Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Silver anniversary

No, not that one.* But 2008 did mark an editing milestone of sorts for Your Editor: 25 years since I last had to count a hed by hand. And 2008 was also the year -- coincidentally, unless you're an Unseen Hand member and have a quota to meet -- I finally stopped teaching that fine, entertaining and thoroughly useless skill to editing students.

One of the Rules of Cool at my first shop was that if you actually wrote out the hed and counted it on paper, you weren't ready to play with sharp objects. You memorized the L-I-F-T formulae and tallied up all the counts, half-counts and count-and-a-halfs in your head, then you typed the result on a manual typewriter and put it on the hed hook in composing. Heds came in 6-point steps (except for the skip from 14 to 18 and the leap from 36 to 48), so there was no adjusting by half a point until things fit. If you wanted to tweak the spacing, you did it with an X-Acto or a single-edge razor blade (careful; bleeding on a near-completed page is very, very bad form).

So imagine how nice it was to encounter a front-end system that not only justified text in whatever width you wanted but told you whether your hed efforts were 1 UNDER or 2 OVER or -- we all thought the punctuation was a cheery touch -- ** LINE FULL!! **. More stuff done, less time, less blood: why go back?

But I've always taught the Old Ways, partly on grounds that people should know what to do in a power failure** but mostly -- in retrospect -- out of sheer walk-to-school-uphill-in-the-snow-both-ways-ishness. Until last semester, when I decided there were better things to do with that chunk of time if the goal was to produce competent heds by the end of the month. And the sky did not darken.

Thus, because it's almost time to launch a new semester, the biennial semiannual twice-a-year audience participation question: What's one thing we should all stop teaching this semester?

Everyone is welcome to join in: editors, victims of editing, J-profs and students, interested observers from the outside world. Hit the comment button and play.

* Not all that far, though, if you're wondering what to do with all those extra Stellings, AKs and cases of bordeaux that the kids are always tripping over.
** What they'll do is sit there. Can't write heds if you can't read stories.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe specific to business writing, but how about: Stop giving the city where a company's headquarters is located at the first mention of the firm's name, unless the location of the HQ is relevant to the story. Most of the time it isn't, and if the readers care, they can look it up easily. (Besides, they're most likely reading your story on the Web; there should just be a link from the name that goes somewhere with more detailed information. That's what the Web is all about!)

(There's a business reporter here -- broadcast rather than print -- who is always talking about "Talbots of Hingham" and "TJX Companies of Framingham" and "Boston Scientific of Natick". I say, "As opposed to Boston Scientific of where, exactly?" Even for local companies, the precise location of their HQ matters little to most business stories. I hope your local instantiation of Freep doesn't describe Ford as "the Dearborn-based company" on second reference.)

1:23 AM, January 08, 2009  
Blogger Strayhorn said...

Just recently I unpacked and admired all the tools from Ye Olde Dayes - the flexible ruler I used to neatly tear wire copy into story-sized chunks, my brass (!) pica pole (best back-scratcher ever invented), and of course the proportion wheel for resizing fotos.


Anyway, since I have no idea what's being taught nowadays (and avoiding the joke of saying that evidence points to nothing being taught) I'd hope that whoever is teaching academic English would stop. Just this morning I had to parse this sentence:

"(Students communicate) in a manner that is not conceptualized as “virtual” and thus not “real”, but rather as a digital exchange of cultural norms and their transgressions broadly conceived."

I've been translating academic English for more than 20 years now, but that sentence stumps me. Geebus.

8:14 AM, January 08, 2009  
Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Please, stop teaching that "While most agree the earth is round, there are some who say that it's flat" constitutes balanced reporting.

Not that I think you do, but obviously someone does!

9:43 AM, January 08, 2009  
Anonymous Andy Bechtel said...

I had been reconsidering the segment on layout (or design, if you must). It was harder to fit it into a semester that was getting crowded with online headlines, slideshows and other Web matters.

Yet I keep hearing about how copy editors are being pressed back into the layout role as a result of the staff reductions. So even as newshole (and print generally) shrinks, I feel the need to retain this part of my editing course.

11:55 AM, January 08, 2009  

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