Saturday, October 29, 2011

5,280 words for "stayin' alive"

How many words do those wacky Inupiaq have for "awesome," Nation's Newspaper of Record?

The Barrow Journal article on Oct. 17, about the fall subsistence whale hunt in Barrow, Alaska, misstated a greeting exchanged between the captain of a crew that killed a whale and a crowd onshore. They shouted “aarigaa” at each other — an Inupiaq word meaning “very good.” The captain did not shout, and the crowd did not respond, “Ah ah ha!”

You can only hope that the crowd at Barrow High football games isn't given to chanting "Na Na Hey Hey."

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

And their music? It's just noise!

Sometimes those pesky popular-culture trends just blow right past the Nation's Newspaper of Record:

The Books of The Times review on Saturday, about “Steve Jobs,” by Walter Isaacson, described “Angry Birds,” a popular iPhone game, incorrectly. Slingshots are used to launch birds to destroy pigs and their fortresses, not to shoot down the birds.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Annals of hed gunplay

Was it just last week we were reminding the Com3210 crowd that "gets shot" heds are always in season if you're looking for presents for your copyed friends? And here comes USA Today with a sterling example.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Double vision

No, don't think so. At least, not according to the story:

The series of events started about 12:20 p.m. when two cars were involved in a collision on Beatties Ford Road at St. Paul Street. According to police, a patrol officer arrived to block traffic, and the officer's car was then struck by another vehicle.
So it may be true that "two collisions actually took place" (and, needless to say, that "police are investigating the two collisions"), but the officer pretty clearly wasn't injured in both.

It's reassuring to know that the good folks at ACES are aiming more attention at what the research process can tell us about the role of editing. Let me suggest a couple of broad points:

1) Time that goes into enforcing every bogus secret-handshake rule in the AP Stylebook is not well spent.
2) Time spent on taking a deep breath and giving the cop-blotter items a quick read for clarity and common sense before hitting the "publish" button, on the other hand, is rewarded. The people on the receiving end of our prose appreciate it.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Thanks, AP!

For those of you who woke up believing that Chicago was somewhere between the Panhandle and central Alabama:

CHICAGO (AP) — Anti-Wall Street demonstrators of the Occupy Chicago movement stood their ground in a downtown park in noisy but peaceful defiance of police orders to clear out, prompting 130 arrests early Sunday, authorities said.

Occupy Chicago spokesman Joshua Kaunert vowed after the arrests that protests would continue in the Midwest city.

Thanks, AP! Roboposting helps your parochialism make morons of us all.

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Maybe he meant Michael

Did NPR really just say that Pujols has joined "Babe Ruth and Jesse Jackson" in the elite three-homers-in-a-Series-game club?


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Dr. Seuss to the emergency room

Who was writing the heds over to The Fox Nation this morning?

Mitt Cleans Rick's Clock

Mitt Rings Cain's Bell

It was back to standard fare before long:

Romney Knocks Newt Silly

McConnell Pulverizes Obama

But can we hope for a little more of that monosyllabic Seussism in the future?

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Sunday, October 16, 2011

An odd way of looking at things

This AP lede seems to have run more or less untouched at newspapers and websites around the country, so apparently it made sense to somebody, but does anyone else find the phrasing a bit strange?

The decision to pull out fully by January will effectively end more than eight years of U.S. involvement in the Iraq war

Could some of our linguist friends help out here, please? Why do I get the impression that "the Iraq war" was some sort of ongoing concern, like the Big 12, a bar fight or the local food movement, that the U.S. just happened upon and thought it would be interesting to join? Rather than, say, an unprovoked bit of imperial aggression that we've been involved in from the outset because we started it?

I'd hate to think that had just kind of slipped the AP's mind.

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Backward ran sentences until reeled the mind

Some classic Timespeak (vintage 1936) for your Sunday evening:

Greatly heartened in this vigilance was SEC by the Roosevelt victory. It meant a clear path for the investment trust regulation which SEC will recommend to the next Congress. It was a full-speed signal for SEC's plan for segregating the function of broker and dealer, conferences with the reluctant New York Stock Exchange on that subject being scheduled for this week. And it was apparently considered a general order to SEC for brisker performance on its regular beat patrolling the U. S. securities business.

Down cracked SEC last week with a restraining order on eight individuals for alleged manipulation of Suburban Electric Securities Co. on the Boston Stock Exchange. Down cracked SEC on the big New York Stock Exchange house of W. E. Hutton & Co. and an Oakland (Calif.) partner of William Cavalier & Co. for alleged manipulation of Atlas Tack, a luckless stock whose gyration once attracted the attention of the New York Attorney General (TIME, Jan. 1, 1933).

Spotted by Garrett, to whom thanks, during the research process.

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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Stamp out 'police investigate'

Should we just have a nice old-fashioned rule about this? Any time you find yourself beginning a hed with "Police investigate," back up, delete and start over. No exceptions, no questions. Just do it.

Police investigating southwest Charlotte death

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police homicide detectives are investigating why a woman was found dead in the yard of a southwest Charlotte home early Saturday, after being dropped off at the unoccupied residence by a friend.

Police investigate body found in Steele Creek area

Charlotte Mecklenburg Police are investigating an early morning homicide.*

Here are the broad justifications, should you need them:

1) Whatever the cops are investigating is more interesting than the mere fact that they're investigating it.
2) This will still be true if someone manages to overlook your story for six or eight hours. Real people are not as obsessive about the news as journalists are; if the intarwebs have done anything to journalism that's unambiguously good, it's the conclusive destruction of the cycle paranoia of the three-network era.
3) From which you may conclude that your competition has not stolen a beat on you. Indeed, if the competition is writing "police investigated" and you're writing about what happened, you're ahead -- even if they got there first.

We could talk about the awfulness of the writing that goes along with these heds,* but a look at the pattern of recent weeks is going to give a better idea of when and how fixing the hed should point directly to fixing the lede.

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

All your glorious sun are belong to us

And farewell to all those high-paids editors too, I guess.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Why are you asking me?

This sort of story is really the classic argument against the question hed. If you're winding up to a nut graf like this:

Ten years after the attack, an in-depth examination of the case against Ivins by PBS' "Frontline," McClatchy Newspapers and ProPublica raises fresh doubts about the government's evidence and questions whether, despite a $100 million investigation, the real anthrax killer remains on the loose.

... you're the one with the answer, or at least a good approximation of it. So why are you asking me?

The question hed is often an easy way out, so it's worth taking a look at how many papers managed to front the story while still writing a declarative hed. (In no particular order, we have Lexington, Wichita, Raleigh, KC and Fort Worth.) The outlier at lower right is Belleville, which managed to find an even less relevant question to ask.

Please. Only you can prevent the Stupid Question. Do it for the children.


Noun pileup of the morning

Network radio describes the defendant in the trial that's opening today:

"Accused Christmas Day 2009 Northwest Airlines underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab."

Monday, October 10, 2011

Relative clause of the (still-young) month

Why teach grammar? Well, partly because we don't want the youngsters to confuse grammar with virtue. You can be grammatical without being loyal, brave, thrifty, reverent, cheerful or obedient, as evidenced in this striking relative clause:

Williams, who was sacked by ESPN last week after more than two decades of supplying the rockin' opening theme song to “MNF” because of controversial comments he made that compared President Barack Obama and House Speaker Rep. John Boehner golfing together to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu playing a round, is singing a new tune: “I'll Keep My ...”

I was sort of hoping there'd be at least one good outcome of the past week's entertaining ideological events: Could we finally -- oh, happy day! -- be rid of "Are You Ready for Some Football?" heds? Dunno. But it appears we have to put up with at least a little more excess publicity for the voracious black hole of country music talent that is Hank Jr.

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No, don't

Did somebody really think this was original enough for the entire front page?

No, don't answer that.


Sunday, October 09, 2011

No, but thanks for asking

Some days, the inane hectoring of America's Columnists is more annoying than others:

In the case of the death of Michael Joseph Jackson (Aug. 29, 1958-June 25, 2009), we are all accessories after the fact.

The fans who fueled his need to keep performing when he wasn't well, who pushed him to be bigger when he was already the greatest, should remember that most of us looked the other way.

To borrow from the Late Dolphin: What are you heaving your poor broken heart at us for? Some of us weren't looking in the first place.

... So when the singer, dancer, songwriter, musician and king of pop was rushed out of his rented Los Angeles mansion, filled with the mixture of drugs he used to make us happy, we looked the other way -- for someone to blame.

He could have kept my share. But in a broader sense -- no. I have an alibi for Elvis (work), the Challenger (sleep) and JFK (second grade), and I'm not taking the fall for this one either. Whether columnists should presume that the entire world shares their taste in music is beside the point; what they really need to avoid is presuming that the entire world shares their inability to compartmentalize.

Opinion writers are paid to have opinions, and it's above the copy editor's pay grade to point out that some opinions ought to be quietly set aside and smothered. But at least we could avoid amplifying them in the hed, you think?

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Passive aggressive: Priming

No one's ever going to accuse The Fox Nation of being a passive sort of place, and that's what makes this hed unusual. (In theory terms, we're primed to expect something particular from it, but you have to sit through some headlines before the punch line). The whole point of Fox Nation is that we know who's doing what to whom. Often that's the bad guys, as in these examples from today's homepage:

DC Organizer Admits to Paying ‘Occupy DC’ Protesters

Pitting Donors One Against Another: Obama Hits New Fundraising Lows

'Occupy Wall Street' Blasts Banking Industry -- but Apologizes to Its Own Banker

Feds Wanted to Give Solyndra More Money, Emails Show

Orrin Hatch: Obama Fuels Riots

Occupy Wall Street Protester Defecates On Police Car

Top Obama Funder Pushed Solyndra Loan From Inside

Read more »

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Saturday, October 08, 2011

Uncle Charley and his head Teddy

Reader contribution time! Thanks to Brian for this one:

Uncle Charley’s head, two others
confirmed dead in plane crash
Charles Armitage, Jr., the president of Uncle Charley’s Sausage Co. in Vandergrift, Pa., is among three confirmed deaths in a plane crash in West Virginia, according to media reports Friday.

And a nice bit of hyphenless ambiguity from Robert:

Charges dismissed for baby rat eater
Clarified in the lede:
A Utah judge dismissed an animal cruelty charge against a man depicted eating a baby rat in a video posted to YouTube.

... but for best results, hang on until the last graf:

Prosecutors argued the rat was a domesticated animal and "eating a live, baby rat on a dare is not an accepted husbandry practice."

Heds always welcome.


Thursday, October 06, 2011

Ground control to Maj. Alinsky

It's time for another visit to The Fox Nation, that happy outpost where Fox readers can go when the mothership is bending over a little too far backward to accommodate the scary Kenyan Muslim socialist in the White House. Headlines mandatory; facts optional.

Hed writing, as you've probably gathered by now, is a pretty patterned sport. There are rules about how things are named, which verbs can be elided, whether corners can be cut, and where in the article the headline should come from. If you're new to the game, the answer to the last one is "really, really high." Here's the text:

In early November, NASA will seek applicants for its next class of astronaut candidates, hoping to bolster its reserves of brave spacemen -- in the face of a National Research Council report that warned the corps was getting too small.
Read more »

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Wednesday, October 05, 2011

I'll bet they do

Is this an example of the Miracle of Roboposting, or is something else going on at the Fair 'n' Balanced Network?

Oil, that is

How nice that some writers have temporarily given up the "that's what" lede. Unfortunately, the "that is" lede isn't much of an improvement.


Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Please be embarrassed

What does it take for international news to make the front pages of America's Daily Newspapers? Oh, go figure it out for yourself. (Hint: It helps to watch a lot of Fox News.)

Now. Quite a few papers aren't included in the snapshot above. Those would be the ones who said something on the order of "American acquitted." (The Austin fishwrap put it best: "Italian court clears U.S. woman in lurid slaying," in that "lurid slaying" is what our friends at the tabloids have been telling us all along.) They still put the story on the front, but at least they maintained a bit of a polite fiction: OMG one of Our Innocents is escaping the claws of furrin justice!

The papers shown above are in a different class. (Except for the Post, holding down the lower left corner, which really is a tabloid.) You lot -- the Strib, Buffalo, the R-J, Anchorage, Raleigh, Richmond, USAT, Charlotte, Tampa, Norfolk -- really? Amanda Knox is a headline name? At the top of the front?

That isn't nearly as embarrassing as it should be. The Local Anesthesia movement has been relentless in driving that pesky grownup news into hiding; exclusive, original content is the franchise, the argument goes, because readers can get tales of faraway places anywhere. The Knox story really gives the lie to that line of thinking. It's not the cause of news audiences' cluelessness toward how the outside world works, but it's a pretty clear example of how news organizations deliberately, happily encourage that cluelessness.

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Sunday, October 02, 2011

War on Editing

Today's dispatches from the front include a case of Instant Metaphor Mix (just add cliches):

As political hot cakes go, Gov. Rick Perry's support for his state's guarantee of lower cost in-state tuition for illegal immigrants attending Texas' public universities sizzled at a recent Republican presidential debate.

Next is an illustration of the S&W maxim about putting stuff in positive form. That doesn't mean news should be exclusively about puppies and kittens and birthday cake; it means you generally get to the point quicker -- and with less chance of confusion -- if you talk about what is, rather than about what isn't:

Following Michigan State's 10-7 victory over Ohio State on Saturday, it's probably no longer a question of if Luke Fickell isn't retained as Buckeyes coach, but a matter of when.

The sentence would work with "fired" or "dismissed" (surely no one would want to make the verb active): It's not a question of if he's fired but when. But pinning down when something didn't happen is a lot harder than saying when it did.

The next one, I think, is a scope issue. The main clause is vague, but the relative clause demands that it be specific:

For at least 12 years, a charming, well-dressed man moved from woman to woman, who accuse him of leaving behind empty bank accounts, black eyes and raw fear.

None of these are unfixable. None of them would take very long to straighten out. It's not entirely out of the realm of possibility that the writers might appreciate the help. But if we don't build in the time and the staffing that would make even minimal editing possible, our first rough draft of history is going to look rougher all the time.


Saturday, October 01, 2011

Why we teach this stuff

People still ask, especially when we're getting ready to take the whole curric- ulum apart and see if we can fit it back together in some plausibly 21st-century way, whether we ought to keep on teaching those annoying grammar terms. (Especially the test.) Isn't there other stuff we ought to be teaching instead, and do you really have to know all that pluperfect stuff to be a journalist anyway?

Well -- no. You don't. Indeed, there are large parts of journalism in which diagramming seems a pretty low-order skill. But if you want to traffic in the written parts, you can't go too long before that pesky grammar comes in handy. You might want to keep someone from doing something boneheaded to your copy, for example. Or you might want to talk one of your writerly friends out of writing him- or herself into a corner -- in a way that keeps you from having to fix the same mistake again and again and again. Or you might find yourself on the receiving end of a rant like this, delivered to the AP Stylebook's Ask The Editor feature:

Q: ... Here's another question: Someone makes comments; the comments don't come or go anywhere, do they? Who teaches this form of formulaic and idiomatic but nonsense writing? It seems to be more prevalent than it was only a few years ago, but it's irritating to this copy editor. (AP story) "Haley's remarks came after the Budget and Control Board, a financial oversight panel she chairs, agreed without discussion to require the Department of Transportation to provide more details of a summer financial meltdown that left contractors with invoices unpaid for months." – from Arlington, Va. on Mon, Sep 26, 2011
A: Point taken. The passive voice and complex structure make the sentence unduly challenging. I suspect we're all guilty of this at times.

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