One of them might have also pointed out that the last sentence in a paragraph only needs one period, not two, and that you don't usually follow a question mark with a comma, but that's getting into the rest of the article.)

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Streak and eggs: Spellcheck won't save you

Today's lesson in editing basics: Spellcheck is a tool, not a colleague. Ask it whether you spelled anything wrong in the hed above, and it's not going to go out of its way to say "No, but ..."

Speaking of which: What's the latest from Iraq, Fair 'n' Balanced Network?

In addition, a senior U.S. official said the effort to retake the damn is mostly a Kurdish Peshmerga operation.

When you're dealing with human prose, there's no substitute for the human brain. If you wouldn't ask a screwdriver to do your thinking for you, why rely on a computer?


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Editing basics: Let me be your salty dog

 How salty were those fries, Nation's Newspaper of Record?

Because of an editing error, an article on Thursday about the elimination of reduced-fat French fries in some Burger King outlets misstated the number of stores that decided to eliminate the item, called Satisfries. It is slightly fewer than 5,000, not about 7,500. The article also misstated the amount of sodium in Satisfries and regular fries. Satisfries have 300 milligrams of sodium, not 300 grams; regular fries have 480 milligrams, not 480 grams.

We'll be reviewing some of the basic rules of copy editing in the weeks ahead (there is, after all, a new semester closing in), so here's one to start with: Whenever you see two numbers, do something with them. That doesn't mean you should turn every proportion into a percentage, or every mean into a median, at first sight. It should suggest that your first reaction upon seeing a number -- let's say, "six" -- in a news story shouldn't be "omg SIX!!!!!" Rather, you should look the number, and the person waving it at you, squarely in the eye and ask: Six of what?

In this case, you might be asking: What does 300 grams of something mean in real money? Whether you get to the answer by flipping open your stylebook or by looking things up on the Googles, you're going to arrive in a similar place: An order of regular fries doesn't come with a pound of salt, even if all the weight of salt came from sodium by itself.

Broadly speaking, there's little you can do as a copy editor that's more valuable than to have some suspicion about the things you're looking at. It's risky to overstate the role of common sense, but here, it's a rather good starting point.

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