Saturday, July 28, 2012

Everybody needs a copy editor

If you're not a fan of The Blaze, Glenn Beck's self- gratification site, you might have missed the buildup to the "Restoring Love" event (now just hours away!). Here's an exciting bit of biblical history from the preliminaries:

The faith leader also delved into partisan politics. Rather than towing the party line, he reminded believers that they serve God and not partisanship.

God does not ride the backs of donkeys and elephants,” he proclaimed.

Jerusalem bureau's on the line, your reverence. That's not what his friends say.

"Towing the line" fixed free, of course. But the reason we keep copy editors around is that they can play on both levels at once.  

Friday, July 27, 2012

Who needs Fox when ...

... the so-called "mainstream media" are so deliberately clueless about the meaning of what they report?

Nicole Goolsby, 48, started her small business, the Cornelius, N.C.-based Rion Homes, 12 years ago after taking out a $15,000 loan on her credit card and setting up a desk in her bedroom.

She says she did not rely on the federal government for help – reacting to recent comments by President Barack Obama that “if you’ve got a business – you didn’t build that; somebody else made that happen.”

To the surprise of no one, what we have here is a pseudo-event -- specifically,  one of two "We Did Build This" events held in North Carolina to give businesspersons a chance to explain why they'd rather have the real American than the Kenyan Muslim socialist.

... There were two dozen events around the country Wednesday touting the “We Did Build This” theme, according to Robert Reid, the North Carolina spokesman for Romney’s campaign. The tumult over Obama’s comments on small-business success shows no sign of fading, and the president is pushing back hard with new ads scheduled to run in North Carolina and other battleground states to counter Romney’s claims.

"Shows no sign of fading" might or might not be true; there's no indication that the reporter looked for any evidence beyond a staged event to test that statement. Should it be true, perhaps one reason is that the notionally grownup press is increasingly incapable of looking at bullshitters and saying -- oh, something on the order of "bullshit."

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How do you even get out of bed?

How do you even get out of bed in the morning if you rely on the Fair 'n' Balanced Network for your agenda-setting needs?

A controversy is brewing over whether the United States should break tradition and dip the American flag at the opening ceremony Friday night for the London Olympics-- despite the fact that doing so would violate US Flag Code.

Scott Blackmun, the CEO of the United States Olympic Committee, told Reuters they were discussing the matter internally.

"We've talked about that a little bit and you never know what is going to happen," Blackmun told the news agency.

But later a spokesman for the USOC sent Fox News a statement calling the Reuter's report "not accurate."

"We have made an official recommendation to the athlete, not to dip the flag," the spokesperson told Fox News. "We have also spoken to the athlete advisory committee and they are in agreement."

Since this was the top story of the late afternoon, and it's now past midnight in London, and Mary Poppins and Voldemort and Pooh have all had it out (with, apparently, an audio appearance by the TARDIS), doesn't journalistic etiquette kinda require telling us whether the blood-dimmed tide* was actually loosed? I'm waiting for the update.

* With the AP quoting William Blake, I'd have to say the presumptive answer is "yes."


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

I'm sure you do

Reader Brian proposes the "You say tomato" cultivar for the ash heap of history. I'm inclined to agree -- in no small part because it seems all but guaranteed to violate the Basic Hed Mission: Tell me what I'm about to read.

And while we're on the subject? Stop it with "London calling."


If you already know ...

Dear editors: If you already know the answer (as the deck indicates), why are you asking the question?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The rockin' ammonia and the boogie-woogie flu

And this just in from the local freesheet*:

Clawson Code Enforcement Officer Barbara Chambers, who previously held the same position with Royal Oak, said peppermint and pneumonia — both of which can be applied through gels or liquids as an invisible fence of sorts — drive rats away
, but simply cause them to relocate into neighboring yards.

Sad to say, it's been corrected online:

.... peppermint and ammonia — both of which can be applied through gels or liquids as an invisible fence of sorts — drive rats away

* Spotted by Language Czarina. Further ammonia information can be found here.

'Get off my lawn' in Mandarin

Here's an interesting take from overseas on the occasional cultural tussle over what it means to be "in the dictionary" or "in the stylebook." Aside from the annual silliness over the AP's hyphenation decisions and the like (OMG teh lulz are official!!1!!), these fights sometimes represent small-scale securitizing moves: attempts to show that the bad guys are seizing control of "our" ability to define who "we" are by grabbing the official reins of language. In this case, though, it's not what the dictionary does but what the dictionary doesn't do:

A newly-published edition of one of China's most authoritative dictionaries has already been criticised by rights campaigners.

They complain that it has excluded a definition widely used by homosexuals in China for "gay".

Oh, my. What could that word be?

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Every fall, the trees are filled with underwear

Our friends downtown are asking the wrong person. I don't even know who put the ram in the rama-lama-ding-dong.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Random images: Your thoughts?

This image arrived in the email the other day along with a good question (bunch of questions, actually), thanks to Barbara Phillips Long:

Part of the problem with the photo, I realized, is that I wondered who the people in the photo were and whether it was a 'real' photo of something actually taking place, or a posed photo of a doctor and a patient, or a posed photo of people pretending to be a doctor and a patient. About the only thing I could say for certain is that it wasn't two toddlers playing doctor.

I agree, and I also share Barbara's summary conclusion: "I'm just not interested in seeing irrelevant photos any more" (discussed earlier in a slightly different context here). Aside from the confusion, whether momentary or not, about who's who, and the potentially more dangerous confusion about whether any other images you see on a site are real or merely illustrative, there's a mechanical question: Is the image worth the time it takes to load on your tablet or other viewing platform of choice?

With all that said, let's open the floor to discussion: Are we seeing more cases of the stock photo used to illustrate the concrete story? Is there a real difference between "a doctor, like the one shown here" and "an Airbus A320, like the one shown here"? Are people hearing from the traffic-counters if a story isn't illustrated? Is there too much of it, or not enough? (Your Editor does admit to occasional bursts of get-off-my-lawnism.) Is this something audiences expect (or that we expect audiences to expect)? Are news sites assuming that such illustrations make stories better liked or better remembered? Are there other habits like this that might be getting routinized in online news presentation?

Comments and thoughts encouraged. This would be a fun topic to look at empirically.

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Monday, July 16, 2012

Today in hed originality

When the heds are just writing themselves, maybe you should think about giving them the rest of the day off.

Bill Buckley, phone home

Oh, my. My, my, my.

Remember when the American right could draw on people of genuine intellect and wit
when it took to the lists? Let's see what the sharp knives over at the National Review are up to -- Mark Steyn, for example:

In the wake of Louis Freeh’s report on Penn State’s complicity in serial rape, Rand Simberg writes of Unhappy Valley’s other scandal:

I’m referring to another cover up and whitewash that occurred there two years ago, before we learned how rotten and corrupt the culture at the university was. But now that we know how bad it was, perhaps it’s time that we revisit the Michael Mann affair, particularly given how much we’ve also learned about his and others’ hockey-stick deceptions since. Mann could be said to be the Jerry Sandusky of climate science, except that instead of molesting children, he has molested and tortured data in the service of politicized science that could have dire economic consequences for the nation and planet.
Not sure I’d have extended that metaphor all the way into the locker-room showers with quite the zeal Mr Simberg does, but he has a point.

No. No, he doesn't. Certainly not in any sense of the term that reflects an intellectual or moral competence above the level of a fairly dim garden slug.

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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Your friend the preposition

Most of the "bad grammar" you run across in a day of editing won't involve out-and-out mistakes. Damage is much more likely to result from perfectly grammatical constructions that do something other than what the writer (or editor) intended, as in today's example.

Stuff is found in Indiana all the time. It doesn't take long to find cases in which "found in Indiana" is central to the topic at hand:

Glyphosate-resistant weeds found in Indiana
Fugitive Couple Found In Indiana
Missing Wyoming woman found in Indiana

.... but none of those are the sort of "in Indiana" we're dealing with here. Here's the AP story from which the brief appears to have come:

SALEM, Ind. - Police say a 3-year-old boy accidentally shot and killed his father after finding the man's loaded handgun in a southern Indiana home.

As long as we're trimming and adding (which is how the father's age moved up from the second paragraph), why not make it "police in Indiana say"? It doesn't take a lot of work to make readers appreciate your prose better, but it does take some.

And the subhed? I'd avoid "quick hit" when there are two blurbs in the "quick hits" section, as there are today. And if episodic handgun death shows some signs of being a regular feature, I might look for a less giggly way of approaching news summaries.

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Saturday, July 14, 2012

Pain in the as

No peeking, now -- what does the hed mean? More particularly, what part of the hed does "as part of dispute" go with?

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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

No, but thanks for asking

When the Ancient Mariner stoppeth one of three and you happen to be that one, there are several ways you can respond:

1) Print everything the old guy says.
2) Perform some basic verification, starting with, for example: "Gosh, Ancient Mariner! How do you know that?"
3) RUN!!!!!!

Lather, rinse, repeat on (2), pausing every now and again to compare what you're hearing to what is known about the empirical world, and before long you can decide whether you have (a) a news story or (b) a random fable about a scary world of orcs and monsters. Wonder how the Fair 'n' Balanced Network fared with its top story of the afternoon!

Read more »

Monday, July 09, 2012

March of the Stupid Questions

Dear friends at the Daily Herald: If you want to demonstrate the paper's value, shouldn't you use the space above the fold to tell the audience more things than you ask the audience?

As a reminder: The question mark is not a form of attribution. If a story isn't well enough sourced to support a headline that tells me something, you should be asking questions of the story -- not of the audience. 

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Sunday, July 08, 2012

Those late-breaking quotation marks

At top is the Fair 'n' Balanced Network's No, 2 story from Saturday night; below, with quotes around "false," the version from Sunday morning.

That's a slip; even Fox usually follows the rules about using quotes to displace opinion from yourself to someone else. The revised version is a legitimate shortening* of "viciously negative and false ads" in the text, even though the quote doesn't specify which of the "ads" are false and which are just "viciously negative." But slip or not, the story's a fun illustration of how the party press negotiates the rules of objective journalism.
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Saturday, July 07, 2012

We don't need no second read on the agate

Has it been only three weeks since your most recent "We Don't Need No Education" hed, Nation's Newspaper of Record?

A pop music entry in the Listings pages on Friday about Roger Waters’s live presentation of the album “The Wall,” at Yankee Stadium on Friday and Saturday nights, misidentified the band that recorded the album. It was Pink Floyd, not the Who.

You'd like to think the performer's name would have been sort of a giveaway (unless the Times thought Mr. Waters joined the band after Mr. Floyd left). Still, it's hard to avoid concluding that a second set of eyes never hurt anything -- even in the almanac/calendar stuff.

Brickwise, "we don't need no ..." seems to be running right up there with "meet the new boss" and its offspring at the Times. The June hed was Krugman's second of the year.

Here's a simple desultory philippic. Maybe we could declare both forms to be knockin' on heaven's door for the rest of the year -- or at least the campaign season.

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Friday, July 06, 2012

Math day at Fox

This homepage had to feel good coming off the bat at the old Fair 'n' Balanced Network. It's got union thugs threatening all the good work Republicans are doing. It's got Obama looking all Kenyan and Muslim. It's got another story (original to Fox*) about heartless bureaucrats getting in the way of everyday heroes. But really -- how long did you think you'd have to wait before Scott Peterson was top-of-the-page news again?

The story itself -- consisting of a Q&A with a prison official -- isn't as interesting as the frontpage blurb, though:

San Quentin prison officials reveal details about the daily routine of Laci Peterson's killer, from his relations with other inmates to what his 6-cubic-feet cell is like at the Northern California facility.

I think the answer to that is "pretty tight."

The closest approximation in the text appears to be this:

All inmates housed in California institutions are allowed 6 cubic feet of personal property.

... but who cares about details when a page like this one is waiting?

* It's interesting to note that in the national version, there's nothing in the story to back up the "will reportedly be investigated" in the lede. The local station appears to have at least tried for comments from the bureaucrats on Thursday night.

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Thursday, July 05, 2012

Editors, kings, tapeworms

Tempted to use a first-person pronoun in a hed? Lie down until the urge goes away. If the urge doesn't go away, ask a few friends to jump up and down on you.

The first of these is just silly, in the "We're Eating More Beets" sense that made USA Today so easy to make fun of. The second -- "Advertisers using models who look more like us" -- tries for a nice inclusive "we" and fails:

Hey, baby boomers and retirees. If you think you're seeing yourself reflected in more ads lately, you don't have to check your vision.

In a shift from what has been predominantly a youth-driven culture, advertising is looking more like us — with gray hair, curves and crow's feet — as companies are increasingly booking older models to court older consumers.

More like "us," in other words, as long as "we" are still white Baby Boomers (or "seniors" who lead something called an "active South Florida lifestyle"). Blargh.

Variations on the kings-and-tapeworms theme have been ably chronicled by Ben Zimmer.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Stranded after told on list

You've probably seen versions of this hed shortcut before -- at least, part of it:

The cousins at Language Log have provided a detailed taxonomy of the practice and have continued tracking it into the Twitter age. There's plenty left to explore: whether broadsheets catch it from tabs, for example, or whether it was imported from overseas or arose here independently. Today's case seems to have spread in part through the miracle of roboposting. "Stranded after told" yields plenty of Google hits at newspaper and TV websites, and at a station where it's a local story, the last clause is repaired -- "San Diego Man Stranded After Told Name On No-Fly List" (the conversion to upstyle also suggesting some extra attention).

Two in the same hed -- "Man stranded after (being) told (he is) on no-fly list" -- seems like a breakthrough. Anybody seen a comparable double dip?

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Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Editing coup of the (still-young) month

Q: What's the best way to reserve a standing-room-only seat on the next unheated cattle car from New York Avenue NE to Siberia?

A: Well, let's narrow things down a bit. Clearly it's not the bizarreness of "make no frenemies" in the main hed,* or the Sesame Street-ness of "Obama avenue" in the deck, nor yet the "call it" lede:

Call it the “friend-enemy” distinction.

And why would we call it that?

Mitt Romney has assembled a foreign-policy platform rooted in the belief that adversaries such as Russia must be confronted for backsliding on democracy and like Israel must be supported in the face of common threats such as a nuclear-armed Iran.
Should you be a native first-language speaker of English, or one of those pesky foreigners who can diagram our dern sentences better than we can diagram 'em ourownselves, that one's pretty easy to figure out: adversaries such as Russia must be confronted, and adversaries like Israel must be supported.

Online, the second graf is in line with what the WaTimes actually believes:

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Sunday, July 01, 2012

Sunny with a chance of daylight

Having updated its storm coverage Saturday late morning to point out that people were in the dark, the Fair 'n' Balanced network waited until late morning Sunday to -- update its coverage with a reprise of Saturday's hed!

Here's a fallback rule for hed writing: When in doubt, tell me why today is different from yesterday. Telling me that today is the same as yesterday -- particularly when, in broad daylight, you're simply wrong again -- is a bad idea, plain and simple.

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Today in exegesis

And what would be some examples, Nation's News Leader?

Yet few presidents embodied the biblical concept of “com- forting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable” as much as Roosevelt, who once called the heartless business tycoons of his day “the money changers” in the temple.

Or as the Book of Joseph tells us, freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.

"Comfort the afflicted," in its various forms, is generally attributed to the columnist Finley Peter Dunne, writing in his "Mr. Dooley" persona (you may agree that Dooley's supposed Irish dialect is part of Dunne's "wit and charm," or you may quietly pound nails into your skull). But this generalized ignorance of the subject matter isn't the main reason serious news organizations shouldn't inject themselves into the world of religion.

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