Wednesday, July 31, 2013

There'll always be an England

Quick, any guesses what the hed means?

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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Throwing the terror switch

Well, sure. (The terrorism rays are a particularly nice touch, don't you think?) As the story tells it, "terrorists" could indeed hire or develop the hackery to let them hijack ships. So, depending in part on when your moviegoing tastes were formed, could pirates, Soviet Russian communists, and 007-worthy mega-villains. But that's not how you get to the top of the Fair 'n' Balanced homepage. For that, you need you some terrorists.

Which is one of the important takeaway points of this very nicely executed experiment-within-a-survey* from the Pew Research Center. Another poll on what Americans think about gubmint surveillance** would be a fairly small contribution, but one that manipulates the question wording to see if throwing the "terror" switch makes a difference -- now we're having fun.
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Friday framing Foxtacular

Here are two stories from the same spot on the Fox homepage (first story on the left below the lede), about three hours apart Friday morning. What do you suppose they might have to stay to each other?

The one on the left falls under a pretty familiar master frame. The hed ("Nothing better to do?") is unusually intrusive, but the substance is up-the-middle Fox: Look at what happens when those silly libruls* are turned loose to run things:

Detroit's City Council has come under fire for spending time this week writing, voting and passing a resolution supporting a federal investigation into George Zimmerman instead of focusing on its own financial blunders and ballooning crime rate.

Yeah, the vote in question was on Tuesday, and the genuinely dangerous blunders don't belong to this edition of the council, and Fox's coverage of the bankruptcy process in general has veered between clueless and flagrantly dishonest,** but still -- LIBRULS!!1!!11!!!

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Friday, July 26, 2013

Cockatoo-shaped landmass

Your attention is drawn again to the Guardian stylebook, specifically its entry under "Pov":

term coined by a Guardian journalist to depict laboured attempts to produce synonyms by writers seeking what Fowler called "elegant variation" (and Orwell "inelegant variation"), often descending into cliche or absurdity. Thus Dalí becomes "the moustachioed surrealist" and Ireland "the cockatoo-shaped landmass". Pov, incidentally, stands for "popular orange vegetable"  

Two questions:
1) What do you yell across the newsroom when you have a winner in the weekly competition? Is it a "povv," a "pove" or a "P-O-V"?
2) At risk (or in hope) of stirring another conversation among our UK colleagues, shurely shome lesser rank of nobility is in order for the anonymous "Guardian journalist" to whom this contribution is credited?

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Monday, July 22, 2013

Style and clues

In that case, what's the point of the tweet? Formal titles are capitalized before names even when royalty aren't involved, and "Prince" would be capitalized as the first word of the sentence anyway, and there's no explanation at all of why "Duchess of Cambridge," which follows the name, is capitalized in violation of the "titles" entry (In general, confine capitalization to formal titles used directly before an individual's name).

It's probably too late to keep anybody from putting a story about royal families on the front page Wednesday,* but it is worth speculating on why such a tweet was considered relevant in the first place. I'd guess that AP was trying to explain why "Duchess" is capitalized after a name, which is explained under "nobility," rather than "titles," and that in itself suggests some entertaining things about AP style and style in general.
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Eat a fuzzy succulent orange fruit

You're just toying with us now, aren't you, Associated Press?

Georgia is famous as a major producer of the peach, the fuzzy succulent orange fruit whose image appears on state license plates, "welcome to Georgia" billboards and on road signs.

There's a real missed opportunity here, though. The Bremner Elongated Yellow Editing Center shared this at the holiday:

Grown in the rainforests of Brazil and Panama, acai berries are like extra tart blueberries, but have a much higher concentration of antioxidants than the purple fruit.

Imagine the headline fun!



Monday, July 15, 2013

How news works

Here's another of the interesting ways in which the work of our friends at the Fair 'n' Balanced Network is fundamentally different from what grownups know as journalism.

At top, you'll see the No. 2 and No. 3 stories from Friday afternoon.* Nothing surprising if you're a Fox follower; there's some loony-left adherence to environmental regulations at the expense of Our Troops, and there's some more evidence that the Kenyan Muslim usurper is exposing us to the whims of his terrorist pals. Both stories are fundamental illustrations of how news works. In the first, people get to say that gubmint is evil, which to a large degree is why we have the First Amendment in the first place. In the second, the basic story is five to seven days old, depending on how you score it, but there's a triggering event:  Some of the usual suspects (Inhofe and Sessions, to name two) have written a letter actually blaming the commie rascal for, you know, making technology not work any better than it did last time.

No referee in the journalism world can call a foul on either story. People are supposed to talk back to government, and the opposition party is supposed to beat on the governing party. The catch, though, is that news is supposed to be new -- which is what makes the bottom two images interesting, because they're both from Sunday afternoon, and that means Fox actually broke the rules.
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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Really stupid juxtapositions

Dear friends at the Washington Post: Mind if we suggest that, if your "breaking news" streamer says "Jurors reach verdict in George Zimmerman trial," now is a really, really bad time for your "George, you've never looked better" feature?

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Unfortunate juxtapositions

Just wondering, but -- do you suppose the folks at Des Moines should have reimagined the potential impact of putting the "mmm, corn" and "Death Veggies Stalk Iowa" stories together at the top of the front?

Bonus Elongated Yellow Vegetable points for "the seasonal treat."

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Friday, July 12, 2013

Style lunacy

I'm at a loss for technical or procedural explanations, so I have to conclude that this one's deliberate. Someone saw "preemie," looked in the AP Stylebook under "pre-," and followed the rule right into the ground:

... a hyphen is used if a prefix ends in a vowel and the word that follows begins with the same vowel.

Hence, "pre-emie" is hyphenated, just like "pre-election," "pre-eminent," "pre-exist" and the other examples. Which is unfortunate, in that "preemie" is not only a word of its own (recorded, in various spellings, since 1927)  but the very sort of word you'd expect someone writing -- or editing, if that sort of thing still goes on -- a 1A feature about an obstetrician to have heard and seen before. If you're really, truly in doubt, poke around. You know the alien creature is a noun, what with the article and the relative clause and all; is there a noun "emie" that you could stick a prefix on? What would a "post-emie" look like?
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Order of the Passive

Order will now be come to by the Loyal Order of the Passive Voice, dedicated to defending the noble passive from those who falsely invoke it to serve their own nefarious ends -- for example, Charles Krauthammer:

The conventional wisdom evolves. Yesterday, Washington was merely broken, gridlocked, dysfunctional. The passive voice spread the blame evenly. Today it’s agreed that Republican obstructionism is the root of all evil — GOP resistance having now escalated to nihilism and indeed sabotage.

BZZZZT. The passive voice did no such thing, because it wasn't used. "Was" is a linking verb, connecting "Washington" to three predicate adjectives -- compare "Krauthammer's cluelessness was evident again" to "Krauthammer was making stuff up again."

As fabrications go, the aggressive passive isn't in the same league as (say) Krauthammer's bogus psychologizing about pronoun use. But it is a reminder that when the third sentence of a column is bullshit, there's usually more to come.


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Or not

So how did things look Wednesday morning in Winston-Salem, tropical-storm-wise?

Tropical Storm Chantal barreled into the eastern Caribbean on Tuesday, threatening torrential rains and dangerous waves.

As of 8 p.m. ET, Chantal was about 220 miles (360 kilometers) southeast of San Juan, Puerto Rico, the National Hurricane Center said. The storm was headed west-northwest at 26 mph.

Meaning ...

A projection map shows Chantal brushing Puerto Rico and slamming into the Dominican Republic and Haiti on Wednesday.

Which, if you look at the projection track with the CNN version of the story* (no, I don't know why the Journal is crediting it to "Fox8/WGHP"), gets you up to Saturday -- maybe east of south Florida -- with some nonspecified degree of confidence. It says nothing about what might impact what "next week," and there's a reason for that.

East Coast operative "GovernmentFlack," who submitted this item for discussion, noted that there was nothing in the story to support the hed. He's right. It's a tropical storm, and it might decide to do a lot of things between now and "next week." A very basic rule about dealing with that sort of risk is that it's helpful to provide probability estimates but really, really stupid to offer random guesses. The flip side of "might" headlines is always "then again, might not."

* News flash for America's Most Trusted News Source: Barreling "into" the Caribbean is not the same thing as barreling "through" the Caribbean.

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Tuesday, July 09, 2013

You can use the drinking fountain again

Q: When one of the star writers says something really, really silly in a 1A column, should you try to verify it?
A: Yes.
Q: Are you sure?
A: Very sure:

Monday: That's because Detroit, like some other older cities with 19th-century sewer systems, has a combined system that uses the same pipes to carry both drinking water and sewage.

Tuesday: Rochelle Riley’s front-page column Monday about environmental concerns should have said that Detroit, like some other older cities with 19th-Century sewer systems, has a combined system that uses the same pipes to carry both rainwater and sewage.
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Monday, July 08, 2013

This do in remembrance of ... wait, what?

Today's tip for The Fox Nation: Don't put "in memory of" after the verb unless you want it to mean -- how's that, Oxford English Dictionary? "So as to keep alive the remembrance of"?

A festival celebrated in memory of the great slaughter of the Danes. (1677)
The Colum erected in Memory of the Dreadfull Fire of London. (1712)
Through latest ages let it pour In mem'ry of my dying hour. (1781)
No—I'll not burn it—I'll keep it in memory of her, poor thing! (1874)
Tennyson Down..was given to the Trust in 1927 by the 2nd Lord Tennyson in memory of his father who walked there when living at Farringford nearby. (1992)

So your hed's kind of at odds with the day's outrage story, credited to the Post-Dispatch:

In recent weeks, the grounds crew had carved a cross and a No. 6 (in honor of the late Stan Musial) on the back side of the mound. But general manager John Mozeliak, who said he first had learned about the practice from a Post-Dispatch report and photo, said Friday night that he had asked that the practice cease.

Like much of the bad grammar you see in news, the hed is perfectly correct -- it's just correct about something entirely different from what the writer meant. 

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Sunday, July 07, 2013

At least it's boxlike

Hey, kids! Ever wonder why cautious copy editors never let writers refer to the voice and flight data recorders as "black boxes"? (Especially, you know, in blurbs right under pictures like this one?)

News in general would sound better if it steered away from bogus CSI-speak and toward language that actually makes sense to people. If I was in the mood to highlight a personal bias, it'd be six hours in the stocks for the next clown on the radio who says a freeway is closed because of a "hazmat situation," rather than a chemical leak or a gasoline spill. But the myth of the "black box" -- no, that's not what "everybody calls them" -- would be a good place to start as well.

Well, this is interesting

Must be a pretty quiet day out there in World Turmoil-land for this to be the morning's No. 2 story, huh?

Republicans ripped Secretary of State John Kerry for being on his yacht Wednesday as former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi was removed from office.

Do tell!

A Web ad released Saturday by the National Republican Senatorial Committee showed Kerry windsurfing with the caption "Was John Kerry on his yacht? He wasn't" before reversing the footage and saying "He was." The ad then cut to the photo of Kerry on his yacht, "Isabel."

Formally, it's not an "ad," in that no one had to buy time or space for it, and it didn't have to go through some pesky ad-standards department. But it does look and act a lot like a standard campaign attack ad, the point of which is to discourage people from voting for whatever spawn of Satan it's aimed at. And that's interesting, because -- in the back there? Right. Secretary of State isn't an elective office. Kerry's already been confirmed, and his Senate seat has been filled. The video release is a chance to keep Friday's outrage story (credit where it's due there, Boston Herald) going for another cycle. Just a reminder to any former secretaries of State out there that it's already 2016 on Planet Fox.


Sentence of the morning

When writers paint themselves into a corner, it's nice to help them find a way out: 

As investigators try to determine what caused the crash of Flight 214 that killed two passengers Saturday at San Francisco International Airport, the accident left many wondering how nearly 305 of the 307 passengers and crew members were able to make it out alive.

This is from what appears to be an update:

As investigators try to determine what caused the crash of Flight 214 that killed two passengers Saturday at San Francisco International Airport, the accident left many wondering how nearly all 307 people aboard were able to make it out alive.

And while we're on the dangers of roboposting wire copy: It's hard to think of a sillier choice of hed for this story than "At tail end of trans-Pacific flight, terror."

Read more here:

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Thursday, July 04, 2013

Then conquer we must

Ladies, gentlemen, please rise and join the AP on this Fourth of July in celebrating independence from zombie rules:

Q. In the following sentence, We are honoring our employees who have served the company for the past 60 years. Is past correct, or should it be last? – from , Tucson on Wed, Jul 03, 2013
A. Either works.

More like that, please.

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Monday, July 01, 2013

One born every minute

Or, to judge by Monday's paper, several are born every minute. What else are we to make of the simultaneous appearance on the front of "More people hiring life coaches to help them over the hurdles" and "Pet owners turning to psychics, tarot"?

A hint for the folks downtown: If the hed on your consumer watchdog column* says "Do you need a life coach?" and the answer is something other than "step right up, step right up!" or "it's your checkbook," ur doin it wrong. (Which, in turn, should remind you that there's an entire online enterprise that can tell you what your pet is thinking free of charge.)

Speaking of headlines: Have any of you out there ever met a dog named Fido? Or is that another tradition that lives on only in cliched ledes?

* The online version, at least


How about 'neither'?

Sometimes our friends at the AP forget what century we're in:

Q. When writing about a female physician, do I say female doctor/physician or woman physician/doctor. – from Grapevine, Texas on Thu, Jun 27, 2013
A. Use female as the adjective.

Your fallback rule here, kids, is "neither." If you wouldn't point out that a boy doctor (or lawyer, or bus driver, or statistician) is a boy, why does it seem necessary to get a case of the vapors over a girl doctor (or lawyer, or bus driver, or statistician)?

It's possible, under some unusual but un-rule-outable circumstances, that you might have to point out a story subject's gender. If that isn't evident from the given name,* imagine how quickly a pronoun might make things clear. Your goal, of course, is to make sure it doesn't make clear that something besides your taste in music is still stuck in the 1960s.

* Congratulations here to the NYT stylebook, whose usage examples are all Lees and Terrys and other indeterminate names.

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