Thursday, April 28, 2016

The future of forbidden heds

Well, speak of the devil and he will surely sneak over and put his beer bottles in your recycling. No sooner do we learn that the Freep can start bagging its copydesk operations late next year than two -- count 'em, two -- Forbidden Heds show up on the front page.

First up, a double-dip on the Stupid Question: not just using the question mark as a hedge, but forming the question in a flagrantly ungrammatical way. Two rich dudes have declared their intent to bring a professional foopball team to town, which is fine and even newsworthy* -- but hardly raises the question of whether a franchise has been "scored." The headline's job is to tell me what happened, not what someone speculates might happen.

Regardless of the downtown back-scratching, that's not the kind of question the hed raises. You can form questions by sticking a question mark on the end of a statement, but that creates a distinctive form called an "echo question" that you might remember from "Apocalypse Now":

Lance: Hey, you know that last tab of acid I was saving? I dropped it.
Chef: You dropped acid? Far out!

That's a question, but it's very much not the same question as "Did you drop acid?" If you agree, avoid getting them mixed up in headlines ever again.

That's a "grammar" thing. "It's official" is just a cliche. You may remove it from any lede, or any subsequent graf, with no effect on the meaning. And that means you may never try to improve on a story by putting "it's official" in a hed. There are no exceptions -- no matter how important you think the story is, no matter how few times in your life you've seem "it's official." Just never.

What will hubbing do to the Great Cliches? I don't know, but if someone wants to stake that out as a research agenda, I'd really like to see the results. We've known for a while (I hope) that there's only so much mileage in being local. If the outsourced desk in Bangalore looks at a map while editing and you don't, they're going to catch a mistake you might miss. Will a centralized desk enforce chainwide rules against cliches in headlines, even if that's the suggestion from the originating paper? Or will a plague of "Christmas came early" break out of containment and spread all the faster?

I'd like to know, but I'd actually just rather have a local copydesk to complain about.

* Although it skates awfully close to Elongated Yellow Fruit territory when the perps are "the Michigan-bred businessmen" and "the Michigan State graduates" in the first two grafs

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Monday, April 25, 2016

Guess how this is going to end

The Guild local has ratified a new contract with the fishwraps, and guess what the Freep will be "allowed" to do next year:

The contract allows the Free Press after 18 months to move copy editing and design jobs into centralized hubs operated by its parent company Gannett.

Last one out, get the lights. I'm sorry.


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Today in getting off my lawn

From the June 1924 edition of Popular Radio, also featuring this tantalizing ad from Brandes:

This is indeed a radio summer! The vital interest of the presidential campaign -- waged right in your own home. The glorious and inspiring church services. The important sporting events, market reports, home hints, intensely interesting talks, gay music -- all these diversions are brought directly to you.

Order now, of course, if you want the "momentous proceedings and orations" of Cleveland "in all their original naturalness."

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Friday, April 22, 2016


Sad it was to see the Red Wings bounced from the playoffs before the last frost of the spring (and before the Superior Fish folks even got the "Octopi Supply" sign unrolled). Sadder still to think of Pavel Datsyuk packing for home with a year left on his contract. Saddest of all, though: Someone downtown still thinks a "Dat's" hed is worth the top of the sports front.

They're called Forbidden Heds for a reason, you know.

(And yes, traditionally, it'd be nice to have the shutout and the goal "send" the Wings home, rather than "sends.")

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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Attribution and agency

The passive voice gets a lot of stick (often from people or agencies who have trouble telling passive from active at better than coin-toss consistency), but verb voice is only part of the fun when it comes to assigning responsibility and blame in headlines. The active voice is a clear choice here, because Greta's point is that the divider-in-chief just can't stop dividing:

The Obama administration did it again, went stupid, and went stupid for no reason.

It's not that Greta has a problem with women: "You all know some of my best friends are Negresses I'm a feminist -- love to see women acknowledged for the great things they contribute to our nation." The problem is that the usurper and his minions picked a fight, "a 100% completely unnecessary fight, by booting President Andrew Jackson from the $20 bill and replacing him with a woman." And it would have been so easy to fix:

Rather than dividing the country between those who happen to like the tradition of our currency and want President Andrew Jackson to stay put and those who want to put a woman on a bill, it's so easy to keep everyone happy. We could put a woman on a bill ... but give Tubman her own bill. Like a $25 bill. We could use a $25 bill! Put her picture on that and we could all celebrate. That's the smart and easy thing to do. ... But some people don't think and would rather gratuitously stir up conflict in the nation.

That's pretty much all active, because you need to remember who's to blame for all this. Much as with this headline from last week's Washington Times:

Read more »

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Monday, April 18, 2016

Zany aquatic birds

Today in elongated yellow fruit:

Penguins go on public parade today in Royal Oak.

The Detroit Zoo’s new home for penguins is billed as the world’s largest zoo display of these zany aquatic birds. Visitors can see more than 80 penguins -- waddling, swimming and staring back -- from a stunning range of viewpoints.

The quirks of house style are just icing on the cake of all the writering:

The technology and brainpower behind the Polk Penguin Conservation Center is as impressive as the top swim speed of a Gentoo penguin: 32 m.p.h.


Sunday, April 17, 2016

If you don't know by now ...

Dear Patch: Would you like us to poll some Dondero graduates from the 1960s and 1970s for you?


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Stunning and excessive restraint

So the local constabulary is being sued by a nearby-ish resident who contends that (a) he was unconstitutionally roughed up by the cops after he was thrown out of a sports bar on St. Patrick's Day and (b) he wasn't the guy who should have been thrown out in the first place. Our concern is with the second sentence here:

The lawsuit states that one officer used a Taser on (plaintiff) while multiple other officers tried to take him to the ground in a “horse-collar-type maneuver.” According to the lawsuit, the stunning and excessive restraint continued as officers pinned (plaintiff) on the ground.

The sentence at hand isn't in any way ungrammatical or wrong, Its problem, like many of the "wrong" sentences you'll encounter in daily life, is that it's right about several things at once. It doesn't exclusively mean that the restraint is considered both stunning and excessive, but that certainly is one of the things it means. And that's why we do editing: the art of asking "what did you say?" and "what did you mean?" by way of trying to reduce the dissonance between the two.

An editing textbook that claims to have "the" right answer, of course, is blowing smoke. There are a bunch of right answers. You could make clearer that "stunning" is a noun by flipping the subjects: "the excessive restraint and stunning continued." Or you could add another determiner: "The stunning and the excessive restraint continued." Or -- gasp! -- you could go ahead and admit that "taser" (or Taser, or taze) is a verb: "the tasing and excessive restraint continued." Which of those, if any, is the best answer is a matter of judgment. But all of them are less ambiguous than "stunning and excessive restraint."

That's a lot of space and time spent on a small sentence in a small paper. But editing, like baseball, is about a lot of small stuff done right over a long season. Most plays don't make the highlights on the evening news, because most plays involve moving your feet a few steps one way or the other; the batter is set down, all's right with the world, and your side goes into the dugout to try to score a few. Do small things right, and eventually big things will follow.

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Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Devil dogs

I mean, what's the point of headlines that only mean one thing?

Monday, April 04, 2016

'Twas a famous (victory)

You can kind of get an idea from the background who the "neighbors" are:

At St. John’s Episcopal Church in downtown Detroit, worshipers gathered Sunday for an unusual tradition: a prayer service for the Tigers as they embark on a new season.

We love a good Opening Day tradition around here. The complaint is with how the minister's quote is rendered:

“We understand that God does not take sides, most likely,” Kelly said. “But we at least want God to know that we’d like to see a lot of (victories) this year.”

OK. I think it's a fair bet that, as a man of the cloth, the parenthetical (victories) isn't replacing some George Carlin-level naughtiness. It probably isn't replacing "wins," either. Let's go out on a limb and guess that Rev. Kelly said "W's," and that was deemed too complicated for anyone seeing a picture of the ballpark and reading a story about the "Pray Here for the Tigers" service, and there you are.

To paraphrase a comment from Bill Walsh's fine talk at the ACES conference last week: Sometimes you have to put down the stylebook and think. You can have a rule for first references and still credit your audience with enough brains to figure out who "Obama" is if his first appearance is in a quote; there's a point at which (President Barack) is pedantry at the expense of clarity.*

Speaking of the stylebook:

This "Pray Here for the Tigers" service has been an annual pre-opening day tradition. While players and managers have come and gone, the service has persisted.

... an entry for "Opening Day" would keep you from having to worry about getting all the hyphens into "pre-opening-day." (It isn't, after all, a day that's pre-opening; it's an event that occurs before Opening Day.) And -- ahem -- "opener" (not "open") is a perfectly good baseball noun for "first game in a series," and it's Tigers', possessive, home opener, and all sorts of other things you could be doing besides your (victory) dance.

* "Clarity > pedantry" actually came from an equally awesome talk by Laura M. Browning and Marnie Shure of the Onion empire.