Thursday, September 29, 2011

War on Xpesmasse: Fifth column edition

Yes, the War on Christmas has come early -- and look who's giving aid and comfort to the enemy with a "Happy Holidays."

Labels: ,

Boxers or briefs, Sen. Dole?

Sorry, but there are times when the cursed ambiguity created by commercial speech just hits me the wrong way.

Don't you miss upstyle heds sometimes? "Yes, No, Depends"?


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

And your point is ... ?

A reader writes to ask, basically (and quite understandably), wtf?

Tony Bennett left his heart in San Francisco. Sungmin Jang left his name, his culture and his career in South Korea to bet his future on the United States of America, but he's not complaining.

The reader's a Philadelphian living in San Francisco, and thus particularly baffled by the reference, but I can share the concern. When a gun comes on stage in the first act, you expect it to go off by the fifth, and when a pop-culture cliche gets you into the lede, you rather expect it to be artfully woven back in by the conclusion.

This one doesn't. There's nothing else in the column to indicate why the particular act of leaving some specific heart in San Francisco, out of all those leavings immortalized in popular song*, was an appropriate setup for this column. Ideally, some kind editor would have reminded the columnist that his lede would have been just as good without the, you know, lede-y parts, and all would have been well.

We get the impression, though, that this columnist doesn't get edited very hard:

For Asians, qualifying for citizenship is especially difficult. In addition to a new language and customs, they must learn a new alphabet.

Yep. No funny-looking alphabets in Europe or Africa!

Most of us -- let's just go ahead and make that "all of us" -- write better when we have someone reading behind us. Not just to catch those pesky typos and the inevitable syntactic flub, but to ask, every now and then: What the hell is that supposed to mean?

* Hard to believe J.D. Crowe was that young, isn't it?

Labels: ,

Thursday, September 22, 2011

You don't know Jack

Because deep down inside, they all really do look alike, dion't they?


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

FOY 'early'

Q: Is it still a Forbidden Hed if the lede says "Christmas Mountains"?
A: Yes, and even if the last line is "
Acquiring the Christmas Mountains, he said, was like 'jingle bells, baby!'” Why do you ask? 

(Thanks to Language Czarina, who brought this one in with the mail the other day.)


Monday, September 19, 2011

Yes and no

One question in a hed is usually too many, and two is -- well, do the math and then add some zeroes.

Questions, if you have to use them, should at least be real questions. They should be exclusive: "Boxers or briefs?" poses a choice that "threat or menace?" doesn't. And they should, ideally, be literal, or at least only open to one interpretation (literal or figurative) at a time. The answer to "Is sky the limit at air shows?" depends on which you mean:

  • Yes; otherwise they'd be called space shows!
  • Yes, because the sky's always the limit in America!
  • No, because "the sky's the limit" means there are no limits!

Which makes it hard to see why this is on the upper-right side of the front, traditional home of "news," but onward.

If the first question is false, the second is irrelevant. Of course the "quest for thrills" is endangering the public. That's one of the things it does! Your individual risk of being decapitated at any particular motorsport event is pretty small, and it's not markedly different today than it was yesterday or a decade ago, but it's still there, just as it always was.

So the answers to the heds are something like "not really" and "so what?" Or maybe "so what?" and "not really." When the meaningless answers are as interchangeable as the questions, you might want to think about another hed.

Labels: ,

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Annals of "that's what": It isn't official

What happens when you negate one of the Great Cliches? Do the skies darken and the rivers run backward if your lede says "Christmas didn't come early" or "it's not official" -- or, in the present case, "Dead! That's what the man wasn't when police found him"? Let's see.

This lede never should have been let out to play, much less (notwithstanding the Sentinel's obsession with promoting every menu change put forth by these chains) found its way to the 1A centerpiece. It confuses a cliche attributed to the walk-in fast-food trade -- "you want fries with that?" -- with the routines of the sit-down trade, and that can't end well. Thus it paints itself into a corner: It takes something that already isn't happening and tells us it won't be happening in the future. The drama can barely be contained.

"Put statements in positive form" is another Strunkenwhite-ism that's easy to deride from the ivory tower but worth keeping in mind for day-to-day writing. It doesn't mean we limit ourselves to writing about puppies, kittens and birthday cake. It means that in many, if not most, cases, your lede is going to get to the point more quickly and be more interesting if it talks about what is, rather than about what isn't.

Labels: ,

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Zombie Thurber

The "that's what" lede takes on a new and more exciting twist in this morning's top story from downtown.

Just imagine the possibilities:


That's what half of Woodlawn Cemetery seemed to be as the earthly remains of former bankers, lawyers and rock stars shambled toward Palmer Park in a grotesque parody of a Labor Day parade.

Other contributions?   


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Mixed signals

Well, we all know who(m) to blame for that development, don't we? Let's ask the commenters:

Nice photo.  Where did he go next in his million dollar limo? How many body guards did he have around him?  Or what high class resort did he and michelle vacation too next?  Which high class hotel did he buy out the floors for, for protection purposes of course?  How many jets were needed to hold his minions to get this photo.?  In other words how much did this photo cost the tax payers of this country?

Oh, where would we be without this President? Where would we be, he cares about America so very much.?

Barry hob knobs with the filthy rich union bosses at Martha's vinyard while America sinks deeper into poverty. Sick fukk

I hope you at least learned a lesson that you should have learned years ago. Judge people by their actions not there words/speeches. He had no experience and still has no experience.

"Oh dank you for da food Mr. President, dank you, dank you. Now where's da line for da free money?"

You white boys and girls got scr--d the country is gone,What are you going to do , nothing

this is all under the regime of the boy king..we are a broke nation.. all because of this blame some one that has been gone for 3 and a half years  when the boy king has had 3 and a half years to sink us so far down that their is no hope we can come out of this in our life times

You can see why it's an irresistible combination for the top of the Fox page (though it was rather quickly
nudged down to second place,* with a photo of the line at a job fair in Atlanta last month replacing the Obama shot). And it probably got to where it was without a lot of prompting from the glass offices. As Warren Breed noted in "Social Control in the News Room" (1955), people rarely have to be told directly what a story ought to look like. They learn from what lands on the front page, what happens to their own copy, who yells what at whom across the room, what befalls an editor who fails to give a sacred cow its due, and all the other stuff that goes on in day-to-day life.

Another interesting bit of evidence is -- golly, wonder what the cousins over at National Review ("Strange facts about America's 'poor'") are saying about this development:
Read more »

Labels: ,

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Three to beam up

Q: Even the Times?
A: Yes, even the Times:

An earlier version misstated the source for the term replicator, which Mr. Hart adopted to describe how e-books would allow for the infinite reproduction of books. It comes from the television show “Star Trek,” not the film “Star Wars.”

Regular reader Garrett wonders if this isn't the sort of thing that copy editors used to catch. Yes. Yes, they did. We can never tell whether any individual error would have been caught (that's life in the probability lane), but we can confidently say there's a higher chance this one would have been nailed in better days.


Why he no?

Ah, the woes of upstyle.

Well, and the woes of sticking to the "no articles" rule even when the article would give the old parser a well-deserved break.* And of not hyphenating compounds that have been hyphenated since the early 19th century (exemplified in current usage, not to rub it in or anything, by whoever wrote the hed on the homepage).

And -- at Fox, of all places! -- of quoting Marx in heds.

* That's why Your Editor collects heds of the form "Smith gets shot at tourney."

Labels: ,

Friday, September 09, 2011

Six million-dollar men

Today's quiz: How many bones, and how old?

If you get to look at the picture accom- panying the story, it's a little easier, and there's also a clue if you see the cutline: the number appears midsentence, so you get a bit of a style bump from "2 million-year-old" rather than "two million-year-old." But it's hard to avoid reminding people that most hyphenation rules, however good they are for however vast a majority of cases, need a footnote on the order of "Break this rule if you're at risk of looking dumb."

We're into the second week of the semester, so today was the first chance to talk about ambiguity. Much of the grammar that editors deal with isn't "bad" or "wrong" as much as it is right about several things at once. Here are a couple examples of what happens when modifiers go feral:
Read more »

Labels: ,

Thursday, September 08, 2011

"9/11" is not an excuse for silly

Hard to say who's more at fault here -- a Washington Bureau reporter who has no idea what he's writing about, or a desk that fails to challenge the reporter's cluelessness, then amplifies it in a first-person headline. Let's get straight to the point:

When terrorists attacked New York and Washington in 2001, the Middle East was firmly in the control of authoritarian leaders. Some of them were staunch allies of the United States who tolerated the growing threat from Osama bin Laden.

Irrelevant to the extent it's true, and false to the extent it's relevant, but go on.

A decade later, bin Laden is dead, al-Qaida has been set back and the autocrats in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Afghanistan and, at least for now, Yemen have been swept from power by their own people — a series of sometimes deadly protests and battles now known as the Arab Spring.

OK. This should be a hint. "Spring" doesn't last 10 years. (The "Prague spring" began in spring, but it wasn't spring 1958). Conflating the US invasion of Afghanistan with the "Arab spring" -- let alone the killing of bin Laden and assorted setbacks to the Qaida organization -- is the sort of breathless fawning that gave the Dispatch of old its reputation as a happy prancing tool of the hard Republican right.
Read more »

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Flies in my beard

  Within this story is a candidate for Most Profound Paragraph to Slide Right By a Living, Breathing Editor of the Still-Young Century:

A website calls Kansas City “a hotbed of UFO activity.”

I wonder how long it would to take to find a website that calls the Kansas City Star a hotbed of deep-catalog moronhood that actually justifies dumping any remaining McClatchy stock in the portfolio, even if that means paying people to take it, on the chance that, should you cross the bar unexpectedly, your far-distant relatives will make endless fun of your heirs and assigns for having been dear to someone who ever cashed a McClatchy check in the first place. Oh, wait.

Granted, America's Newspapers have a habit of ignoring common sense, their own eyes and all sorts of things they should have learned in junior high school when the occasional UFO story rolls in. That's not much of an excuse, even when USA Today does it, and it doesn't get any better when the familiar nonsense is tricked out with local names and clever references to area landmarks. The UFO tale should be quietly sent off to sleep the big sleep, whenever it occurs, no exceptions.

It's bad enough to find this at the top of the Sunday frontpage, but there's worse. When you set your standard for top-of-the-front coverage to "something is out there," you don't have much to distinguish yourself from -- well, say, the Washington Times and its coverage of the APSA convention!

Tea party leaders laughed off the scrutiny and chuckled when they heard the names of the papers.

“This is good. You’re making my day,” said Mark Meckler, co-founder of Tea Party Patriots.

“Statistics show that the vast number of folks that are in the world of academia are liberals,” he said after collecting himself. “Liberals don’t like the tea party movement. I don’t think that’s news.”

“From my perspective, they’ve literally become a caricature of themselves,” he said of the academy, adding that there are a “few exceptions.”

See the problem? You don't judge the likelihood of alien invasion by whether Local People too have seen the triangular lights, and you don't judge the validity and reliability of somebody's multivariate analysis of what stuff predicts other stuff by asking people to call academics funny names. The Star isn't being openly corrupt in the way the WashTimes is, but it's being stupid in the same way. If you want to keep the barbarians away from the gates, you don't want to spend a lot of time explaining why you made all the other barbarians welcome.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Now fall over!

What better present for the first day of a new editing class than one of those classic cases of pin-the-prepositional-phrase-on-the-donkey ambiguity?

And if you still aren't convinced of the utility of the passive voice in cop tales, there's the inside hed: "Man with toy gun shot, killed by police." Now go forth and break some icons.


Maybe you asked the wrong doctor

A soda a day doesn't keep obesity away -- that's as may be. But since it isn't what the story's about, and since nobody in the story says it, do you suppose there might have been some mildly more clueful way of using the display type to justify this not-especially-relevant survey's place on the front page?