Friday, December 31, 2010

Judge Crater test-drives solar SUV

... contract with universe sets maximum summertime high temperature at 82F, and new brain transplant procedure promises to cure Teh Stupid! For surely, with all the Great Issues of the world resolved, can we make room for a little basketball.

Do not start with the "but ... but ... UK!" stuff.* There are other centers of the sporting universe, and some of them still manage to exercise a little vestigial news judgment. A basic truth remains: When you pull out the End of the World type in the preseason, you don't have a lot of headroom left if you should actually get to the championship.

By the way -- whoever wrote the "Let the ticketing begin" hed downpage? Take another lap.

* As best can be determined at this remove, here's the box from the first college basketball game Your Editor ever attended.

Metastatic editing fail

Q: Is there a justifiable reason -- you know, the sort of thing you'd tell Saint Peter as he was deciding whether your immortal soul was going to take the northbound or the southbound exit -- for writing a hed this dumb?
A: To ... take everybody's minds off the prose beneath?

I suppose that will have to do. So as the year draws to a close, let's suggest that newspapers around this great land of ours ponder a single omnibus resolution: Don't be stupid. That'll take care of the hed and almost anything under it.

Even before we proceed to the prose, you've learned something pretty definite from the hed. Sad to say, it was probably wrong. Death is sort of a one-time thing; drinking tends to be an ongoing process. We can investigate it for a long time before we even get around to what it might have to do with a death.

Whether the hed's even true is a different question. According to the story, he's already been charged with DWI, suggesting that a large part of the drink-probing is over. The hed writer's trying to pack a lot of signals into a verb that doesn't have enough room. But at least it takes your mind off the lede:

A vibrant young woman ends up facedown in the street fatally injured and the man she lived with is charged with drunken driving after what police say appears to be a domestic disagreement between the two.

See why we tell you to lay off the adjectives? Here are three problems with "vibrant":

1) I don't know what it means. I know what "complete" means in "complete stop," and I know what the adjectives are up to in "domestic disagreement" and "drunken driving." But this judgment is pretty opaque, which makes me wonder why you think your opinion is worth sharing with the world.
2) I don't know how you verified it, or whether you bothered to try. I expect that hypothesis-testing here would be grossly offensive. The easiest way to avoid that issue is to keep your value judgments to yourself.
3) I don't know how evenhandedly you plan to apply your judgments. Pardon me for suspecting that there's a correlation between (to be polite) victims' socioeconomic status and the sort of adjectives they get in news stories. If you want me to accept the null hypothesis here, you have some work to do.

And don't get me started on "young." The victim was 34. You can run for president at 35. This isn't just an inappropriate value judgment, it's an amazingly stupid one.

I'm actually going to spare myself the pain of cutting and pasting any more of this tale.* Please go read it yourself (noting the bad things that happen to well-intentioned newspapers when they run unedited swill from their corporate partners as if it was indeed "breaking news" 150 miles away). Then close your eyes and imagine a world in which there were layers of adults reading things before they were published.

* Got some cool books for Xpesmasse, and I'm going to go read one for a while. So there.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Lolcats of the 1950s

The fine folks at the Cheezburger Network have traced the history of the cat macro back to the late 1800s, but they don't seem to have run across any from this collection yet. It's a cool glimpse at promotional advertising from the middle of the 20th century.

The suture company Ethicon first produced the "Cat-a-log" in 1950 as a handout for doctors, nurses and hospitals (noting, of course, that the product in question doesn't actually use real catgut). As of this run (October 1957), some three-quarters of a million copies had been printed. The photos are by Walter Chandoha; most of the captions "were written by our friends in the nursing profession." So this is largely nurses LOLing at doctors, residents, interns, administrators and each other.

Most professions probably have a variation of the one shown here: I've asked everyone, doctor, but we just don't seem to have any Fallopian tubes! (A newspaper version from about the same time involved sending the new guy to fetch a pneumatic slug line.) Readers are encouraged to send in examples, anecdotes, or anything else that crosses their minds.

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Earhart, Hoffa in love nest

Common cold cured, world peace breaks out, new car runs forever on blend of angel tears and spiderwebs! Evidently, all the real news in the world has already happened, because -- oh, let's have a look.

The skybox is all sports, which isn't unusual, but the big Monday rail is pretty barren as well: a retrospective, some weather, some features, and some teasers. Snow -- OK, it's Charlotte, so zomg SNOW!!!! -- makes sense as a centerpiece, but we basically have two takes on the same story here: Wow, the snow made it hard to get to the mall on Sunday! Wow, the snow might make it hard to get to work on Monday! At the bottom of the page, football players moonlight as film critics! Concert tickets won't be as expensive as they were last year!

Next time you hear someone yammering about the liberal news agenda, bear in mind that this is what it usually looks like. No paeans to the death panels. No veiled promotions of the Ground Zero Mosque and its cunning imam. No bank shots in which X defends Y for not denouncing Z's gaffe quickly enough. No attempts to provide the pictures to stir up the Third War* of the publisher's choosing. Just fluff -- fluff top to bottom, interrupted by five to eight inches of Fluffy White Stuff.

It'd be interesting to see what liberal** news might be, but first, someone's going to have to run some news.

* Don't miss Media Myth Alert's dissection of today's NYT cluelessness (and see how long the Times takes to quote its favorite pop-culture expert).
** You shouldn't take this too literally as a political label, but the Observer is actually a fairly good example of what it means to be "left-wing" in American press terms. It represents Presbyterian bankers who think segregation is immoral, rather than just bad for business. Don't expect it to get too exercised about unlawful wars of aggression or the lack of a public option for health care or stuff like that.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Relative clause of the (still-young) week

In case you'd forgotten, the Fair 'n' Balanced editing team has a reminder for you:

BEAUFORT, South Carolina -- Things are looking up for Gov. Mark Sanford, who famously had affair with an Argentine woman, as he prepares to leave office on his own terms more than a year after the international affair that derailed his once-promising political career.

Funny, the Soros-funded Maoist-Leninist AP seems to have thought that "international affair" was enough:

BEAUFORT, S.C. (AP) — Things are looking up for Gov. Mark Sanford as he prepares to leave office on his own terms more than a year after the international affair that derailed his once-promising political career.

It's almost like trying to decode the syntax of a phishing scheme: If the "famously" and the missing article didn't give away the robot source, there's the backward order of details. AP reliably goes general to specific ("international" to "Argentine"), not the other way around.

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Sunday, December 26, 2010

'Clueless' becomes an active verb

Still six shopping days left to kill the AP's year-in-review tale, kids!

As usual, your favorite news agency is using the first-person plural to breathlessly string together a bunch of unrelated events and inane observations into a largely fictional Trend. This year, it's "watching." If you need a single reason to spike the thing outright, try this:

Americans have watched together before, of course - the assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald, the moon landing, the Challenger exploding, the earliest bombings of the first Gulf War, O.J. Simpson in his Bronco. But somehow, stealthily, watching has become an active verb.
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Friday, December 24, 2010

Because nothing says Christmas ...

... like "Kittehs vs. Trains: How the Midwest Was Won."

And with that, your originating station goes into holiday mode. A safe, warm and merry Christmas (along with any and all other holidays you're enjoying) to you all from me, Czarina, Woodchuck (right)* and Bernie.

Regular transmissions resume shortly.

* Stormy, husky, brawling. Kitty of the Big Shoulders. Bernie's sitting next to his favorite heat register pretending not to know any of us.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

I'm dreaming of a .... no,don't, sorry

You could see the drama building all week at the Foremost Newspaper of the Carolinas, couldn't you?

Latest forecasts ... whiter than ever
The latest computer model runs -- from midday -- are in, and they continue to paint a snowy picture in the Charlotte area and elsewhere across the Carolinas for the second half of Christmas Day.

White Christmas? Ask the computers

Yes, the National Weather Service forecast is mentioning snow for Christmas.

Do you remember Charlotte's 1947 snow?
The National Weather Service says snow is coming to the Charlotte area this weekend. The last measurable Christmas snow in Charlotte was in 1947, which means most of us didn't see that event.

So it must be a little (or a lot) embarrassing to have to report that you're now expecting a little -- or a lot, depending on whether you read the hed or the lede -- less snow than you were a few hours ago.

All right, all right. Your Editor is from that part of the country. Well does he speak the language of stocking up on bread and milk at the merest thought of half an inch of snow. But that's why we choose to pass along the hard-earned wisdom of the ages. If you don't want to be deciding on Thursday whether your prediction of Wednesday needs to be walked back a little or a lot, you could start by not making quite so many predictions.

Only two more pillaging days left ...

... in the War on Xpesmasse, so be sure and get your licks in now before Santa sees his shadow and turns back into a pumpkin or whatever it is that he does in the off-season.

OK. The house rules specify that you can't complain about a poll just because you don't like the results, and (sampling-wise, at least) Marist runs a methodologically sound poll. What you do get to complain about is the interpretation, whether it's at the polling end or the writing end. And, of course, you can (and should) be entertained by the context: all that stuff that has to be agreed on before data can make meaning. So let's have a look:

In the annual battle over "Merry Christmas" and "Happy holidays," specificity wins out again.
(The fine art of question-begging!* Your first clue is the touching belief in the "annual battle," which is a lot like believing in Santa, only easier on the milk-and-cookies budget.)
Read more »

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Hols hed noun phrase prang fest

Everybody ready? See if you can write a lede to go with the BBC hed:

Soldier survives girl shield shot

No action for shot mistake farmer

Justice miscarriage man accused


A soldier who faced an Afghan insurgent who was using a child as a human shield has survived being shot after not firing in case he injured the girl.

An Essex farmer who accidentally shot and wounded two burglars raiding a cannabis farm he did not know existed will not face prosecution.

A County Durham man who spent 27 years in jail for a crime he did not commit is to spend another Christmas behind bars after being accused of rape.

The first story provides one of those quotes-for-the-ages that journalism is sometimes really good at:

"I tried to stand up but I had disco legs and just had to sit down again for a bit."

... but my favorite is the second, with its mashup of Steeleye Span and Cheech and Chong. Awakened in the early morning hours, farmer on mobility scooter fires at fox trying to steal geese, instead hits two people raiding the secret pot farm in the outbuilding he had rented out.

So many questions, so little time. Were the geese his? Did he hit the fox too?* What brought the keepers down? What happened to the intermediary pot grower?

Regular posting to resume shortly. Grades are in and Xpesmasse prep is nearly done. Meanwhile, everybody say happy birthday to Language Czarina.

* Cheers to the Beeb for using a file mug of a fox without saying "like the one shown here."


Sunday, December 19, 2010

All Democrats go to ... wait, what?

Today in fact-checking:

A column last Sunday about the plight of Texas Democrats, and how they have become the political equivalent of the often-struggling Baltimore Orioles, contained several errors.

... Ann Richards defeated Clayton Williams in the 1990 Texas governor’s race — not George W. Bush. (Mr. Bush defeated Ms. Richards in her re-election campaign in 1994.)

And though Ms. Richards and Earl Weaver, the former Orioles manager, might very well enjoy comparing notes about what went wrong with their respective “teams,” they would not be doing so in heaven.

Human soulz: The NYT is the engineer of them! Is there something we don't know about the fiery pit that awaits AL managers?

Mr. Weaver, unlike Ms. Richards, is still alive.

Original, per the Intertubes:

Somewhere in heaven, Earl Weaver and Ann Richards are comparing notes ...


If Ann Richards were alive, she and Earl Weaver would be comparing notes ...


Saturday, December 18, 2010

There's one born every minute

Step right up, step right up, there's a winner every time! Hurry, hurry, hurry!

Sigh. Every now and then, journalism's legendary ineptitude with numbers rises to public attention. (As the Post noticed, complaining about the problem is a really good way to ensure a front-page visit* from it.) The ailment has a lot of causes. One is a basic lack of training; back in Your Editor's college days, for example, the option was foreign language or math.** For another, journalists tend to self-describe as "word people"; they guard the TRVTH by guarding the language, not by guarding a bunch of numbers. And there's a basic belief in there that numbers are a form of magic; since Bad People lie with numbers, anybody who knows how to manipulate numbers could be lying.

Read more »

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Today in journalism history: Words, words, words

The fun-o-meter has been pegged over at "joyeaux" all week, so this anniversary hed from Dec. 14, 1941, didn't get posted as it should have. But it's still a fun little excursion into the world of hed words and how their conventional wisdom comes and goes.

If your first reaction is that "autoist" is a strange word, your second might well be that it's probably a pretty good one -- certainly as good as "cyclist" in the deck. And it is; enough people had the same idea early in the previous century that the OED has citations for "autoist" from 1903 and 1904. But why and when did it stop making sense? Did we abandon it before the general public did, or is it one of those gems like "mull" and "solon" that we're going to keep using until the last trumpet sounds, regardless of what sort of head-scratching we generate?

This hed is from the World's Greatest Newspaper, where "autoist" was common into the 1950s and not too unusual into the 1960s. "Autoist" seems to have died at the Trib's news desk in 1971,* though it returns as a crossword clue -- "Autoist's stopover," 5 spaces -- in mid-1976, and a 1985 editorial refers to "Mr. and Mrs. Average American Autoist."

Why so long? Was "autoist" a relic of Col. McCormick's own flavor of spelling reform -- the stylebook that gave us "photograf" and so much more? Hardly. It appears in Los Angeles Times heds as late as 1976 and an NYT hed from 1973. So -- I hear you cry -- what did things look like in Detroit?

Well, now we come full circle, because 88 years ago today -- Dec. 15, 1922 -- was the last recorded appearance of "autoist" in a Freep hed: "Drunken Autoist Jailed over Yule," in which some benighted westsider** gets 30 days in the clink "for driving his automobile while drunk." Thus baffled, I hand it over to you guys: Any "autoist" sightings or reasonable speculation about which chicken came before which egg? 

* The year Your Editor got his autoist license, if you're scoring along at home.
** Best coincidence yet: If you stand in my office and look across the freeway toward the south end of the football stadium, his address is a couple hundred yards past the stands. For what it's worth, he was busted on Chene, which isn't too far from the street where Language Czarina's mom was born, but the paper didn't give a more specific location.

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Out-of-tune lede of the day

Writers hate to be told that their heartbreaking bursts of alliteration don't work, but -- better before publication than after publication, don't you think?

I don't think all those verbs can coordinate with "Saturday." Being loved in general is one thing; being loved on a specific day is several others.

If you've kept up with the Edwards family, you can probably figure out what the dangling phrase at the end is up to. Otherwise, good luck.

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TSA: The early years

Can't you just see the pioneering forecasters now? Firing up the kerosene-powered IIc and laboriously recording snowfall totals on 12" wax floppy discs? Thanks to their hard work, we can look back today and say the snowiest winter on record at Metro Airport was (drum roll please): 1880-1881.

While you're at it, please bear in mind that "Let it snow" is on the permanently banned list. How "average" did last winter have to be to qualify as "very average"? And speaking of average, who was gazing out the window when this monster went clanking by?

By Monday, fore­casters said, the area will average about 5 inches of snow, lots of wind and some areas with up to 10 inches of snow.


Thursday, December 09, 2010

In Levittown did Irving Kahn ...

Today's contest: Help the Newspaper of Record write a mnemonic to avoid future corrections like this one:

A television review on Oct. 25 about “In Treatment,” on HBO, misspelled the surname of the actor who plays Sunil. He is Irrfan Khan, not Kahn. (A reader pointed out the error in an e-mail message this week.)

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Monday, December 06, 2010

This just in from Planet Fox

And what might be the cunning, moronic, narcissistic Chicago punk pantywaist thug in the White House be up to now? Glad you asked!

The phone. The electric light bulb. The Model T. Heck, Google.

The list of American innovations that have changed life on Earth is practically endless, but President Obama is trying to inspire America's next technological wave by referring back to a 50-year-old achievement by a defunct nation -- Sputnik.

Read more »


Friday, December 03, 2010

Right hand, left hand

If you're going to insist on the Big Picture in your streamer heds, you might want to be sure you're looking at the Big Picture through the Same Eyes.

Here we have the Freep's interpretation of the economy from Thursday's 1A* ("full swing") and biz front ("gradual recovery"). Both stories are a little shaky to start with; the second is more or less the notional continuation of the first, and both chunks bounce back and forth between being about the auto industry and the national economy in general.

It's not fair to pick on the Freep for not looking into the future -- specifically, for not seeing Friday's employment numbers on Wednesday night. The cure for that is not predicting gloom, pain and woe rather than puppies, kittens and birthday cakes; the cure is staying away from predictions.

* The cutoff rule is there so you don't confuse the Rosy Scenario with the day's fractional developments in the Missing Boys story.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Pitching and moaning

Best consonant-voicing correction of the year:

An article on Wednesday about the Air Force’s efforts to counter a mix-up in which rival bidders on an aerial tanker contract were inadvertently sent data on each other’s proposals quoted incorrectly from comments by Sean O’Keefe, the chief executive of EADS North America, on how the company treated data it received about Boeing’s proposal. He said the disc “was packed up and returned to the Air Force,” not “backed up” and then returned.

It is nice of the Newspaper of Record to be so attentive to its errors, but do you suppose we could spend just a bit of time making them less impenetrable? The handy little Flesch-Kincaid test on your Windows grammar-checker puts that first sentence at 27.1. Perhaps we could have a contest to see who can put the most emphasis on the mistake in the shortest collection of sentences.


Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Now it can be told

Hurry, hurry, hurry! Step right up, come one, come all! Be the first to see the wonder of our age, the glory of our time, the first-ever miracle ACTUALLY CAPTURED on X-RAY FILLUM before your VERY EYES!*

Do you think that might have given just a moment's pause to the eager hed writer (or centerpiece designer)? That, since we're presenting the visual evidence on the same page as this:

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