Thursday, September 02, 2010

Stop press: Editor denounces text!

So the new editing class met for the first time this evening, and Your Editor found a few examples from the morning fishwrap to enliven the usual opening sermon -- you know, we have done things we ought not to of have done, and we have left undone things we ought to have done, and we need to reverse that in a hurry if we ever expect ours to become a paying craft again Amen.

Amid the usual cascade of dumb headlines, bizarre sexism and reminders of why you never type anything on the screen that you don't want to see in print was the excerpt above, from a brief about street closings for the upcoming Arts, Beats and Eats festival.* It makes sense if you know the area (still more or less as it was laid out in the 1830s) and your brain doesn't mind shifting at random between north-south and east-west streets. But it struck me as a real editing failure, in that nobody asked why that particular chunk of information was a couple of paragraphs, rather than a map.

Here's a representation from Google that shows you exactly the area in question. (Extend it a few blocks west to Woodward if you really need another major surface road.) Shouldn't the craft of "omitting needless words" include asking the degree to which any story is a "word" story at all? Should that be the sort of question editors raise?

Glad you asked, because that means we can look at what the editors were doing for Thursday's paper:

"Cherry tomatoes don't grill well," Gabriel says. "Pick firm and meaty vegetables with a low-moisture content, and make sure the vegetables are compatible with the meat."

That's not the sort of things writers do to themselves. That's an editor who doesn't have time to spend figuring out what the sentence is saying but knows that evil awaits those who fail to follow THE RULES about hyphenating compounds before nouns. So without regard to whether the idea was fine as it was (all vegetables have a moisture content, and we want the ones with a low moisture content), the robot brain strikes, and we lurch into the hunt for vegetables with lots of that low moisture in 'em.

You can see why, when we plunge into grammar next week, we're going to start with diagramming, rather than with manic screaming about hyphens.

* Owing to the victory last month by a bunch of strident open-carry loonies who demanded assurances that they could flaunt their sidearms amid the beer, noms and music, the fest will henceforth be known as Arts, Shoots and Leaves. Please make a note of it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would love to see what your intro lectures actually look like. Does WSU have any sort of OpenCourseWare-equivalent?

2:39 AM, September 03, 2010  
Blogger fev said...

We have yet to delve that deep, for better or worse. If you look at the department home page, you can find a couple of us babbling about our work.

10:34 PM, September 10, 2010  

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