Saturday, April 30, 2011

A billion here, a billion there ...

Hey, if the Nation's Newspaper of Record says "3 billion witnesses," it has to be true, right?

Except that the Times's estimate is actually 3 billion, "give or take 500 million." And your newspaper probably put it on the front page because, well, the worldwide audience for the ceremony was estimated at 2 billion!
(No random stabs at a confidence interval there, so let's just call it +/- 522.1 million for good measure.) In other words, the whole world is watching, give or take a third of the world.

That's too bad, because most glimmerings of good judgment over the past week -- as in, Royal Wedding 2011 Edition isn't a very big deal, and nobody seems to be very interested, and the 5 a.m. mimosa parties are really just sort of a white-glove version of the Rocky Horror Picture Show -- probably got overridden by that spurious number.

If you're one of the ones who complained -- or suggested that your city would be well and truly paralyzed if half of it had actually gotten up at 4 (or 3, or 2, or whatever) to glue itself to the television, or pointed out that since your city hadn't, somewhere north of 110% of the industrious Chinese would have to down tools and pick up the wedding slack, or noted that the country had just suffered a Katrina-scale natural disaster that might still merit a little 1A attention -- congratulations. You were right. Better luck next time.


Friday, April 29, 2011

Somebody didn't get the memo

Silly rabbit! If the password is "mired in three conflicts in the Middle East," how can this one still be "America's Third War"?

You'd like to think even Fox would adhere to the general idea that if the answer in the story is "no," the hed shouldn't be a question. But news at (ahem) some networks has a higher purpose, which is to generate opinions like this:


Which is our tie-in for the day to the birf certificate. Glenn Beck is right; the thing's a distraction. It's a narrow, specific document that's really only about one person -- not the sort of thing you need to keep the populace at a boil. So here's another example from today's front page.

The labels on Fox stories are a basic framing clue: not what to think about the story, but how to think about it.* We've remarked before on Fox's amusing habit of labeling monthly economic indicators as "business" stories when they're positive and "president" stories when they're negative. The terror-watch-gun-list story, of course, is a "president" story.

That's an interesting decision, given that the president shows up exactly once in this 750-word tale, and that's 550 words in:

President Barack Obama has steered clear of politically sensitive gun-control issues.

But if you're just reading along and click on the "comment" button, who cares?

Welcome to the paradise of the Obamanation. The place really s ucks.

See? The birf certificate is pretty much off topic already.

* Go ahead and call it the second level of agenda-setting if you want.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Question-beggar's banquet

When the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, don't be surprised if he (or she) writes not if you won or lost, but where you played the Birf Certificate story. Might we suggest that for Thursday's paper, a two-graf brief inside would be on the upper side of appropriate?
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Real poll, bogus conclusion

"Correct me if I'm wrong," asks the Chief Testy Copy Editor (and when he speaks, rimrats listen), "but there's nothing in this poll that says Obama is less popular because of gasoline prices."

Short answer, of course, he's right. But it's never too early for a little ranting about public opinion surveys and their interpretation. What the Post is doing is fabricating a causal relationship from coincidental data, because ... well, why not?

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Wrong end of the magnet

Just a hint? When all the evidence you provide says "no," your hed shouldn't pose a question. (And your story shouldn't say "yes," but at that point, we're getting perilously close to killing the story altogether.*)

The tornado that tore through Raleigh last weekend was a reminder that twisters often strike major metropolitan areas, despite a longstanding myth that the storms are a mostly rural phenomenon.

But you don't have to look to Raleigh for an example. Statistics show Charlotte and Mecklenburg County are a tornado magnet, of sorts.

Read more »

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Friday, April 22, 2011

So close and yet so far

Not a bad entry in the annals of hed noun pileups. If only it wasn't for that unsightly verb at the end ...

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The ham sandwich defense

No, really. I had just finished putting a nice outsize slice of Dearborn Bavarian ham* on a sandwich to take in for lunch when I saw the morning's top story. It's a somewhat better story than the hed suggests, which is mostly a design issue; when you paint yourself into a hard-news vertical corner, don't be surprised when you get "Pope still Catholic, Vatican claims." Here's the lede (online version):

In an open letter Wednesday to Pastor Terry Jones, Dearborn Mayor Jack O'Reilly Jr. blasted claims that his city is under Islamic law, noting it has three strip clubs and a factory that makes pork products sitting across the street from a mosque.
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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

First, do no harm

Out there in the cold and cruel world, we're still trying to make the case that the lack of editing is a Bad Thing. (Naysayers would do well to check out The Ridger's sample of what goes wrong when an Actual Book sails past the detail-editing dock altogether.) Today's example is a bit different: when happens when editors set out to help and end up leaving the patient in far worse condition than when the ambulance arrived.

Behold a garden-variety Middle East tale -- nothing you'd call deathless prose, but the sort of day-to-day thing that a wire service does to earn its keep. Here's what the AP wrote:

The Palestinians insist they will not resume peace talks until Israel stops building settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem — lands it captured in the 1967 Middle East war and which the Palestinians want for their future state.

Read more »

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

On clues and having them

For those of you who plan to be around in April 2015 for the gala HeadsupTheBlog 10th anniversary festivities -- be advised that we have a lot of "Christmas came early" and "Bowled over" and "gestures as she reacts" and "Guilty! That's what the man said he wasn't Thursday" to get through between now and then. Because some stuff never seems to go away.

As in the example here, which -- has it been four years since the same thing came up?* Yes, and the answer is still the same: Nothing. It isn't. (The hed at issue then was "Why is April a month of tragedies?") There isn't. Go find something else to write about.

The word, alas, doesn't seem to have reached CNN**:

Is there something about this time of the year that makes these types of attacks more prevalent?

No. Which should be the end of the story, but ...
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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Thanks, Mom!

Do you suppose, perhaps, maybe, just a little, that's not exactly what the story meant by:

"The settlement agreement speaks for itself," Cleveland lawyer Peter Weinberger said Tuesday. "Obviously, the family is pleased the matter has been resolved." He declined to comment further.

And thanks to the miracle of automated posting, it's not just that AP prose, but those AP suggested heds that are seen across this great land of ours.

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Must be spring

The birds are calling, snow is in the forecast, and somebody downtown has forgotten how mind-bendingly lame it is to make hed plays on Pavel Datsyuk's name

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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Your press corps at work

I'm starting to think of the No. 4 slot on the Fair 'n' Balanced homepage -- the right-hand story under the lede -- as the Two-Minute Hate position. This remains an untested hypothesis so far, but at a guess (H1), when there's red meat, that's more often than not where it goes.

Our example here (the TMH story from Friday morning) is actually an AP tale, illustrating that charming literalism in the press corps that sometimes manages to mistake the ordinary for the sublime. Add a faint hint of cover-up thwarted:

The president made his off-the-cuff remarks with donors as he took questions and after reporters had been ushered out of the event. But the question and answer session was piped back to Washington by mistake and into the press briefing area where a few reporters were still working late.

... and you get the AP's breathless "Obama Unplugged":
Read more »

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Now we are six

Annual off-topic cat picture time. (Oh, get used to it. It's a blog.)

In addition to its numerous other virtues, April 15 marks the day in 2005 when Woodward (right) and Bernstein left their makeshift home under the shrubbery and moved in with us at The Lane. They also have an official birthday, determined by Doctor Debbie the vet, who dangled young Woodchuck in the air, wrote "March 1" on the birf certificate* and sent us all home with an admonition to keep the kibble dish full. But today is the formal celebration.

They've turned out pretty well. Woodchuck is the gregarious one who's Most Likely to Succeed, but he's pretty cool about it. Bernie's the copy editor. He stays up late worrying about what got out of place when he wasn't there to watch. (Since it's probably your fault, he also tends to be free with the advice.) And a birthday is always a good reason to raise a glass, so happy Bernieversary to all.

* Funny, he doesn't look Kenyan.


But first, the good news

This candidate for Hed of the Week comes from an alert reader in the far southwest:

Spate of brutal killings aside,
Arlington violence is dropping

You need "Subscriber Content" access to view the whole story, but -- why bother when you have the hed?


Driver's ed

Great moments in having a lot of big old books that Those Kids have never heard of sitting around the office, from the Nation's Newspaper of Record:

An article on Thursday about the order by a federal judge in Wichita, Kan., to postpone a trial because of the impending birth of a defense lawyer’s first child misquoted a portion of a line from Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” that was cited in the order. Judge Eric F. Melgren suggested that the legal adversaries “strive mightily, but eat and drink as friends,” not “drive mightily.”

If it sounds weird, it's OK to look it up. Rly!

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

If at first ...

Last week, the Fair 'n' Balanced Network took the novel step of reporting on small-scale MIDs in terms of their cost to taxpayers: closing in on $650 million for the Libya adventure.

The news is a lot better this week. We're down to $600 million! Indeed, you could be forgiven for a little Fox-style back-of-the-envelope calculating that might suggest -- at a gain of $50 million every six days -- this particular conflict is going to generate some $3 billion a year if we keep at it.



It may be "New York's Hudson River," but there's quite a bit of New York that's nowhere near "NYC." Newburgh, as the story notes, is somewhat upstream -- as in, north of West Point upstream.

Look, I know the communist New York media have a little trouble every now and then with North Carolina geography, but we don't have to return the favor.

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DTFM: No, he didn't

The basic math rule -- when you see two numbers, do something to them -- doesn't just apply to numbers you see. It's also for numbers that are implied. When an obit says someone served in a war, you don't just subtract the birth date from the date at the top of the page and see if it matches the listed age, you compare the birth date to the end of the war.

Same thing with childhood influences. So when you see that Glenn Beck grew up listening to Orson Welles's "Mercury Theater of the Air," your response ought to be: Not without a time machine.

Romenesko's one of my must-read stops, but -- well, everybody needs a copy editor. A buzzer should go off when your source copy starts by saying Beck is a "former" Fox pundit. And this is from the conclusion:

By the end of Citizen Kane, it is clear that Kane has abused his capacity to connect with listeners, by coding his views into headlines, both on the global scale, in declaring the Spanish-American War, and personal, launching an opera career for his wife against her will.

"People will think what I tell them to think," Kane says.

That line* is from quite a bit before the end of "Kane" -- back in Charlie's first marriage, when, on the evidence, he's still "connecting" pretty well with his audience (who were mostly "readers," not listeners). Sloppiness with detail suggests sloppiness in metaphors too.

* And if it's the one I'm thinking of, he doesn't say it. Emily says "Charles, people will think ..."; he picks up the "what I tell them to think."

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Always at war with Eastasia

Here's a bit of a new trick from the Fair 'n' Balanced Network (top example's from Thursday, lower one from Monday). Do you notice a theme emerging?

First -- well, stop press. What a novel way for the media to Support The Troops: describing our assorted foreign adventures in terms of their cost to The Taxpayer!

If that looks strange in Fox terms, it's probably because it looks strange in almost anyone's terms. News about conflict tends to sound more or less the way Evelyn Waugh said it should:*

Remember that the Patriots are in the right and are going to win. The Beast stands by them four-square. But they must win quickly. The British public has no interest in a war which drags on indecisively. A few sharp victories, some conspicuous acts of personal bravery on the Patriot side and a triumphant entry into the capital. That is The Beast policy for the war.
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Monday, April 11, 2011

No. Not really. Not at all, actually.

That's the fun thing about being the Fair 'n' Balanced Network! It doesn't matter if the stuff you say is true or not -- like, say, "record prices" in the example here. All that matters is that people go away with the right impression: it's bad, it's unbelievably bad, it's never been this bad, and it's going to get worse. And we all know who to blame for that, don't we?

One is almost tempted to ask: How's that zero-y tolerance-y thing working for ya?


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Shirttail of the week

Thomas L. Friedman is off today.

Too bad Maureen Dowd isn't.*

* Then again, I have that reaction on most Sundays.

I'm my own (great-)grandpa

Correction of the morning, from the Newspaper of Record:

Because of an editing error, a report last Sunday about the marriage of Dr. Emily Israel and James Pluhar misstated the bride’s relationship to an ancestor. She is a great-granddaughter of the airplane engine designer Charles Lanier Lawrance, not his great-grandfather.


Friday, April 08, 2011

At play with the tabloids

Anybody want to start a pool on how long it takes this one to work its way up to the Fox front page?

That shouldn't be an entirely fanciful question, given Fox's fondness for picking up fabrications from the qualoids (under the guise of "it is being reported ..."). Here's what such a report looks like:
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Thursday, April 07, 2011

Hed of the morning: Inside of a dog ...

Local version of the Burning Man festival? Or what?

Post your best guess at the comments, or hang on until after the jump to discuss why it means what it means. Or both.

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Wednesday, April 06, 2011

How not to write cutlines

A couple of general rules about the fine art of caption writing:

1) Be extremely wary of using a generic photo to illustrate a specific assertion. (The example from class last week is the correction on the order of: Um, you know that picture of big trucks we ran last week? With the Dope-Addled Truckers Menace Our Kids And Moms  story? Our lawyers want us to point out that we didn't mean to suggest that any of the companies whose trucks you could identify in that photo actually employ dope-addled truckers or anything!)
2) Use the present tense (hed-like) to talk about what's happening inside the frame, past tense for everything else. So if these rising sea levels aren't the climate-change-induced ones menacing these homes, find some other way to talk about it. Or -- here's an idea -- don't waste your time illustrating a syndicated column with a file staff photo.

There's a large, belligerent and well-financed body of people out there intent on destroying the credibility of climate change study and bullying The Meedja into submission whenever someone dares assert the obvious as a fact. Those people don't need our help. Let's avoid giving them any easy shots.

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Saturday, April 02, 2011

RTFS, Fair 'n' Balanced-style

Doesn't matter if you're out saving the world, doesn't matter if you're standing alone between the indifferent public and the Maoist hordes waiting just beyond the firelight. You still have to read the story before you write the hed:

The mother of a Florida middle school student is upset after her 13-year-old daughter came home from school and told her a teacher put tape over her mouth.

And while we're at it: Why are we not told whether duct tape played its central role?

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Master in commander

A post at Language Log this morning about the eggcorning of "case in point" set me to wondering about a similar one that seems to be crossing more into the upper registers of late: "commander and chief" for "commander in chief." Here's one from the opinion pages of the Troy Record last fall:

Charles Krauthammer: Our distracted commander and chief

There's no mention of "commander in chief" in the column;* the mistake belongs to the hed writer. So how does it get that way? Two of the eggcorn conditions the Log notes for "case in point/case and point" are also present here: The original pattern has come detached from its meaning, and the two pronunciations are roughly equal ("commander 'n' chief" being sort of like "fair 'n' balanced"). I started noticing it mostly in reader comments on news articles. Here's one from a Washington Post piece last year about Obama's plans to spend Memorial Day weekend in Chicago (thus disgracing America by visiting a national cemetery that wasn't Arlington):

... when someone shows there lack of faith in this commander and chief it doesn't make them racist. Also Cemetery does not have an "a" in it, moron.

... but it turns out to be more common than I expected in edited language as well. And there's an entertaining twist: People will botch "commander and chief" right and left, but they almost always get "Kenyan in chief" right.

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Friday, April 01, 2011

Hed salad of the (not especially young) year

All right -- with no story to tell you what the hed means, what do you suppose the hed means?