Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Are you ready to be a copy editor?

Q: How can you tell if you're really a copy editor?
A: If your first reaction to this lede is "wow, somebody finally put commas around a midclause 'police said,'" you are really, truly a copy editor.

Naturally, that's not all you'd notice. You might wonder, for example, about "drug-fueled high" -- "drug-fueled rampage" or "drug-fueled recording session," fine, but let's stay out of the Department of Redundancy Department when we can. You might be puzzled at the second-day nature of the lede. It's really more of a seventh-day lede, in that the events happened last Tuesday, but there's still room to ask: Why is this story in the paper anyway? And you're probably thinking about holding a headline contest after the last edition closes.

But if your takeaway from all this is the heavens don't darken when you punctuate a cops lede correctly, then there's no doubt. You are a copy editor.

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Friday, June 21, 2013

Those pesky taboos

You can't help but think the Nation's Newspaper of Record could have avoided this one if it hadn't insisted on being so f***ing coy:

An article on June 6 about the Bushwick Open Studios event in Brooklyn misinterpreted a statement by the artist Juniper Alcorn in the process of paraphrasing it to eliminate an obscenity. Ms. Alcorn says that the vulgarity in her manifesto means that she is a feminist who messes around, not that she “sleeps around.”  

Here's the corrected version of the paragraph in question:

One of the other artists, Juniper Alcorn, then directed the visitor’s attention to a hall where her art hung, two monochromatic canvases centering on athletic socks thickly encrusted with paint.  And Ms. Alcorn — whose bracing artist’s statement explained in essence (using bawdier language) that “Juniper Alcorn is a feminist and messes around accordingly” — said, “The work is Abstract Expressionism meets feminist arts-and-crafts.” 

Aside from the bit about putting quotes around (in essence) a paraphrase, maybe the desk should have had a bit more of a talk with this writer about the many virtues of Our Naughty Words.

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Today in visual journalism

What a chore they had at the Fair 'n' Balanced Network this morning, finding stuff to illustrate a story like "Obama to push for nuke arms cuts"!

(The one with the cooling tower is from around 8 a.m.; the new! improved! version was captured at 9:15.)

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Sentence of the week

How can we summarize the stunning plot that catapulted the Kenyan Muslim usurper past America's drooping eyelids in 2008, Fair 'n' Balanced Network?

"The most amazing part about this voter fraud case involving the highest office in the United States is the fact that such a few number of people, because of laziness, arrogance or both did not do their job and thus could have affected the outcome of the election," noted St. Joseph County Republican Party Charwoman Dr. Deborah Fleming.

The quote isn't "ungrammatical" in any important way, but it's ... discourteous. Not just calling her a charwoman,* but asking her for a comment and then placing quotes around whatever sort of word gazpacho she barfed up. It's simply good journalistic manners to give her another chance to produce something coherent, whether she's speaking for the home team or not.

Read more »

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Monday, June 17, 2013

Just long enough

Q: How can you tell if you finally speak the local language?
A: When you can turn off the radio and still successfully complete a lede like: Federal agents are digging up a field in Northern Oakland Township ...

(Answer after the jump, or feel free to leave a comment)

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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Really stupid stuff you shouldn't do with polls

Q: What's worse than writing a bogus poll story because it fits a sports narrative?
A: Writing a bogus poll story because it fits the party line!

I think we've discussed this point before, but one way you can distinguish the professional press from the party press is that the professionals screw up survey reporting evenhandedly. If the New York Times decides to round all its confidence intervals to the nearest whole percentage point, that's a dumb decision, but it applies with equal dumbness to all results -- not just ones the Times allegedly likes or dislikes. Similarly, horse-race writers will write about who purportedly clawed whose way back into contention after the candidates traded jabs when the gloves came off, regardless of how the paper's endorsement is going to go. The horse race is a silly narrative, but it usually operates independently of party alignment.

The party press is a different creature. (I'm fond of this example from 2008, in which a 3-point lead* is "Within Margin Of Error" when the Kenyan Muslim usurper is ahead but "McCain Out Front" when the home team is winning.) Its goal is to tell the audience what ought to be happening. And the risk with letting your wishes influence your results -- trying to be objective here, kids -- is not just deluding the general-purpose viewer but deluding the paymaster. If anybody deserves a clear-eyed account of the Massachusetts Senate race, it's the American side -- right, Fair 'n' Balanced Network?

The Senate race is Massachusetts is deadlocked heading into the final weeks** – again challenging the assumption that a little-known Republican cannot win national office in such a heavily Democrat state.
There are no values of "deadlocked" for which this is true -- at least, not on any evidence the story presents, or any evidence from the lone specific source the story cites. Above is Real Clear Politics' summary of the four most recent polls in the Gomez-Markey race. In the two latest, the Democrat has a 7-point lead; with a sample of 500 in each case, that means a "margin of error" of 4.4 points at your standard 95 percent confidence. If Fox News tells you that's an even bet, Fox News had better hope it gets to the county line before you and your friends with the tar and feathers do.***

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Stupid stuff you shouldn't do with polls

Sad news for CBS Miami: Even if you're writing dumb throwaways about poll results to feed your sports-starved population, you do not get to make stuff up:

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – While the Miami Heat tied the 2013 NBA Finals at 2-2 Thursday night, outside of South Florida, the San Antonio Spurs are the overwhelming selection for Americans to win the NBA championship.

Set aside the "while" clause for a moment -- what do "most Americans" think about the NBA finals?

According to Public Policy Polling, 32 percent of those surveyed wanted the Spurs to win the Finals while 20 percent selected the Heat. The polling came as part of a larger poll dealing with other political issues of the day.
Read more »

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Today in journalism: Fistic retaliation

Q: Was there a winner in the Elongated Yellow Fruitstakes in the June 13, 1942, editions of The Globe and Mail?
A: Yes!

Q: Well?
A... calling a man a liar is not sufficient to provoke fistic retaliation.



Isn't it pretty to think so?

As long as there are rimrats who will write "pain at the pump" heds, no. The worst is not behind us. The worst is yet to come.
Nor does there seem to be a particular reason for the random g-droppin' in the editorial hed. The edit is, at least, about trash; it isn't about talking trash, but that's beside the point. Whom are you guys trying to endear yourselves toom with the random pseudo-dialect?

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Saturday, June 08, 2013

There once was a man from Topeka

Nice of the Wichita Eagle to remind us of what a "like" is, even if it kind of misses the poetry vs. prose thing:

So he wrote a poem about living in Kansas. That bit of prose was the impetus for the Facebook page, which, as of Friday afternoon, had more than 45,500 “likes.” A like is basically a thumbs-up.

I must admit to being especially fond of the website's motto: "Ad astra per f*ck you."

Read more here: http://www.kansas.com/2013/06/07/2837207/facebook-page-promotes-kansas.html#storylink=cpy

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Friday, June 07, 2013

Today in 1942: Typewriters

Imagine, a technology company faced with a new set of regulations from the gubmint:

Because writing machines are essential to industrialized total war, rationing of typewriters was inevitable. All new and recent model, factory rebuilt, office-size machines had to be conserved for the vital needs of the United Nations' war production.

Underwood Elliott Fisher accordingly applauds the new regulations which went into effect June 1st. It pledges the sincerity and vigilance of its Dominion-wide sales, service and supply organization to the regulations' whole-hearted observance and rigid enforcement.

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Uh ... yeah

You guys at the New York Post might not want to put this one in the old portfolio.

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Thursday, June 06, 2013

Today in 1943: Those pesky facts

In case you didn't think history had a habit of repeating itself, have a look at what the Association of Canadian Advertisers was being told, according to the June 6 Globe and Mail:

Mr. Clark* said he was making a "frank confession" on the subject, and declared that from now on the people will have to content themselves with being given less factual data and news about the size or operations of the Canadian fighting forces. This did not mean, he said, that the Government planned to clamp down on information "but it does mean that we have to become more sensibly cautious about the extent and nature of that information."
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Those pesky hard vowels

Q: What's funnier than a frontpage story about political science and language?
A: A frontpage Washington Times story about political science and language!

Names with the soft consonant “l” or that end in a long “a” — for example, President Obama’s daughter Malia — are more likely to be found in Democratic neighborhoods, while names with hard vowel sounds such as K, G or B — think former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s sons Track and Trig — are more popular in Republican communities.

How the study's "schwa A" became the notional "long A" in "Malia" is an interesting question, but it pales next to those manly hard vowels K, G, and B!
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Wednesday, June 05, 2013

What light through yonder winder shines?

Seen one, seen 'em all:

An article on Friday about efforts by the Vatican Bank to polish its image misidentified the country whose famously murky finances were cleaned up in part by René Brülhart, a Swiss lawyer hired last year as the head of the Vatican’s internal financial watchdog. It is Liechtenstein, not Luxembourg.

Anything else you want to tell us about that story, Nation's Newspaper of Record?

The article also misstated a word in a Gospel lesson depicted in a painting hanging in the building that houses the Vatican Bank. The lesson begins, “Render unto Caesar” — not “Render under Caesar.”

I tend to think of that lesson as "beginning" with the Pharisees muttering among themselves, but either way, this is a great season for corrections on the religion front.

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Noun pile of the morning

Quick, noun pile fans: What does this BBC hed mean, and how long did it take you to get there?
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Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Heavy lifting

Cue the clock radio, brush off the Berra-isms, it must be playoff time in a major southeastern city badly in need of the sort of lift that only sports can provide!

If you can tell which 1A hed goes with Monday's game and which comes from last year, you're off to a good start. (Today's front is at left; June 8, 2012, is at right.) Ready for a real test? Here are some excerpts from the two columns. Identify each by the year it ran:
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Monday, June 03, 2013

Today in journalism: Fighting salmon

If you're wondering whether there's any advertiser in the 1943 Globe and Mail who can't make a claim on the war effort, the answer is "no, probably not":

Too valuable to stay at home, Canadian canned salmon has been selected, among other vital foods, to nourish and sustain the fighting millions of Britain.

... a fact worth remembering in times of peace.

Thanks, guys!

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Oh, the inanity

Q: Are there cities other than Detroit that can regularly contend for the coveted Unhinged 1A Sports Prose trophy?
A: Yes.
Q: What would be some examples?
A: Listen and attend:

This Miami Heat team is so great.

So very, very great.

Read more »

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Sunday, June 02, 2013

Son of the Flying Verb

Spare a moment of regret for the magnificent Flying Verb -- once roaming the midlands of North American continent in its mighty flocks, now so rare even in its remaining strip of East Coast habitat that many have never seen it in the wild. So here are a few from a different research project, inspired by Ed's comment on Saturday's post.

I'm not surprised if they look especially weird to British eyes, and I'd welcome any observations about whether this specific form -- an active clause with an elided third-person* subject -- had any currency outside the US. And it makes sense to read "charges" in that example as a noun standing for "There are charges," in that British heds make very tidy use of that sort of understood existential phrase. One of my favorites:

Storm after FA let manslaughter coach teach kids

... meaning (There is a ...) or (there has been a ...)

These examples, with "take" and "cremate," don't have the ambiguity of "charges."

Pondering all that, I think I've finally started to puzzle out what the Flying Verb was doing. It's like the passive voice, only shorter and, well, more active. Any time you're tempted to begin a hed with "Officials" or "Authorities," just take the pesky subject out! "Take 2 Pictures" is one count shorter than "2 Pictures Taken," and for the second, you'd have to create two separate passive clauses, each a count longer: "Nazis Cremated And Ashes Disposed Of Secretly." In another Tribune example cited here before, "Plan Dictator If War Wipes Out Capital," you save three whole hits over "Dictator Planned..." -- and that's hard to resist.

The Canadian example, again, is different because it has a singular subject: one draft official. We don't have enough data to talk about whether that's an actual difference in hed dialect, but it'd be interesting to look into.

If it's so handy, why did the Flying Verb go extinct? Well, first, it isn't exactly the ivory-billed woodpecker. You can still see it occasionally if you keep an eye on the New York tabloids, and a hybridized version -- with an explicit subject in a neighboring deck, as in the "Reveals:" hed at right -- even shows up in some broadsheets, like the Washington Times.

Further observations and comments, of course, are welcome.

* I expect that the understood "you"-- Try these three tips for tastier tomatoes! -- shows up in almost every hed dialect.

Today in journalism, 1943: Battle stations

Remember, kids, those vital war calls won't go through if you're yapping away on the long-distance lines! Bell of Canada offers these handy tips:
  • Place Long Distance calls only when absolutely necessary ... especially to busy war centres.
  • Plan your conversation ahead of time -- keep it as brief as you can.
  • When possible, give the operator the out-of-town number you are calling.
  • Avoid Long Distance talks during the busy hours shown in the diagram.
Why tell people not to use so much of your product? Here's what looks like a house ad from later in the week (from the Canadian Daily Newspapers Association), under the hed "Markets of 1945 are being lost and found--NOW!":

LOST: Valuable markets by manufacturers who saw no reason to advertise in 1942 when they had no difficulty to sell their entire output. Consequently, consumers forgot their brands and ceased to ask for them by name.
FOUND: Valuable markets by manuacturers who realized the necessity to maintain the identity of their name and brands under all conditions and at all times, by the constant use of daily newspaper advertising.

Use those comments, gang, but keep it short.

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Saturday, June 01, 2013

Today* in 1943: Conchies and flying verbs

One of the fun things about playing around in the archives is trying to figure out what sort of groove the slots are in -- how long it would take to start getting heds through on the first try.

"Conchies" is apparently well enough known** at the mid-1943 Globe and Mail that it doesn't have to appear in the text to be valid for the hed, but it still needs the "so-called" quotes. The flying verbs are a little tricky. There are lots of standard active and passive heds on the page:
Read more »

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