Friday, September 29, 2006

Slots are your friends

... and if one isn't handy, any fresh pair of eyes will do. As in:

Principal shot at Wisconsin school

Put the prepositional phrase before the verb and you won't leave readers asking whether he (or she) hit it. There's nothing wrong with restoring the "is," either.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Just buy him a map, somebody

Matthews -- I was speaking to the Kiwanis Club of Matthews last week about the birth of Neighbors of Southern Mecklenburg when the question came out of left field:

Do I think a newspaper section like ours contributes to the Balkanization of the community? Yes, they used a word more often heard at the U.N. than the Township Grille at lunch.

In focusing solely on one side of town, are we fragmenting the broader Mecklenburg area in a way that leads people to care only about themselves and their side of the street?

This wasn't the first time in the Neighbors' brief existence that the concern was raised, though it was the first time someone brought it up to me by using a geopolitical term sometimes applied to the breakup of the former Soviet Union.

Well, sometimes. But that seems the less likely choice, considering that it's a reference to countries and events on the, um, Balkan Peninsula and dates to early in the previous century. With about five minutes in a decent database (HEADSUP-L is all about economy of force, and five minutes is generous), the writer could also have discovered that "Balkanization" has been used in connection with urban-suburban issues for easily a couple of decades.

Alas, questions of that sort don't go over well when raised by the copydesk. They tend to be greeted by disdainful grumbling about the Writer's Voice, the copyeds' lack of imagination, and stuff like that. And the blunders go in the paper for people to make fun of.

[this post has now been edited to prevent the spread of boneheadedness, which was the fault of the original poster. where is the slot when you need one?]

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Lede of the (dwindling) month

Without further ado:

Sleep well, Columbia. An alleged purse-grabbing girl gang is in custody.

The raw Shakespearean majesty of it just kind of slaps one across the face, dunnit?

Oh, all right. Here's another taste:

After three late-night downtown capers, which included pushing victims down and grabbing their bags, Naughty Teen I, 17, and Naughty Teen II, 18, were arrested by Columbia police yesterday.

Good night, John-Boy.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Battiest story of the (no longer young) year: Nominations open!

This next tale doesn't unlock the entire secret inner chamber of media cluelessness. But it does shed light on lots of the different things that can and do get out of tune between the first spark of an idea and the final product that lands in a puddle near your doorstep.

Some particularly amusing (and sharp) questions have been raised of late about how errors happen and when and how they get fixed (or not). One of the entertaining things about this one is that almost nothing in it is correctably "wrong." Generally a correction requires a story that says X, whereas 1/X or Y or some other not-X is actually the case: We said the mayor was indicted on three counts of second-degree bestiality, but the court record shows it was two counts of third-degree bestiality. Sorry!

Conceptual errors, meaningless constructs cooked up for the occasion, statistical fabrications, and blithe ignorance of context, on the other hand, don't generally get corrected because they aren't provably "wrong" in the X vs. not-X sense. Hence, corrections tend to look like this:

In a brief report, Cows moo with an accent etc, page 10, August 23, we quoted John Wells, professor of phonetics at the University of London, as saying, "This phenomena is well attested in birds." He assures us that what he said was the correct: "This phenomenon is well attested in birds."

Given the chance, Prof. Wells would probably rather have assured the Guardian (and Press Association and the Beeb) that however well the phenomenon is attested in birds, cows do not moo with a freaking accent. He puts it a bit more politely:

I told them that I thought it was highly unlikely, but that there had been serious research showing that various species of bird exhibit geographical variation in their calls. And if birds and human beings have local accents, you can’t entirely rule out that cows might too.

So the surface error is corrected -- yes, professor knows singular from plural -- but the underlying PR fabrication, which relies on ignoring the context of the bird-call comment, goes unchallenged.

Anyway, on to today's specimen. It started life as the No. 4 entry on the "news digest," AP's capsule description of the top current and upcoming stories, moving about 1:45p Friday for Saturday ayems. The AP sent half a dozen takes between about 4 and 10p Eastern time, but that's not what readers see. This is news in its natural setting: An edited version, and it looks like a pretty early one, from a major regional daily (it'll take a few days for Lexis-Nexis to get a handle on how many papers ran it, but that will be worth tracking too).

U.S. war deaths now equal 9-11 toll
2,973 dead in conflicts initiated as an answer to people killed here

WASHINGTON -- Now, the death toll is 9-11 times two.

U.S. military deaths from Iraq and Afghanistan now match those of the most devastating terrorist attack in America's history, the trigger for what came next.

See a couple of pretty massive assumptions building up here? One, that deaths in war vs. deaths in the event that precipitated war is a valid measure of something, and two, that these are somehow all the same war. That's not falsifiable, in the sense that opinions aren't falsifiable, but it's a pretty strong ideological marker for a news agency to be laying down. (Reminder to editors: A blunder might be the AP's (or McClatchy Washburo's) fault, but when you hit the "send" button and the plate is cut and the press rolls, you own it too.)

The latest milestone for a country at war comes without commemoration.

It also might come without knowing exactly who is the 2,973rd man or woman of arms to die in conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, or just when it happens. The terrorist attacks killed 2,973 victims in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

Whoa. We know it's happened, but we don't know when it's going to happen? [Matters get worse a hair after 10p, when the 5th lede -- broadly, the fifth revision, or sixth version, of the story --notes that the milestone has been passed: It came without the precision of knowing who was the 2,974th to die in conflict. ... The Pentagon reported Friday the latest death from Iraq, an as-yet unidentified soldier killed a day earlier after his vehicle was hit by a roadside bombing in eastern Baghdad. It sounds, in short, as if we know exactly who and where, even if the name hasn't been released yet.]

This is not the first time that a war that was started to answer death has resulted in at least as much death for the country that was attacked first.

AP original: "Not for the first time, war that was started to answer death has resulted in at least as much death for the country that was first attacked, quite apart from the higher numbers of enemy and civilians killed." So the AP syntax has been de-purpled a little, but has any meaningful editing been done? Let's see.

Once your head stops spinning, unpack the construct a little. Since we're mentioning it, we obviously think it's a valid measure of something, but what exactly makes this variable important: War that's (1) "started to answer death" results in (2) "as much death" for (3) "the country that was attacked first"?

So the US civil war is right out (no Union KIA at Fort Sumter), since it wasn't started to "answer death"? How about that pesky World War I? It must have crossed the line with the first two Austro-Hungarian combat deaths (equaling Franz Ferd and his morganatic frau). Do any wars that meet condition 1 not also meet 2 and 3? Or are colorless green ideas asleep furiously at the switch again?

The body count from World War II was far higher for Allied troops than for the crushed Axis. Americans lost more military personnel in a succession of Pacific battles than the 2,390 people who died at Pearl Harbor -- the attack that made the U.S. declare war on Japan.
The U.S. lost 405,399 in the theaters of World War II.

First, somebody should remind the AP that World War II was well under way for some years before Pearl Harbor. And yes, the Allies had more combatant deaths than the Axis (and about twice as many troops mobilized). But our writer's playing apples and oranges. Take out Soviet KIAs -- Moscow wasn't a part of the US war with Japan, after all -- and the picture's quite different. Japan had about five times as many battle deaths as the United States (1.5 million to 292,000, per Dupuy and Dupuy; AP appears to be counting both battle and nonbattle deaths among troops) and three times as many as China. Germany had less than half the Soviet total ("proving" the point?) but more than three times the combined US-British-French total (guess not).

We've got a lot of numbers thrown solemnly about here, but not the faintest idea of what they mean or what points they do or don't support. That lends a certain poignancy to the graf (deleted here) that the AP uses to set up the following quote. "Now this," the AP intones. To which the reader is justified in replying: "Now what?"

"There's never a good war, but if the war's going well and the overall mission remains powerful, these numbers are not what people are focusing on," said Julian Zelizer, a political historian at Boston University. "If this becomes the subject, then something's gone wrong."

He has a point, but -- as with Prof. Wells above -- it's worth wondering whether he and the AP are talking about the same thing. Are "these numbers" the ongoing cost in US lives or the spurious correlation between the civilian cost of a terrorist attack and the cost in military deaths of a related war and one whose stated purpose (depending on which way the wind was blowing) was rather, um, different?

Concluding sermon: Deaths in these wars are worth our notice (probably moreso than one would judge from their play in the press generally). Made-up statistics aren't. Surely there was some news somewhere from Iraq or Afghanistan that could have used this space to actually further public understanding.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Assorted hed offenses

Without further ado:

Accused molester may enter guilty plea
Indeed he may. And then again, maybe he won't. Why not stick to what you know, which is that he's scheduled for a change of plea hearing, rather than guessing -- that's the technical term -- about what he might be intending to do there?

Should he be acquitted, of course, we look forward to the hed that calls him "acquitted molester."

Man may face death in child's killing
Absolutely! And then again, maybe he won't! In lots of jurisdictions, the suspect actually has to be convicted before this becomes an issue. Here's a suggestion: Buy a Ouija board and a funny cloak. Go to the county fair and pick up some spare change by making stuff up about the future. When you get back to the office, write about things that you know. Try to leave us with the impression that you're doing journalism, not PR for the prosecutor's office.

Feds vote to leave rates level, for now
Feds link timing of dinner, Geddings' selection
Uh, no. In the first case, the common shorthand for the Federal Reserve is the "Fed," not the "Feds." In the second, "Feds" -- like "moniker," "moolah" and the like -- is annoyingly faux-retro. Sort of the equivalent of "G-men," but not nearly as cool. If you can't stick to your own decade, at least try to stick to your own century.

When do you issue an Amber Alert?
"Short answer?" the argus-eyed Florida bureau chief asks of this 1A lede hed. "I don't." She has a point, don't you think?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Bizarro reefer of the (still-young) week

Here's a pretty striking example of News Routines Gone Awry -- in this case, the sometimes laudable goal of giving interested readers a quick hint on where to find related stories running headlong into a strikingly bad sense of what stories are about and how to determine what they have to do with each other.

The point of concern is the glorified reefer parked at midpage right, under the lede story. It's trying to wrap up all the latest papal gaffe developments without actually marring the front page with that annoying international news. (Longtime readers might recall the paper's experiment with a similar approach in 1990; the more things change, and all that.)

In case you can't enlarge it and read it (we're so far unable to upload a tighter shot of the item itself), there's a photo of a demonstration in Pakistan over the hed "Protests continue to rage against pope." The content consists of three grafs, or about one badly written brief; the concept is relying on the reefers (the "Inside" rail in the package) to take the reader to actual coverage appearing on facing pages inside.

Trouble is, nobody seemed to have asked a fairly fundamental question: Do the stories we're referring to have doodly-boo to do with the photo, hed and text on the front? You make the call:

Vatican deploys diplomats in an effort to contain anger over pope's comments/4A

Islamist rebels suspected in failed bid to assassinate Somalia's president/4A

White House revising its proposal for dealing with terrorism suspects amid resistance from lawmakers/5A

One for three. The first one's obviously direct kin. (Though it makes you wonder: Is there not a complete story somewhere, dripping with that pesky context, about the actual shades of reaction in the "Muslim world"?)

The second one, no. We seem to have confused a grisly individual murder (the shooting of a nun, in another city, which might end up being related to the issue at hand, though nobody knows) with a full-blown attempt to do away with a head of state or government -- sort of like mistaking JonBenet Ramsey for JonFitzgerald Kennedy.

And the third: Whatever you guys are smoking, one hopes you brought enough to share with the rest of the class. On what planet could these two stories possibly be related?

Unless, of course, Islamic anger at the pope is somehow related to anything in the world that has Muslims in it. In which case, where's the reefer to the Iranian soccer team? Nothing about the FBI's latest bumble in Havana-on-the-Hinkson? No room for the V&A's "Palace and Mosque"?

Time for our designer friends to chime in: Design is meant to organize, not decorate. Design serves content.

[Editor's note: Nicole's complaint below suggests that the above is aimed at the designers and that the aforementioned blunder is presumptively their fault. HEADSUP-L is happy to affirm that this is not the case; designers are by no means the chief suspects, and we ask that they not take offense.]

[Given the inept phrasing of the original post, though, one can see how they drew that conclusion. It is worth noting, as our good buddy Benny XVI has probably concluded, that while readers can't be expected to know what you meant, they often have a pretty good idea of what you said.]

Don't go out of your way, in short, to remind people you don't understand the news. They might think you mean it.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Why do the heathen rage?

Because some newspapers compound brainless news judgment with clueless writing? Yeah, something like that.

Let's review the bidding for a moment. Running a story about Local People who see divine manifestations in foodstuffs (or on kittens, alligators, or whatever seems to be at hand) is one thing. Running any and every such vision from around the country just because some idiot put it on the wire is a whole different level of sin entirely. And closing your eyes and imagining that words are interchangeable -- well, you and St. Peter are in for one very short discussion punctuated by your exit downstage.

There is, as always, a proximate cause:
[Editor's note: this post has been updated with a mug of the Virgin of the Pastries, from the originating paper. Tnx to alert readers who pointed out the fundamental lapse in news ethics]

Faithful gather around image of Mary formed in chocolate
Candy made shape as it dripped on floor, but some remain skeptical

Ho hum. Another day, another month-old tale of the Virgin showing up for dessert. This one, though, is different, as you'll notice from the deck. A short flip through the dictionary will suggest that "but" isn't Old English for "random guitar noise." It actually has a meaning -- in this case, "notwithstanding," "however" or something like that. In other words, even though the candy made a shape, some unbelievers cling to their frayed skepticism. Poor hellbound fools.

FOUNTAIN VALLEY, Calif. -- Cruz Jacinto found her faith in God in a 2-inch blob of chocolate, and she hasn't even tasted it.

Oops! Sorry. We thought this was the Stupid Lede Contest.

Jacinto is a kitchen worker at Bodega Chocolates' new store in Fountain Valley. In August, she showed up at work and found a figurine had formed under a drippy vat of dark chocolate in the test kitchen.

Jacinto pulled a tattered picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe from her pocket and held it next to the chocolate clump.

... Jacinto has been among the visitors who have prayed to the chocolatey idol since the shrine was set up near the gourmet chocolate shop's front door.

Don't put those dictionaries away yet, kiddies, because now we're going to look up "idol." And we're going to find "broadly, a false god." Or, more formally, "An image or similitude of a deity or divinity, used as an object of worship: applied to those worshipped by pagans, whence, in scriptural language, = false god." Now let's see how long it takes to find something really lurid from the Protestant ranks about the Roman Catholic concept of Mary.

Think it might suggest just a tad bit of bias on our part to go around calling the Romish hordes idolators? Especially since the hed declares them the "faithful"?

"I can't believe it," said Miguel Chapa, 32, who was cutting hedges in the business park and went inside to see why a crowd had formed. "It looks just like her. I can feel it."

Chapa said he planned to bring his wife and 4-year-old daughter to the shrine after work so they could feel it, too.

But this chocolate figure is particularly miraculous, said Martucci Angiano, owner of Bodega Chocolates. Chocolate that drips from the vat usually falls flat onto a sheet of wax paper.

There's that damn conjunction again. Chapa's going to bring the family to check the thing out. NEVERTHELESS, it's especially miraculous! Meaning (flip, flip, flip) ...

"Of the nature of a miracle; produced or effected by a miracle; not explicable by natural laws; supernatural."

So chocolate that drips into a pile is somehow not explicable by natural laws? (Ruling out gravity, one supposes.) Gang, we really ought to get together for a friendly game of chance someday. Meanwhile, if we want to do something with the whole credibility thing, maybe we can start by putting our resources into the mundane rather than the supernatural.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

This should be embarrassing

There's exactly one thing to like about the page at right, and that's the secondary hed on the lede story. It looks as if some lone copy editor stood on the burning deck and got off at least one good shot before the guns flooded out. Here it is:

Suspect in patient's death said victim stole her boyfriend, woman says detective told her

Which isn't going to win any prizes for Most Elegant Sentence (and if any of our linguist friends want to check in on whether it's even legal to stack up that many complementizer phrases in that order, go ahead). But it does make painfully clear that the story beneath is not just hearsay, but third-hand hearsay. Whence the speculation in the main hed? Well, somebody says a cop told her two people told him they overheard somebody say something (quick, ring up the Pulitzer committee). At least readers can't say they weren't warned.

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, the story's awful enough that everybody can be embarrassed and quite a few folks can have seconds. Let's start with the main hed:

Was grudge factor in death?

Maybe people will listen now that Jon Stewart has said it, but -- No, no and no again. The question mark is not a form of attribution. If our hope was to put the weight of this judgment on someone else, we failed.

Now, unlike the other question hed on the page, this one at least is grammatical, even if the syntax leads you to wonder what a "grudge factor" is. But it's also a "complex" question, meaning that any answer to it assumes the underlying truth of the embedded facts (as in: "Do you guys still do your ethics training at the National Enquirer?"). How do we know there's a grudge? Well, a source (by the time this strange bit of palmistry ran, it was "sources," but what the heck) said so.

Who doesn't seem to be the source for this lede, though. What the source here says the detective says two people said they overheard was "N is the woman who stole my boyfriend." How many ways can you complete that sentence?

"... and I hate her to this day."
"... and she saved me a lot of trouble, too."
"... 30 years ago. Good thing we got over that phase, huh?"

Could that be the grudge that the anonymous source (one hates to keep saying stuff like "This isn't Watergate," but: Constitutional crisis! High school grudge! You make the call!) said "has been festering for years"? It it is, we don't say. And if we want people to think we have some reason for implying it is, that's a really bad idea.

The story does appear to be, as proclaimed, "exclusive." But after you get past that juicy bit of context-free hearsay-hearsay-hearsay, there's not much but a rehash of the juicier allegations. Which rather strongly suggests that the paper has settled on the facts of the story -- HIGH SCHOOL GRUDGE LEADS TO MURDER 3 DECADES LATER! -- and can't be bothered with tawdry stuff like "news standards" or "presumption of innocence."

There was actually a lesson in the JonBenet Ramsey flap of a few weeks ago: When lurid accusations start flying, put the bar higher, not lower. Ask sharper questions of a story, not softer ones. Never let assumptions turn into facts.

As for the rest of the page: Hard to see how that pesky war in Iraq even rated a photo reefer with all the news going on. Nieman-Marcus opening here! Old-school rappers turn to Jesus! And the World's Baddest Homework Researcher says HOMEWORK BAD!

That hed, by the way, is not just wildly, flagrantly, skip-hop-and-wobbly ungrammatical. ("Homework: Helps mind or wastes time?") It's also a gross distortion of the story. It isn't even the non-question that the World's Baddest Homework Researcher -- did we just take the Post's word for that, or have the 2006 ratings been released already? -- didn't ask. His point seems to be that there are limits beyond which homework doesn't seem to help.

Try to do a bit better. Folks who are paying cash money for the thing might insist someday.

Wordsmiths with calculators

This just in from the ACES job list:

The ideal candidates are nitpickers who can see the big picture, grammarians who know the rules (and when to break them), wordsmiths who can operate a calculator, precisionists who can write a clever headline.

Which brings to mind this (1A Thursday):

The recently released results from the 2005 American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, show that the percentage of people living below the poverty level in Boone County is more than 6 percent higher, at 19.7, than in the rest of the state, where it is 13.3 percent.

First things first: The difference isn't "more than 6 percent," it's more than 48 percent. This one shows up on innumerable J4400 quizzes because -- exactly as advertised -- the distinction between "percent" and "percentage point" is going to try to sneak into the paper sometime in your first few weeks on the desk.

Subtract starting point from second number (19.7-13.3). Divide result by starting point (6.4/13.3=0.4812). Move decimal accordingly. Try it the other way to find out how much lower the statewide rate is: 13.3-19.7=-6.4. Divide by 19.7: -0.3249. The state rate is about 32 percent lower than the county's. Note that your eyeball-derived initial estimates agree: "About half" and "about a third."

Next: Why is the relevant information buried under two layers of attribution? Attribution ought to go first if we have some doubt about the data's provenance, say, or in a campaign lede that needs to make clear that a candidate is introducing or rebutting some particular concept. With no such case applying, put the news first:

The percentage of people living below the poverty line in Boone County in 2005 was almost 50 percent higher than the statewide level, newly released Census Bureau figures show.

Yes, there's a rule that says you don't go around rewriting ledes for the pure heck of it. The flip side of that rule is that when a lede needs help, somebody needs to step in. Be a wordsmith. Use your calculator.

While we're here: Yes, three "That's what ..." ledes in a semester is at least two too many. College-age women are "women," not "girls," even if they're on the Girls of MU calendar. And do the people in the centerpiece photos have anything to do with PANHANDLING?

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Lede of the (still-young) morning

There’s a pillar of salt coming to Columbia, and it’s not a message from an angry deity.
How do you follow an act like that?

The city of Columbia will pay Michigan-based Dome Corp. of North America nearly $816,000 to build a salt-storage facility capable of holding 5,000 tons of the snow-eating mineral ...

Anybody needs anything, I'll just be out in the garage, pounding nails into my skull.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Outsource this

Sorry for the long absence. We'll try to catch up with a few of the hot topics between swipes at the dissertation and its familiars.

Plenty of pointed thought and conversation about the possibility of chains' consolidating their desk work. In that context (not that we're holding our breath for the executive suites to pay attention), the great Kilroy-Silk case of early '04 is worth recalling -- a longtime BBC talk show host forced out of that position after writing a column full of anti-Arab racist twaddle for the Sunday Express.

Kilroy-Silk was the sort of deep thinker who mailed it in, literally, which is where the fun begins. According to the Guardian, he was in Spain when his secretary e-mailed the offending column to the paper. She didn't notice, and neither did anyone at the paper, that it was one that had run nine months earlier. And while "in April, sub-editors had made small but judicious alterations to tone down the article ... this time the tirade appeared in its full unsubtle glory."

Well, score one for the subs, for all the good that does. But why didn't anyone notice the repeat? Private Eye offered this explanation:

"Copy at the Sunday Express is not handled like that on other papers ... much of the down-table sub-editing has been shifted to Broughton in Lancashire, at the paper's printing works. This means that many of the staff responsible for rewriting contributors' work and providing headlines work more than 200 miles away from the editor, may not even have met him, and are far less likely to bring problems to his attention. Besides, they are so used to recycling material between [owner Richard] Desmond's various organs ... that there is an air of weary familiarity to much of the stuff they handle."

Sound like you want to centralize all your copyediting in some nice town where there's plenty of piecework help available?

Needless to say, there's no guarantee that on-site editors would have caught such a mistake. But a heads-in-the-game staff that reads the paper first thing on arriving at work and cares enough to complain about the columnists has a lot better chance, ya think?

Meanwhile, above is a piece of centrally edited copy showing up on a lot of McClatchy Web sites.
Have a look and see what sort of things you'd like to change or challenge -- broad conceptual issues, visual matters, typos, anything. Post comments as you see fit.

Missed opportunity

Community aide charged
in assault at Club Vogue

The grammar's in order, the split's all right, the facts appear (mostly) OK, but this is still a weak hed choice. Why? Read the lede: "A community services aide with the Columbia Police Department ..." Oh.

A hed has limited room for detail, and here it's spent in the wrong place: the club where the arrest was made, rather than what a "community aide" might be and why we might care. Try it this way:

Civilian police employee
accused of assault at club
The police connection -- the reason this story merits a big hed and midpage play on 3A -- is in the top line. "Charged in assault" assumes that there was an assault; "accused of ..." leaves open the possibility that there wasn't.

Look for words that count, not just words that fit.

And while we're at it:

Columbia police responded at about 1 a.m. and took Omboga into custody, releasing him on his own signature after questioning, Martin said.

This is a nice illustration of why "police responded" should never appear in a news story. If they took the guy into custody, it's pretty evident that they were there. Leave out the chronology and get to the point:

Omboga was arrested about 1 a.m. and released on his own signature after questioning, Martin said.

Chorus? That saves a line. Eight lines is an inch. An inch less foam means an inch more beer.

That had to hurt

Whether they are chopped and added to fresh salad, stewed and made into sauce or sliced and served cold, people love tomatoes.

The dangling participle (here's a nice example of how the offense is seen upcampus) is still near the top of Deadly Sins lists in skills classes because -- well, because sentences like this one keep cropping up in the morning paper. The "whether they are..." phrase gloms onto the subject, which is "people," not the object.

One could go on and on, but a few quick points:
1) Avoid cliche ledes like "People love tomatoes." They're sublimely irrelevant to people who love tomatoes and annoying to people who don't.
2) Editors, read as hard at the end as you do (or should have done) at the beginning. There's another dangler in the penultimate graf: "Only in its second year, Reinbott feels the festival has plenty of room to grow. "
3) Don't throw adjectives around at random. If the tomato is unique ("To celebrate the variety and taste of this unique fruit"), every fruit is unique.
4) Read copy before writing heds. If the point of the festival is tomatoes' variety, and we include a photo of some yellow ones, don't call 'em "red fruit" in the big type.
5) Make sure cutlines go with photos. They appear to be swapped in print.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Dive! Dive! Cow dialect alert

Copyeds, raise the red flag if you see this one on a bgt near you. It is, on the evidence, a clever bit of PR fakery that spread through much of the news world last month:

ANIMAL-ACCENTS -- BIDEFORD, England -- Everyone knows about the Southern drawl. Now, dairy farmers in southwestern England claim their cows are mooing with a regional accent.

With art, we are assured.

Remember, as a rule: If a story with CP-able art of cows demonstrating their intrusive "r" is, well, a crock, the correct response isn't "Yeah, but it's reader-friendly." The correct response is "Wow! Maybe we can fit an Iraq story in after all!"

Y'all come back, hear?
(I think a Sam Bideford was sort of like Wally Pipp to Peter Duck's Gehrig, but I could be wrong.)

*Alarum first raised at TCEs; speedy confirmation from a major Southeastern buro


Somebody's always figuring out something silly to do with it. Most of these have showed up with dismaying regularity through the decades, so let's make these the last of the semester.

First, heds:

Iraqi forces moving toward takeover (3A Thursday)
Tuition: Increases drive students away (8A Thursday, and for those who don't recall the style, the latter is Missourian style for jump heds, hence the colon and the change in weight)

In both cases, the hed turns an assertion from the text into a wholly different one in big type. It's undoubtedly true that the top U.S. commander in Iraq "expressed optimism Wednesday that Iraqi forces are making enough progress to provide their own security within 18 months." But that's a long way from turning that progress into an independently established fact, which the hed does. Similarly, in the second, a college president contends that tuition increases here are driving students to attend schools out of state. It seems sensible, to the extent that intuition is sensible, but he doesn't offer any evidence to support, and we don't seem to have any on our own.

Broken record time: Reporting the comments of public figures on public issues is part of the job. So is making sure the audience can trace the comments to the authority that made them. Sometimes missing attribution just looks silly. Other times it looks like propaganda.

Here's the graf the second hed is based on:
Nietzel pointed out that the decreases in state funding for higher education, and the resulting increase in tuition rates, are driving students to colleges and universities in other states.

The verbs you need for attributing direct or indirect quotes are twofold, and two shall be their number, for they are "said" and "asked" (it's OK to use transitive verbs with direct objects -- "she suggested bringing back the ducking stool" or "he explained the party's position on witch trials," but those aren't really attribution). "Added" is sometimes acceptable for variety, but beyond that, you're risking trouble. "Pointed out" (which appears twice in the story quoted above) and "noted" (in the story above it), for example, both give the weight of TRVTH to the assertion they're attached to and thus -- intentionally or not -- put the writer on the side of the source.

And finally, don't be led down the garden path of trying to declutter your lede by saving the attribution for later:

Boone County residents need longer hours of public transportation operation and geographically larger service areas.

That’s according to the Boone County Coordinated Transportation Study.
(1A Wednesday)

The rain last weekend wasn’t enough to help farmers with corn and soybeans, but it did help restore topsoil moisture and provide relief for drought-parched pastures.

That was the assessment on Monday by climatologist Pat Guinan of MU Extension.
(8A Thursday)

James Thurber made the folly of that clear some decades ago:


That's what the man was when they found him.

If you can't top that, don't try.