Monday, March 30, 2015

Clue-free rules

If you think your rules for hyphens require you to create compounds where compounds fear to tread, please think again. This case is not about flag-free speech at schools. It's a free-speech case* about wearing the American flag as clothing at school. Even if you shrink at saying "top court" or "high court" for the Supreme Court, surely you'd make an exception here, just to unstack "school flag free speech case."

* I can't find the story on the Eagle site; this appears to be the hometown version of the original. The court has declined to grant certiorari. I think it's kind of cool that an amicus brief was filed on behalf of the Tinker plaintiffs.

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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Crash blossom test dummy

Looks like we have a frontrunner in the Ill-Placed Crash Blossom of the (still-young) Year competition, thanks to the ever-tasteful Drudge.

The Times's hed -- "Plane Crash Tests Germany's Faith in Its Precision" -- doesn't take you up the garden path: Crash tests (are) cherished notions. Pesky English!

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Today in arithmetic

Sometimes, the journalistic number system seems to have been borrowed from "Watership Down": One, two, three, whatever.

The Download feature last Sunday misstated the recent anniversary of the firebombing of Dresden. It was the 70th anniversary, not the 50th.

Here's the (now-corrected) passage that set the correction in motion:

With the 70th anniversary of the firebombing of Dresden last month, I thought I would take the opportunity to read Vonnegut’s satirical view. Anniversaries are very good ways of prompting us to concentrate on different things.

Right -- for example, whether the late stages of World War II in Europe were going on at the same time as the American civil rights movement.

I hope it doesn't scare young editors when we say "do the math." Usually, we don't mean anything more fearsome than "do the arithmetic." But the main word is "do": When you see two numbers, or two numbers that imply a third number, do something with them.

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Friday, March 27, 2015

Always at war with... wait, what?

There seems to have gone out a decree from Caesar Augustus: Be scared! No, scarederer! Could we suggest that, if they really want to make the fear appeal work, certain media outlets need to spend a little more time in the files?

Not to say no one's going into the files at all -- the Fair 'n' Balanced Network, for instance, is recycling a photo from February 2014 to illustrate the "DANGER AT SEA" posed by Iran. Interestingly, in that case, the story it illustrated was there to point out that the two Iranian dreadnoughts headed straight for our precious bodily fluids electric grid were in real life "a pair of 'rust buckets' Tehran is using to prove to its people it can project power around the globe."

The Washington Times documents a different outcome of Kenyan fecklessness:

The United States is now Iran’s air force.

Good thing we've already sent them the antiaircraft missiles, huh?

The recycling-without-reading prize, though, goes to Times Editor Emeritus Wes Pruden. After a few did-this-in-Caesar-seem-ambitious paragraphs that cover the golf, the Islam and the bust of Churchill comes this:

The president even loves Israel, but in his way. It’s tough love to bring the Jews to heel. Just as Secretary of State John Kerry is topping up a deal to satisfy the mullahs in Iran, comes the news that the United States has declassified a 386-page report that reveals in minute detail Israel’s super-discreet nuclear program. Everybody knows Israel has one, but until now Israel, with American support, has never acknowledged it. To do so, all mature hands have agreed, could set off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

Is there a fixed number of times the party press has to be reminded of this?* The prize for unveiling the "super-discreet nuclear program" goes to ... the party press itself: Rupert Murdoch's Sunday Times. Unless you want to give a few points for effort to Ehud Olmert in 2006:

“Iran openly, explicitly and publicly threatens to wipe Israel off the map. Can you say that this is the same level, when they are aspiring to have nuclear weapons, as America, France, Israel, Russia?”

As Fox itself noted -- in a rather detailed explanation of the Nixon administration's frustration over Israel's nuclear program -- Olmert's aides said he was describing responsible states, not nuclear ones. Oddly, though, there doesn't seem to be any record of the Times calling for any Fox reporters' heads on plates. No doubt that's because we were still at war with Eurasia Eastasia.

* The link suggests the original hed: wesley-pruden-obama-reveals-israels-nuclear-progra/

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Dear Wheeler: You provide the prose poems ...

Even amid the haste to do the Party's bidding, there's always room for some elongated yellow fruit at The Washington Times!

The gentle sea cow is the latest draftee in the nation’s ongoing “war on coal.”

Congressional Republicans have rushed to the manatee’s defense in an effort to slow new carbon emissions regulations, while the Obama administration is rejecting claims its forthcoming rules on coal-fired power plants will pose a direct threat to the Florida habitat of the endangered bulbous marine mammals.

Particularly if you remember the War On Birds, you'll want to read the whole thing!


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Poorly attached modifier of the week

What are those pesky American officials up to now, The Washington Examiner?

Suspected for years of plotting to dismantle the U.S. electric grid, American officials have confirmed that Iranian military brass have endorsed a nuclear electromagnetic pulse explosion that would attack the country's power system.
Can we get a ruling from the Fellowship of the Predicative Adjunct?

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Today in noun piles

With a side of claim quotes! Thanks, BBC.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Nouning weirds language

By the standards of the redtops, this wouldn't even count as a particularly interesting noun pile, except for -- you know, the noun. And even that is pretty straightforward: A confession becomes a "fess" in the same way a slaying becomes a "slay." The only odd part -- unless the Post is now in the habit of complaining about Those Kids using their 'phones on the crosstown 'bus -- is the apostrophe that marks the clipping in 'fess.
The inside hed also helps you infer a few things about tabloid attribution practice. The quote in the story is "What the hell did I do? . . . Killed them all of course," so the more fastidious version leaves "I" out of the quote. And the standard Old Editor response to a televised admission is that it's a confession when it's admitted in court, not when it's given to some goober with a microphone -- hence the second pair of quotes around "confession." Maybe libel lawyers know better than to think anyone believes the front page anyway?

As for why a distant slay (even one attributed to "bizarre real estate heir and longtime murder suspect Robert Durst") is jostling for frontpage space with basketball, while the usurper is still plotting to give away the nuclear candy store and the Hildebeest* is frantically subverting justice -- well, that's why we have tabloids, innit?

* Almost certainly not coined by either of the Obamas, in case you're scoring along at home. Consider the source.

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Sunday, March 15, 2015

This week in hubris

From Romenesko comes the sad news that staffers at the McClatchy editing hub in Charlotte will, in effect, have to play musical chairs for their jobs. Would it be rude to point out that one reason for keeping more, rather than fewer, "digital specialists" around is their ability to keep the job descriptions from saying stuff like "at the front end the of story"?

A decent respect for the laws of causality and probability should make you wary of  assigning any one outcome to any one personnel decision. If you bid to improve the defense by signing a new shortstop who averages one error in 50 chances, that error is as likely to show up on the first chance of the season as the 50th, and a second one could happen on the second or 51st or 99th -- or not. But when you force the shortstop to handle more chances under worse conditions -- say, by playing three infielders and telling the shortstop to work smarter, not harder -- you can reasonably expect more "They does?" headlines.

Editing, according to the documents posted at Romenesko, is still part of the position. It comes in fifth, behind technology and such syntactic gems as "Fluency in use and power of social media such as, but not limited to, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Reddit":

Competency as copy editors who work for accuracy and clarity on a variety of topics from crime to weather to sports. They must also understand the value of voice and how it plays in the digital media.

I think I'm starting to form a sort of Buzzfeedy understanding of "voice and how it plays in the digital media." It's something like "44 medieval copy editors who remember "voice" from when this part of McClatchy was still Knight-Ridder and are so over it."

Insights and comments from the potential victims of this maneuver are especially welcome.


Saturday, March 14, 2015

Every time it ... no, don't

High on the list of stuff you shouldn't do to your readers:

Life and love can turn on a dime.

That is especially true if the dimes are being sent as a message of encouragement from a deceased loved one.

Erm, stop press.

... “When the absence is there, you miss what you don’t have anymore, and you realize how much of an impact a person has had on your life.”

That maternal influence has been turning up on a dime, as many as 100 of them that Source A has found in all sorts of places since 2010.

That year, she met with a Mi’kmaq psychic who told her that her mother was no longer in any pain and that she would be leaving dimes for A to find as she watched over her. The psychic suggested A keep them in a large antique mason jar.

Read more »

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Thanks, librul media!

As you enjoy all the fun of a New York tabloid shaking its fist at the treasonous scum atop the pond water of American politics, be sure to read the not-so-fine print on the front page:

Regardless of President Obama’s fecklessness in negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran, 47 Republican U.S. senators engaged in treachery by sending a letter to the mullahs aimed at cutting the legs out from under America’s commander-in-chief.*

Ready to work on your content analysis skills over spring break, kids? Try searching for stories containing "feckless*" and "bush at Fox News before Jan. 20, 2009 (if you get one, you're doing it right). Now search the Washington Times, same terms, same dates:

During her wide-ranging interview with The Times, the secretary also said that boycotting the Summer Olympics in Beijing would be an ineffective way to address China’s “troublesome policies” and called the U.S. boycott of the 1980 games in Moscow “feckless.”

If true, and if ABC’s fact-checkers are not diligent in verifying Mr. Clarke’s stories and claims, the mini-series will be the September 11 commission’s dream come true: The Bush administration will be blamed for September 11, the feckless moral cowardice of the Clinton administration will be disguised and Mr. Clarke and Mr. O’Neill — in my view, two principal authors of September 11 — will be beatified.

If you're still looking for an AEJ paper, you could have some fun with the sorts of nouns and adjectives reserved for certain political figures. But onward. The first clause in the editorial's second graf doesn't appear in the 1A blurb, for some reason:

We join GOP signatories in opposing the pact as outlined, but we strenuously condemn their betrayal of the U.S. constitutional system.

But you should still come away with the main idea intact: Don't trust the feckless Kenyan! It almost makes you long for the straightforward jingoism of the Fair 'n' Balanced Network.

* Do us all a favor and cut it out with this one, all right? The country doesn't have a commander in chief. The armed forces do.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Just suht up

Hey, sports fans! Which hed pun on Ndamukong Suh's name is dumberer: the one on the sports front (above), or the one dominating 1A?

I'd say it's kind of a toss-up, though if I had to offer an editorial comment, I'd say "Ndamu-gone!" sounds more like it goes with an Albom column, rather than the (hem) two columns and a news story on the sports page. It's exceptionally hard to read, too, though that doesn't mitigate its fundamental dumbness.

Really. Was there anyone downtown who still thought a hed name pun still had that old magic?

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Navel-gazing season comes early

Is it too early for bogus statisculating with election surveys? Apparently not:

WASHINGTON -- Hillary Clinton’s troubles are costing her politically, as potential Republican presidential rivals have inched closer to her in 2016 matchups, a new McClatchy-Marist poll found Friday.

Even if that development was interesting (and if you don't want to be derided for excessive reliance on the "horse race" frame next year, now would be a good time to shut up about it), you're going to have a hard time demonstrating that it's true. Which strongly suggests that it doesn't belong on the front page.

The former secretary of state fell below the crucial 50 percent level of support in one-on-one matchups against Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Scott Walker, and she was barely above that benchmark against Rand Paul, Rick Perry and Ted Cruz.

The technical journalistic term is "psychologically important barrier," meaning an arbitrary round number that impresses journalists but has no known relevance in real life. And unlike similar psychologically important barriers in the stock market, this one is an estimate: the "margin of error" carefully reported at the end of the story tells you how likely it is that a sample value of 49% (say, Clinton vs. Bush or Rubio in this survey) might represent a population value of 50% or higher. 

Read more »


Wednesday, March 04, 2015

A case for editing

February is turning into an interesting month in the Global War on Editing. One side is fairly confident in saying that editing is a value-added proposition: an extra set of eyes in the assembly line of journalism doesn't just make people think the writing is better or more professional, it makes them more likely to consider it worth paying for. And the other side is still throwing editors (along with a number of other professionals whose value is often considered more immediately tangible) over the side.

Since sweet reason doesn't seem to be working, let's take a real-life 1A story and put the question to the bishop: Is quality part of what you're trying to sell, and if it is, how much of it are you willing to pay for? Let's put on the copy-editing hat and begin:

U.S. auto sales in February were pacing about 820,000 higher than a year ago, but all eyes are on a notable exception to increases experienced by the majority of the industry.

Grammar first: "Pacing" doesn't work here. That's a descriptive comment, not a prescriptive one; I'm not turning up any uses of intransitive "pace" that mean "reaching a pace of," and the limited hits I find on Google look pretty jargon-ish. Granted, words tend to pick up new meanings that way without asking my permission (which is how we got a transitive "pace" meaning "treat with a pacemaker," which the OED dates to 1962), but it seems kind of rude to drag your readers into this before the coffee is made. I stumbled on the second clause as well; I want a "the" to tell me that most of the industry is experiencing the increases, not the exception. I wouldn't call that a mistake, but I would call it a discourtesy.

Sales of Ford's F-150 and the F-Series trucks were down 1% to 55,236 in February, dragging the Ford brand sales down almost 2%; the automaker's total sales of 179,673 were almost 2% lower than a year ago.

Was there a particular reason this graf needed "almost 2%" twice? Or are you more puzzled at how a 1 percent decline in the line that accounts for about 31% of sales could have dragged the whole brand down by 2 percent? You shouldn't make your readers do the math for your writers, but if they turn to the chart on 10A and play with a calculator a bit, they might conclude that without the F series, Ford's February-to-February sales decline would have been about 2.4 percent, rather than "almost 2." 

Read more »

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That damn load of iron ore again

Given the usual hilarity on offer at the Fair 'n' Balanced Network when libruls display their ignorance of stuff that goes bang or boom:

"It's so adorable when people who wouldn't know a high-capacity magazine from Vanity Fair start telling gun owners what they should want and need."

"The lead sponsor of a bill to ban high-capacity magazines for firearms dismissed concerns that the tens of millions of such devices already in use would render her ban pointless by explaining that that the existing ones would be used up in time. ... Like the colossal gaffe by former Missouri Rep. Todd Akin in last year’s Show Me State Senate debacle, this is evidently something that DeGette actually believes or believed until she became the object on nationwide mockery."

... would it be rude to point out that the Yamato-class battleships actually displaced (as the story backhandedly points out) somewhere in the neighborhood of 73,000 tons? That's thousand with a T, as in "Try having your desk pay attention to something other than the Two Minutes Hate for a change."

This is the sort of thing that happens when writers forget to sing along with Gordon Lightfoot as they hurry through the day's projects. It happened even when news organizations had libraries with encyclopedias and Who's Who and ancient copies of Jane's Fighting Ships -- and copy editors who would use them whenever certain bylines popped up on the screen. Errors will be with us always, but some slips are more schadenfreudian than others.

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Tuesday, March 03, 2015

That Drudge-English dictionary

How much is "freaks" in real money? Let's ask the National Review piece that Drudge kindly directs us to:

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) made her lack of enthusiasm for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech apparent throughout the remarks, applauding half-heartedly and then quickly exiting the chamber after the speech, before Netanyahu did.

The brown acid must not be what it used to be.

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Khan of worms

How many times, Nation's Newspaper of Record?

An article on Saturday about Shahid King Bolsen, an American convert to Islam whose online calls for protests against corporate interests in Egypt have fueled a new wave of violence directed at businesses across the country, misspelled the surname of another American who emerged as a propagandist for Islamist violence, through his affiliation with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. He was Samir Khan, not Kahn.

Three decades ago, any competent front-end system could have been trained to flag "Khan" and "Kahn" in spellcheck, and things have gotten faster and happier since then. Wouldn't you vastly improve your odds by just tossing a coin when you get to that point?

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Don't it strike fear into your heart?

You can see why the alarm bells are going off over at the National Review:

Google plans to bias its search engines in favor of the supposedly factual accuracy of the sites to which it links. From the New Scientist story:
THE internet is stuffed with garbage. Anti-vaccination websites make the front page of Google, and fact-free “news” stories spread like wildfire. Google has devised a fix – rank websites according to their truthfulness.
Google’s search engine currently uses the number of incoming links to a web page as a proxy for quality, determining where it appears in search results. So pages that many other sites link to are ranked higher. This system has brought us the search engine as we know it today, but the downside is that websites full of misinformation can rise up the rankings, if enough people link to them.
Don't tell me -- that'd be like the ones that throw scare quotes around "facts"? Just wondering. Anyway, this is a matter of profound concern for Buckley's heirs:
As the old saying goes, there are facts–and then, there are facts. These days a lot of things are called “facts” that aren’t–often surrounding heated political and cultural controversies.
That is why I think Google’s plan will open the door for profound political, cultural, or ideological bias in what should be a neutral function. Perhaps that is the point.
Imagine a world in which links to Fox and Drudge -- and for that matter, the National Review itself -- weren't cyber-mistaken for votes in favor of their credibility.

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