Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Do the math, somebody

Today's lesson in the basics of copyediting comes from the ever-reliable foxnews.com (at this rate, Fox is going to get co-authorship credit any day now). And the lesson is DTFM, or Do The Math.

One thing that means is "whenever you see two numbers, do something to 'em." But it also means looking for implied numbers -- the ones that have to be true for the claim in a piece of text to be true. Those are the ones that get you, because the sort of obit that has the decedent fighting in a war that ended when he was 5 years old won't usually come with all the numbers placed in convenient (1950-1953) parentheses.

So the sample above requires a little work. You'd have to look up when Old Strom died, and how old he was when he joined the said choir invisible, and work backward to how old he was when he was born.* Or you could find his Senate biography and look up the date of birth there. Then you could look up when the War of the Recent Unpleasantness ended. Before too long, you're going to reach the conclusion that whatever else you want to pin on Old Strom, he came along a little too late to have been a slaveowner. As his appearance in news texts in this very millennium might have already suggested.

Fox makes it easy on us, but rare is the news organization that hasn't wished for a retrospective DTFM on one that got through.

* If your answer for this one is "0," you can skip this week's quiz.


Blogger Tom said...

Dirty little secret of newspapers is we're losing journalists as fast as we're losing readers, if not faster. Especially on the copy desk.

1:58 PM, March 01, 2007  
Blogger fev said...

We're still doing our best to send 'em out. And I'd be happy if we leavened all the talk about new media with some reminders of the importance of print editors. Sometimes I'm at a loss for what we else we can do.

5:29 PM, March 01, 2007  
Blogger Doug Fisher said...

We here in Stromolina believe he predated the Recent Unpleasantness -- if you ever had to interview the man, you truly did wonder whether the bio was correct, or whether they were fudging on his birthdate (by about 100 years).

12:51 PM, March 02, 2007  

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