Saturday, August 16, 2014

Editing basics: Let me be your salty dog

 How salty were those fries, Nation's Newspaper of Record?

Because of an editing error, an article on Thursday about the elimination of reduced-fat French fries in some Burger King outlets misstated the number of stores that decided to eliminate the item, called Satisfries. It is slightly fewer than 5,000, not about 7,500. The article also misstated the amount of sodium in Satisfries and regular fries. Satisfries have 300 milligrams of sodium, not 300 grams; regular fries have 480 milligrams, not 480 grams.

We'll be reviewing some of the basic rules of copy editing in the weeks ahead (there is, after all, a new semester closing in), so here's one to start with: Whenever you see two numbers, do something with them. That doesn't mean you should turn every proportion into a percentage, or every mean into a median, at first sight. It should suggest that your first reaction upon seeing a number -- let's say, "six" -- in a news story shouldn't be "omg SIX!!!!!" Rather, you should look the number, and the person waving it at you, squarely in the eye and ask: Six of what?

In this case, you might be asking: What does 300 grams of something mean in real money? Whether you get to the answer by flipping open your stylebook or by looking things up on the Googles, you're going to arrive in a similar place: An order of regular fries doesn't come with a pound of salt, even if all the weight of salt came from sodium by itself.

Broadly speaking, there's little you can do as a copy editor that's more valuable than to have some suspicion about the things you're looking at. It's risky to overstate the role of common sense, but here, it's a rather good starting point.

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home