Thursday, May 30, 2013

When I use a word, Humpty Dumpty said ...

Strap on those tinfoil thinking caps, discourse analysis fans: Taking together the hed and deck at right (the offlede in today's Washington Times), what can you conclude about "Obama's claim"?

If you worked backward to some sort of negation of the main hed -- Obama's claim has been refuted, Qaida remains a threat (particularly through its franchises), therefore Obama claimed that Qaida does not remain a threat to the U.S. -- congratulations! You read a lot of headlines and are fluent in American English. That's what the story expects you to think, even if it's a tad bit less categorical:
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Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Couple suggestions:

1) Pirates don't say "Arrrrgh!" They say "Arr!" Sometimes "Arr, arr!" But not "Arrrrgh!"
2) Baseball has a long season. You can consider that evidence of intelligent design or not, but imagine the consequences if every newspaper covering every team that plays Pittsburgh uses even one "Arr!" headline per season.

It's the same general principle that applies to ledes like "It's official": When the first line of your hed can be deleted with no effect on the hed itself, you have written a bad headline.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Equal time

OK, just because the home office here happens to subscribe to one of the local fishwraps rather than the other, we probably don't spend enough time with the News as we could. Hence we sometimes miss locally originated gems like this one:

To the politically correct, the mention of fried chicken is an immediate endorsement of slavery rather than a testament to the innovative determination of the American slave population to improve its own physical wellbeing by creating a readily available dish which improved their diet.

You'll want to read the whole thing!


Monday, May 27, 2013

Today in journalism: 1943

Wondering what to do with those coupons as the long shadow of rationing falls across Canada? Here's a convenient guide!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Thanks, liberal media!

You have to wonder why the Koch brothers would consider spending actual money to buy a newspaper chain when the front page of the local daily is just a phone call away:

The chief lawyer for Koch Industries said Friday that government targeting of conservative political groups is nothing new to the Wichita-based company.

Chief legal counsel Mark Holden said the White House, as early as August 2010, was deliberately trying to politically intimidate Koch Industries.

OMG! Details, please:

Holden said that although he had no direct evidence that the White House had any involvement in targeting Koch for IRS tax scrutiny,* he pointed to what he described as a “disturbing” comment about taxes and Koch Industries made by one of President Obama’s political advisers, Austan Goolsbee, at a White House briefing in August 2010.

Hmm. Was this the same comment he was "deeply concerned" about in October 2010? And that drew forth an op-ed blast against "Chicago-style tactics" the same month?
Read more »

3 shot in shooting!

Since the event was a "shooting," do you figure there might be a slightly more informative passive verb than "shot"? Maybe "injured," for example? And since it happened Friday afternoon, is there something more relevant to talk about on the homepage than what emergency crews were up to at 4:51 p.m.? (As of this writing, the most recent update was 8:40 a.m.) And could we get around to banning "respond" in cop ledes, please?*

The second example illustrates (as did the first) why the passive voice is generally preferred for crime stories. Passive heds make it easier to emphasize outcome, rather than process -- to talk about what happened (people were shot), rather than which agencies did which parts of their job (police investigated). Leaving out the subject lets the hed say more about the object ("S.C. man indicted," for example). And, in this case, you'd have the added advantage of being more grammary; "indict" is transitive, so it needs an object.

One more tip: Couldn't  you do a shift-enter before "in" to keep the prepositional phrase all on one line? Granted, that one's pretty trivial, and hed phrasing is the sort of thing Old Editors have long emphasized in the hope, rather than the knowledge, that readers prefer it. Good editing, though, is less about the amazing catch that leads the sportscast than about the accumulation of small things -- lots of small things -- done right. That needs to be our claim for a role for editors -- lots of editors -- in the professional product.

* Yes, stylebook fans, "Streets" should be lowercase. That'd be a nice touch, though I expect the lay reader would find "responding to scene" more annoying.

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Friday, May 24, 2013

By the pricking of ...

Q: What's the difference between a New York tabloid and an 11-year-old boy?
A: An 11-year-old boy eventually runs out of weeny jokes.

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Friends don't let friends write "it's official"

It’s official: Dave Hunter and Charles Urquhart, the former hosts of the “Dave and Chuck (the Freak)” morning show on CIMX-FM (88.7),” will launch a new show on WRIF-FM (101.1) at 6 a.m. May 28.

Q: What's worse than allowing an "it's official" lede into print?
A: Repeating it in the hed!

What, by now, could have seemed original about the "it's official" hed?

It's official: Central Michigan's Eric Fisher goes No. 1 overall in NFL draft (4/25/13)

It's official: Spartans' Travis Trice is out for Michigan game tonight (2/12/13)

It's official: Electoral College count affirms Obama's win (1/4/13) 

It's official: Cabrera up for MVP, J.V. for Cy Young (11/7/2012)

It's official: Joseph Tobin to be Archbishop of Indianapolis (10/18/12)

It's official: Refs approve deal, back to work today (9/30/12)

It's official: First half of 2012 is U.S.'s hottest (7/10/12)

... or the lede?

It's official: Hotmail is dead. (5/3/13)

It’s official: the Legends and Leaders are in their final season. (4/28/13)

It’s official: Wolverine is rooting for the Wolverines. (4/5/2013)

It's official: Lace is no longer just for brides, boudoirs and buffet tables. (3/18/13)

It's official. "Bachelor" hunk Sean Lowe will join Season 16 of ABC's "Dancing With the Stars." (3/12/13)

Remember, kids, only you can prevent "it's official."

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Monday, May 20, 2013

Form circular firing squad

Don't be distracted, you guys, it's a TRAP!!!! Right, Washington Times?

Just when Benghazi has reached critical mass, the Obama administration, which has had only one scandal (Fast and Furious early in term 1, and that fizzled fast and furiously), suddenly has two more scandals? Coincidence, yes?

No. Not at all. They were dropped, on purpose, at a most convenient time, and they’re already played out. Exactly according to plan.

Think we should tell the Fair 'n' Balanced Network? Anyway, let's see how the usurper did it:

... The whole ham-handed game play is comical. Just as shocking testimony emerged on the Benghazi scandal, the administration rolls out two scandals, with the targets just coincidentally — the media and right-wing conservatives. Absurd. But fairly brilliant. The self-absorbed media predictably swooned over its plight — this is the biggest scandal ever. And the right-wingers grew indignant, finally able to say “We told you so.” Well played, Obama administration.

Which was it: Ham-handed? Comical? Absurd? Brilliant?

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Local anesthesia

Today's editing tip: Spice up those boring stories about global extinction by inserting a local angle!

LAT original:
It's 1.7 miles long. Its surface is covered in a sticky black substance similar to the gunk at the bottom of a barbecue. If it impacted Earth it would probably result in global extinction. Good thing it is just making a flyby.

Asteroid 1998 QE2 will make its closest pass to Earth on May 31 at 1:59 p.m. PDT.

Improved with localization:
An asteroid about 1.7 miles long and covered in a sticky substance is barreling toward Earth. Fortunately, when it gets to its closest point to Detroit at 4:59 p.m. May 31, it will still be some 3.6 million miles away. And good thing: because if the rock named 1998 QE2 smacked Earth it would probably result in global extinction. 

Got it? This is going to be on the final.


No, but thanks for asking

What is it about the Stupidity Tax that brings out the Stupid Question at America's copy desks? No, don't answer that.

It is kind of a reminder, though, that if you want people to trust your polling data come election season, two good starting points would be:

1) Never invent stuff about public opinion
2) Leave the "you may already be a winner!!!" to the hucksters themselves

Any questions? No, don't answer that either.

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Friday, May 17, 2013

"That's what" of the month

Sayonara, prison life.

That’s what Monica Conyers can say now that her federal prison sentence for bribery is officially over.

Is there a particular reason she can say that today, rather than in December, when she  moved from prison to the halfway house described in today's story, or January, when she moved to "home confinement"? Is it the number of silly 1950s stereotypes she absorbed from movies in the interim, or what? Inquiring minds want to ... no, they don't.

The "top cop" parade continues, of course, with this from a 1A story:

In a wide-ranging interview Thursday with the Detroit Free Press editorial board and reporters, James Craig — coming from a job as the Cincinnati police chief to become Detroit’s top cop — said he wants to make sure the department is staffed appropriately.

... and this hed from a sidebar (slightly different in print, above right): 

Read more »

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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

You shall never take us alive, officer!

Here's a nice, easy target for someone out there: Get through one hiring cycle without ever referring to the police chief (or whatever the title is in your jurisdiction) as the "top cop."

It's off the table for this candidate; that's today's front page above, and Tuesday's 1A tease below. Monday's online story notes that "this is the second time Craig has tried for the job of Detroit’s top cop," and here's the May 5 lede:

One of the top contenders for the job of Detroit’s police chief is the top cop in Cincinnati.

And a hed from October, when it (ahem) became clear (kaff) that the incumbent was leaving:

City's next top cop will have hands full

... and from the previous April:

Top cop: More concessions are needed

Read more »

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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Alarmed and dangerous

There's more to this correction than the local fishwrap lets on. Here's what appears to be the relevant sentence from the online version of Monday's story:

The security was needed because Michiganders at a state auction of drilling lands last year became violent — “one guy pulled a gun” — and officers made seven arrests, MDEQ spokesman Brad Wurfel said.

I can see getting a department spokesman and a department official mixed up somewhere amid the notes and emails or whatever. And "firearm" for "fire alarm" -- maybe it's a stretch for a telephone error, but it's hardly implausible. Except that's not what the quote says. The quote says "pulled a gun," and the quotation marks are supposed to mean that's exactly -- not kinda-sorta -- what the speaker said. Given that distinction, maybe we should know a little more about how this error came about.

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Thursday, May 09, 2013

Why no chicken?

No peeking now, sports fans. The Red Wings are playing Anaheim in the first round of the NHL playoffs. One of these heds from the hometown fishwrap commemorates a Detroit win; the other, a loss. Can you tell which is which?

Need another hint? In one, the Wings won 3-2 in overtime. In the other, the Wings lost 3-2 in overtime. Getting warmer?

Read more »

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Monday, May 06, 2013

When I use a survey, said Humpty Dumpty ...

Hey, kids! Of the two Bureau of Labor Statistics surveys reported the first Friday of each month in the eagerly awaited* report on jobs and joblessness, which one should the right-thinking young person take more seriously? Is it ...

The Household Survey reaches deeper into the recesses of the economy than does the Establishment Survey. It also does not involve conjuring jobs out of thin air, a la the Establishment Survey's "birth/death model."

Well, that seems pretty clear. It's the household survey, which produces the unemployment rate, not the establishment survey, which produces the number of jobs added or lost. But what did it look like last October? Oh NOES!!!!!

The professional economists and the press usually emphasize the establishment survey because it is viewed as less volatile. ... Back when President Bush presided over a jobless recovery, the household survey tended to show better news. At the time, every media organization carefully emphasized the establishment numbers, and warned that the household numbers are suspect. That, of course, is what happens when a Republican is in office. For President Obama, you can expect a household survey lovefest.

So, to sum things up, if the household survey makes the Kenyan Muslim commie look worser, it's better, but if it makes him look gooder, it's badder. Got it? This could be on the final.

* Not quite an "important psychological barrier," but close.


Fractious Near East at peace!

Study says beer cures common cold! New sports car runs on emission-free blend of spiderwebs and moonbeams!

For surely there was no other news to report by the time Monday's front was put together in Lexington:

Former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin said Sunday that her first Kentucky Derby experience was "heavenly."

Read more here:


Sunday, May 05, 2013

Return of the huskies

In today's "Barney and Clyde," the streetwise Clyde is enlightening his wealthy friend Barney about the many ways to describe the way tourists walk: "Like the Eskimos and 'snow,' we have 50 words for 'slow.'"

Well, sure, it's not especially original, but it's not even especially original to "B&C." Here's a relevant chunk of the strip from Feb. 5, 2012, with Barney bringing up the Eskimos:

 Wonder when it will show up next?

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Friday, May 03, 2013

How not to do rewrite

If you're going to lift a Shock Horror Outrage story from the competition, be sure you get those pesky details right! Here's the Fair 'n' Balanced lede:

Police in China have smashed a crime ring that sold meat from rats and other animals as rat meat, in a case that left the public disgusted and highlighted the need for more food safety regulations in the world's most populous nation.

At the Times, you get the idea that selling rat as rat wasn't the problem:
Read more »

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Thursday, May 02, 2013

Let us eat, Jane

Sorry* to be so adolescent about major news items, but for the foreseeable future, this is going to come to mind when the prescience of Our Founding Fathers is mentioned:

Jamestown's colonists resorted to cannibalism during the "starving time" winter of 1609-10, archaeologists confirmed** Wednesday.

In a presentation at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, archaeologist Doug Owsley presented the reconstructed skull of a 14-year-old English girl, named "Jane" by the researchers, discovered at the site of the fort and bearing the marks of butchery.

Perhaps we can now think of the Jamestown comma as a regional variant of the Donner Party comma.

*OK, not very
** Kudos to the AP for not saying "confirmed"

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