Friday, August 31, 2012

God and man at Marshall Park

Dear in-the-tank liberal communist dictator-coddling pro-Sharia mainstream media:

We note with interest this advance in reporting on the supernatural and its interactions with major political pseudo-events:

About 200 Muslims gathered for a traditional Jumah prayer Friday afternoon in Marshall Park, kicking off a week of religious events in Charlotte tied to the Democratic National Convention.

The beginning of the Muslim event has been peaceful, even though some critics complained it was inappropriate in the days before the convention. Early attendance was far short of the thousands that had been predicted.

This welcome application of the "balancing" norm of professional journalism will be a great help as you shape your reporting on the upcoming Democratic convention. Let's see if it could apply to some of your current religion reporting, shall we?

Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s decision to give the closing prayer for the Democratic convention in Charlotte next week eases, if ever so slightly, months of tensions between the church, the party and the Obama administration over such issues as contraception and abortion.

Dolan’s choice to close both conventions sends a subliminal message that God, at least for now, remains “an undecided.” His appearance at the Republican National Convention began peacefully.

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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Forbidden heds (atop good stories)

Do we need a list of permanently banned campaign heds, like unto those lists circulated every December to tamp down Christmas Came Early, 'Tis The Season and their ilk? I'm happy to nominate* "gloves come off," "come out swinging" and all cognates from the world of fisticuffs.

First, "take off gloves" is meaningless. It fails the fundamental test (especially when it's topping 1A in the lede position) of telling me why today is different from yesterday. It can apply with equal fidelity to about half of all campaign coverage, regardless of what's happened before or what is expected to happen in the future. The best that can be said of the boxing metaphor is that it fits into nearly every conceivable count. If you're stuck with a 1/42/4 on a story whose substance is the recitation of threadbare grunts and squeals on a hot August weekday before a small crowd, "Crook/Liar/take off/gloves" is there for you.

In some cases (this is one), it's also flatly wrong. When Candidate A opens by calling Candidate B a commie:

In their first head-to-head meeting of this election season, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Josh Mandel described Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown as “un-American.”

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Incomprehensible hed of the year

A reminder for all you kids out there: Heds are meant for people who haven't read the story. not for people who have.

Despite some advantages (I've been writing or otherwise playing with heds for many years, including 11 at the paper in question, and have a pretty good store of local, state and regional trivia to fall back on), I was left without an idea. Guesses, initial readings and random speculation about the meaning are invited, and all will be made clear after the jump.

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Friday, August 24, 2012

Drinking game

Level with us here, Boston readers: Is this a drinking game for you guys? There's a pool on how long it takes Howie Carr to mention Ted Kennedy in any particular column?

Isaac permitting, I’ll be flying to Tampa on Sunday for the Republican convention.

Damn the computer models, Gridley, full speed ahead. I have not yet begun to tweet.

So what if even the Sunshine Skyway Bridge is washed away by Isaac’s flood tides? If Ted Kennedy could swim to safety in the raging waters from his sinking ’67 Oldsmobile Delmont, then I can make it to dry land from my ’12 Camry rental from Avis.

Ah, the days when journalism giants bestrode the earth.

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Strayhorn of the Triangle buro poses a perfectly reasonable question for the N&O: If your tracking map and AP lede are all about Isaac, how come the hed's about Joyce?


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

On making stuff up

Well, no. "Most" don't, which is why you should read the story before writing the hed, no matter what you want to believe.

The second graf tells you what you need to know about the hed. How many people are "aware" of the Ryan plan? About 72%. Multiply .72 by the number of those who oppose the plan -- 49% (.49), traditionally considered a little less than "most" -- and you get a reasonable idea of the overall proportion who oppose the plan: about 35%, or slightly more than a third.

A third of what? Good question. It's one of the essential things this brief is missing. We also can't place the reported results in a temporal context -- when was the "poll" taken? -- or judge how good of a guess about public opinion it represents (that's your "margin of error"). All of that could be described in a single clause that describes the sample size, the population, and the time in the field. For example:

The telephone survey of 900* registered voters was conducted Aug. 16-19.

If someone tells you there isn't room to spare, your answer is simple: Any poll that isn't worth a dozen words to explain its mechanics isn't worth reporting.

Observational aside here. I don't think the Freep -- the purportedly liberal side of the  Detroit JOA -- is deliberately baking survey data to favor the Party of Chardonnay and Socialism. It's more likely that the Freep doesn't understand that you're supposed to do a little basic arithmetic before you talk about public opinion; after all, lots of successful journalism consists of making culturally congruent remarks that have little to do with the evidence at hand. But organizations that don't want to be mistaken for Fox News ought to be a little more careful.

* It'd be nice to report the maximum margin of sampling error at 95% confidence, but you can approximate that for yourself given the sample size.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Throwing up in front of Dean Wormer

Morning film quiz: What's the difference between "You just shot an unarmed man" and "You didn't throw up in front of Dean Wormer"?

The cousins at the National Review Online clearly have one reading in mind for their hed:

One of the most ubiquitous Democratic talking points in the wake of Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate is that somehow Romney just “lost” the key swing state of Florida.

And it works fine when it isn't negated. When you throw in that pesky "didn't," though, you're not just throwing up on Florida -- you're throwing up on Florida and whatever senior academic officer might be in the way.

Writing your own heds is a bit like doing your own plumbing. Don't expect it to end well just because your heart is pure.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Whose stolen car?

"Ma'am, did those boys steal that car?"

"No, officer, that's my stolen car!"

The lede clears things up, a bit:

Two 13-year-old boys stole a parent's car in Ohio and drove it hundreds of miles to Kansas City, Mo., where they were found sleeping in it in a downtown alley on Monday, police said.

... but if there's room, going from the homepage to the full story, to turn "over" into "more than," surely there's room for "car stolen from parent."

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Friday, August 03, 2012

Which is it, young feller?

And today's standing-room-only reserved seat in the unheated cattle car for Siberia goes to -- the little comrade who took a business story at face value and wrote the teaser "Stocks Leap as U.S. Job Growth Heats Up."
One man's "jumped" is another's freedom fighter "crept"; that's just an amusing bit of framing for those who don't read past the hed. Here's the mainbar lede:

The unemployment rate ticked up to 8.3 percent in July, reflecting a stagnant economic picture as hiring improved but not by enough to make a dent in the sea of unemployed Americans.

Or, as the generally partisan National Review ("Modest improvement in jobs report") puts it:

Due to the drop in civilian employment, the unemployment rate ticked up to 8.3 percent, but there’s no real story there; unrounded, the new jobless rate is 8.254 percent, barely up from 8.217 percent in June.

... one man's terrorist being another's 0.037 percentage points, apparently.

If you were in a fabricating mood, you could probably create some direct quotes for this story that would be indistinguishable from the real thing -- suggesting that if political campaigns want to comment, it might be sensible to direct them to the ad department.

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