Thursday, March 12, 2020

Cause and effect

How can you tell whether the president's remarks from the previous day were behind today's stock market's performance? At the Fair 'n' Balanced Network, it looks pretty easy. Market happy (Tuesday), it's "Trump's coronavirus proposals"; market sad(Thursday), it's those global fears gripping Wall Street.

If you read past the headlines (frankly, when we write 'em so well, why should you?), you might get a slightly different view:

U.S. equity markets cratered Thursday after President Trump suspended travel from Europe for 30 days in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

One could go on all day about Fox and framing and infectious diseases, but then we'd be writing a paper.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Please look at the damn nameplate

The local fishwrap -- one of the two that have "Detroit" in the nameplate, should you be scoring along at home -- covers the impact of the coronavirus on your major institutions of higher learning. There's your Michigan State in the lede, your U of M in the second graf, and, if you hang on for the eighth, EMU (in Ypsi).

Where's Detroit? Interesting question, given that one of the state's RU/VH universities (the old Carnegie R1 classification) is right there in midtown, a couple blocks -- actually cattycorner, if you count the Grad School offices -- from the art museum whose support is on the local ballot today. We're still a fairly commuter-heavy campus, but a big university is more than students (or people peering into microscopes, or people teaching large lecture classes), even if there are 27,000 or so of them. It's also people who open the buildings and clean the offices and staff the libraries -- kind of a hit on commuting, food service, day care, and all sorts of other stuff that goes on in big cities as well as quaint college towns, should there be a major change. One might think it worth the attention of the (ahem) local newspaper.

The issue seems to come up whenever there's a big snowfall: the press pays attention to the schools with big football stadiums and lots of graduates in the legislature, but the ones within the city limits can sit there and wait for alerts on their phones and the next round of traffic and weather on the eights. Social responsibility is an oddly distributed characteristic.

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Thursday, March 05, 2020

Left hand, right hand

When the 6A jump from your 1A politics story says something about a candidate's plans -- say, "Biden hasn't scheduled an appearance in the state ahead of next Tuesday's balloting" -- it's perfectly all right to give your left hand a little bit of a clue on what thy right hand doeth on the facing page:
One of the beauties of the factory model of journalism is that at some point, both of these items should have passed the same spot on the assembly line, at which someone's job it is to make sure that "Tigers 6, Sox 5" in the 1A teaser is still "Tigers 6, Sox 5" by the time we get to the sports front -- or "nope, no Biden" on 6A is still "nope, no Biden"on 7A. War on Editing-wise, that once-vital position is now pretty far forward of the main line of resistance.

Journalism textbooks have often had a tendency to overstate the risks to credibility created by small deviations from the beaten path, particularly in the secret handshakes of the stylebook: No, your audience will not actually flee to the competition in droves should you choose to abbreviate "Rd.," in blatant violation of AP style. (I haven't tested it yet, but I'd be interested in knowing whether Real People aren't more confused by -- or, more precisely, whether they don't see a greater inconsistency in -- the mandate that "Ave." be abbreviated with a numbered address but spelled out otherwise.) Credibility tends to be less granular; here are the scales we used to index it in a study last year:

well trained vs. poorly trained
accurate vs. inaccurate
can be trusted vs. can’t be trusted (α = .913, if you're scoring along at home)

In a vacuum, it's hard to claim that cutting some position -- or taking a step out of the assembly line -- is an economically irrational decision, rather than a cost-benefit calculation that we happen to disagree with. And it is a truth certain that there were blunders -- ghastly, incredible, textbook-worthy blunders -- in the glory days of full staffing and vigilant slotting. But there are examples that make a case for building a few steps back into the process before it all degenerates to (in Roy Greenslade's term) "copy thrown online with a photo." This is one.

And for dessert, there's this perfect Thumb Lede* atop the 1A part of the story:

* Meaning, for the uninitiated, that you can place your thumb over the lede with no impact on readibility or comprehension of the following story.

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Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Elongated unsolicited diet advice

So, two questions that we seem to ask every year around this (Western calendar) time:

1) How long will it take the Freep to copy-paste its annual list of  "things you should know about paczki"?

2) And how long until the Freep breaks its own prescriptive rule on the singular?

OK, you peeked. The answers are "six paragraphs" and "not long at all." (Hint: If you say "a paczki," it's singular, no matter how many annoying, tired, over-hyphenated modifiers show up between the article and the noun.) Nonetheless, a few changes from previous years:

No elongated yellow fruit this year! Specifically, no "beloved jelly-filled and calorie-laden Polish pastries"; no "nummy waistline-busters." No insistence that "'paczkis' is not a word" (if you can spell it, that's a pretty sure sign that it's a word, whether you like it or not). In that light, an interesting tweak to #3: This year's "paczki are thought of" vs. last year's "the paczki is thought of."

McCartney-preposition-wise, I see the no-singular-paczki rule as a strange hill on which to plant one's flag on. If you're cool with "bedouins" (to stay among languages you can see on signage in Hamtown), you shouldn't have a complaint with "paczkis."

While we're at it: Don't do a comma splice in the hed if you don't have to (and you don't). Please proof the copy before you print it; if that's meant to be a force-hyphen at right there, it didn't take. If we've managed to get through the rest of the edition without Frenchifying "Fat Tuesday," I'm not sure there's a need to start now. And is there a reason for shifting from justified to ragged type in the same story?

The editor's work is never done. I'll take a custard.

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Saturday, February 15, 2020

Rotund yellow fruit

The Elongated Yellow Fruit* is only the beginning! Stay tuned for the existential threat:

Over two pages, Markay and Suebsaeng explain that Trump would interrogate his former chief of staff Reince Priebus about the black, white and grey creatures.

The questions would arise at such opportune moments as “when Priebus was attempting to brief the president on matters of healthcare initiatives, foreign policy, or Republican legislative agenda”, they wrote.

“Are they mean to people?” Trump reportedly asked Priebus, perhaps thinking of badgers’ very long claws, which they use to dig the burrows that make their home. “Or are they friendly creatures?”

Trump would also demand to see photos of badgers, ask Priebus to give details on how badgers “work”, and wanted to know if they had a “personality” or were boring.

Priebus was also called upon to explain “how the critters function and behave, what kind of food they like, and how aggressive or deadly they could be when presented with perceived existential threats”. 

Sounds like he's asking whether badgers could get Mexico to pay for WALL if they said "caravans!!1!!11!1!!!" often enough. Securitization theory isn't clear on that, but that doesn't mean it's not a good question.

* Thanks to Q. Pheevr, from the northeastern reaches of Our Southern Neighbor. 

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Saturday, February 08, 2020

2 Dacron women feared missing

It's Scary Foreign Disease Day at the local fishwrap: Coronavirus stories on the first three pages! Shall we see how we did?

OK, the front page is going to be all Dacron Republican-Democrat. How about that feature hole on 2A?

Well, that has some elements of risk communication. That sweet news spot at the top of 3A?

Maybe there's some news in the back somewhere ... wait, there it is!
True, no one picks up the morning paper (which I read as a pdf anyway; it's almost always available in the morning) for the latest developments. Could we have at least a little effort, though, at getting the depth and substance a little farther forward?

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What a drag it is getting old

Having pointed out on Tuesday that Iconic Band Iz Iconic, could the local fishwrap -- having moved the story to the front for Friday -- simply report that the Stones are going to play downtown in June? No, guess not.

Perhaps someone could have read the front page and thus saved some space in the 5C gossip column by not including another announcement of the tour:
You could almost be forgiven for wondering why it took the Sterling Heights Halo just a year to become an icon on 2A:

Remember, every time you delete "iconic," an angel tucks a cigarette into the peghead and hits "Satisfaction."

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Thursday, February 06, 2020

Nil nisi bonum, unless ...

Wow, it must be genuinely low -- "classless," if you must -- to speak ill of the newly diagnosed. Right, Fair 'n' Balanced Network?

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., slammed Rush Limbaugh, who was recently was* diagnosed with cancer, as a “racist" on social media late Tuesday, saying he “cheapens” the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

AOC didn’t attend President Trump's State of the Union address, claiming it would have legitimized what she saw as lawless conduct under his administration. But she offered her thoughts on Limbaugh receiving the honor to her 4.2 million Instagram followers with a streaming video.

Well, that was then (as in "the No. 5 story on the Wednesday morning
homepage). This is now (to wit, "the No. 5 story on the Thursday morning homepage"). At least, it would be if Fox hadn't thought better of picking up a Page 6 tale from its Murdoch bedmates at the Post:

State Farm on Wednesday claimed actress Shannen Doherty is just looking for sympathy — and a payout to get her California home repaired — by announcing her terminal stage 4 cancer diagnosis.

Fox's updated story is a bit different:

Shannen Doherty's attorney is dismayed by State Farm Insurance's claim that the actress is using her terminal cancer diagnosis as a way to garner "sympathy" in her lawsuit against the company.

Fox is certainly on familiar ground in American journalism; one of the most pertinent observations about the First Amendment is that it doesn't distinguish marching behind the Nazi flag from burning the American one.** (Not that AOC is in flag-burning territory here; she isn't -- for example -- casting doubt on Limbaugh's diagnosis, though that would be one out of the Limbaugh playbook.) We can't cast Fox and its friends into the pit of not-journalism, but we can avail ourselves of every opportunity to hold them up to public ridicule and contempt. Please do.

* Fox doesn't go in much for editing, so it's nice to see a zombie rule edited into the patient here.
** Schauer, F. (2005). The exceptional First Amendment. In Ignatieff, M. (ed.) (2005). American exceptionalism and human rights. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.