Tuesday, January 31, 2012

No, but thanks for asking

What a delightful illustration of the difference between question-begging and Stupid Questions! What would we do without The Fox Nation?

OK, the embedded question isn't actually question-begging; it's the interrogative form of question-begging called the "fallacy of multiple questions." You can't answer a question about what "Obama's class warfare rhetoric" did without acknowledging that there is such a thing as "Obama's class warfare rhetoric." That's an informal logical fallacy, as opposed to the Stupid Question, which is evidence of brain-dead cluelessness. Here, we can answer the Stupid Question by asking how many times the hated name of the Kenyan Muslim socialist usurper is mentioned in the story -- either the 390-word version at Fox Nation or the glorioous 1,300 words of AP prose at Fox proper.

The answer in both cases is, um, none. Not only is there no known "class warfare rhetoric," there's no Obama. Whatever the Trotskyite rascal is up to, he isn't up to it here.

One of the fun things about teaching a methods course is reminding the younguns that screwing up isn't necessarily an ethical failure. Lying, on the other hand, is. We all screw up sometimes, but lying is a matter of choice. Or, at certain news outlets, a matter of policy. Please don't hesitate to point out the differences.

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Monday, January 23, 2012

Super-de-dooper-de ... oh, forget it

A suggestion for our friends on the fog-shrouded island and its environs? Next time the first thing pops into your mind, hedwise, wait for the second thing to pop into your mind.

You'll be glad you did.

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Colege is good

For a lot of reasons, not least of which is Your Editor's own typographic ineptitude, this is an editing blog, not a catalog of typos and one-off misspellings. Still, the occasional isolated goof is highlighted, if only to remind copy editors: Please pay extra attention to spelling when Star Columnist is demanding that education be universally recognized as Job One.

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Monday, January 16, 2012

Not really. At least, not if they have a clue


The first interviews of survivors — and the first impressions of people around the world — of the Costa Concordia cruise liner that ran aground and tipped over in Italy are yielding predictable comparisons to another tragedy.

Let's see. Did it stab its royal benefactor because it misinterpreted some shop talk among the local witches? Is it plotting to kill its stepfather on the advice of its ectoplasmic dad? Or are we getting tragedies and accidents confused again? Because on the scale of technological accidents, a death count of five (at this reading) is pretty low-bore. I don't mean to minimize the deaths, but I do wish someone -- the AP is an ideal candidate -- would minimize the stupid comparisons.

... It seems the world views the Concordia through a prism of fact, myth and fantasy that surrounds the Titanic, largely because of the popular 1997 movie.

It may be that "first impressions of people around the world" are bound up in the AP's burst of pop-culture fantasy. (If there's some evidence to support those two claims about "the world," now would be a good time to bring it forth.) Should that be the case, it might be nice if the first instinct of journalists was to debunk such comparisons, rather than ...

... “It looked like it was sheer panic on the Concordia,” said Tom Keill, a Pennsylvania tourist who took in the “Titanic the Experience” tour yesterday morning in Orlando.

Keill said his two young sons are “really into” Titanic history, which is why the family visited the exhibit while on vacation. The exhibit includes artifacts and replicas of the famed ship.
Read more »

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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Wait til you see those bats

Some ledes are so awe-inspiring that all you can do is, oh, sit around and think of ways to repunctuate them. Or read them in the voices of various actors in great roles -- say, Martin Sheen in "Apocalypse Now":

Jesus Christ. The auto show.

You can enjoy the whole thing yourself, and I don't think we'd be spoiling dinner to skip to the conclusion:

And because I went straight from the DIA to Cobo, I couldn't help asking myself, "What would Jesus drive?"

I don't know. But I bet it'd have a chalice holder.

Read more »


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Williams. Vaughan Williams.

I've been using a "Luther King" hed from the Times for a couple years now to illustrate the hazards of random style guesses. Observations from closer at hand are welcome, but what I expect is happening is that the subs are taking a handy shortcut: Anybody who uses three names on first reference uses the last two on second reference.

The hed has since been tweaked (it's now "King statue quote 'to be changed'," with the claim quotes intact), and the story appears to have been updated recently, so I can't tell if the original text also used "King" for "Martin Luther King" on second reference. Still, it's a useful reminder of how easy it is to put a foot wrong in a shortcut.

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Friday, January 13, 2012

First, do no harm

Pending clarification (per Jan's comment below) on which version actually came first, we ask whether this is a case of aid and comfort to the enemy in the Global War on Editing:

Other rent-seeking groups are dispersed across the political spectrum. (
Nation's Newspaper of Record:)

Other rent-seeking groups are disbursed across the political spectrum. (
Foremost Newspaper of the Carolinas)

David Brooks is a cartoonishly bad writer, true. But even an odious heap of freshly composted George Will like this column shouldn't have its shoelaces tied together in the editing process.

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Sunday, January 08, 2012

I'll have the chicken tartare

Even at the Nation's Newspaper of Record, idle hands are Satan's maracas:

Because of an editing error, a review in some editions last Sunday about Polpettina, a restaurant in Eastchester, N.Y., described a chicken entree incorrectly. It is half of a roasted chicken, not a “half-roasted” chicken.

Here's the offending sentence from the original lede:

It's a pizzeria at heart, but what turns heads are the sparkling salads, the way-above-average pasta dishes, a profoundly good half-roasted chicken, and trimly tailored desserts.

... and the perfectly good substitute you see today:

It’s a pizzeria at heart, but what turns heads are the sparkling salads, the way-above-average pasta dishes, a profoundly good roasted chicken half, and trimly tailored desserts.

Allow us a guess here: The writer turned in a lede that used the fairly common (and hardly ungrammatical) menu and cooking term "half roasted chicken." Working on autopilot, some editor saw two modifiers together and assumed they were a compound, rather than a sequence, and our review is suddenly much more interesting to the Health Department than once it was.
Read more »

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Friday, January 06, 2012

If that's the kind of party it's going to be ...

By now, you've probably seen the "herniated dick" story. If so, you've probably also seen the paper's explanation*:

The box was edited by an experienced copy editor, the reporter's first line of defense, and moved along in the production process as written.

The next stop was a final read by a second editor, another experienced employee who recognized that "herniated disc" doesn't conform to the newspaper's style for that type of injury, and that it should be "herniated disk." That editor tried to type in the correction, but ended up with an unfortunate typo.

Credit to the paper for openness -- and for posting an image of the error itself, which you see above. (That takes, um, bodily parts.) To which I'd like to add a few points:

Read more »

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Wednesday, January 04, 2012

You know the drill

Imagine what it would be like if we had people who read over the day's top story (OK, and all the little stories too) and made sure the words were speled good. We could call them ... "copy editors"!


Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Akquire culture and keep the brane clean

We note with regret the departure of cartoonist and illustrator Ronald Searle, and if another term hav begun at yuour skool, you do too.


It's never too late

If you need an arbitrary point on the calendar at which to forswear evil and embrace good, too bad about the whole New Year thing. But there's still plenty of time to make an Old Christmas resolution -- for example, "I shall wash the Forbidden Verbs right out of my hair and send them on their way":

The Spartans celebrate a 33-30 victory over the University of Georgia at the Outback Bowl on Monday in Tampa. (1A)

Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins celebrates after scoring against the Los Angeles Lakers last week. He has since demanded a trade from the Kings. (2B)

Senior quarterback Kirk Cousins celebrates a fourth-quarter touchdown that gives Michigan State its first lead. He would lead another TD drive in the final minutes to force overtime. (1C)

MSU sophomore cornerback Darqueze Dennard celebrates one of his two third-quarter interceptions, this one for a 38-yard touchdown.(4C)

William Gholston celebrates after his fumble recovery in the second quarter. He also led MSU with seven solo tackles. (4C)

The Cowboys’ Markelle Martin celebrates after he recovered a fumble in the third quarter. (6C)

Writing is supposed to be at least a little bit difficult. Banning the Verb of Satan isn't much of a challenge, but it's a start.

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Monday, January 02, 2012

Polling sins: Heads are surging!

I think this is another of those gems for which we can thank Darrell Huff, author of "How to Lie With Statistics": The story about the guy who didn't believe a story he read in the paper, so he went out and bought a dozen more copies to make sure. That's the only way I can explain this bizarre interpretation of an otherwise nondescript poll result, which seems to have cropped up across the nation:

Here's a WashPost blog:
Rick Santorum (4-1): A Des Moines Register poll released Saturday night made plain that the former senator from Pennsylvania is the momentum candidate. Although he took 15 percent overall in the four-day survey, he was at 21 percent in the final two days — a sign that he is peaking in the waning moments.

And the Fair 'n' Balanced Network:
Santorum, who just two weeks ago was polling in single digits, came up third in the Des Moines Register poll. For the final two days of polling, he placed second behind Romney.
Read more »

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