Thursday, August 31, 2006
Language of layoffs
Radio Shack is cutting about 400 jobs, and the people who are being laid off got the bad news by e-mail. Here's how the company phrased it, providing an interesting example of the language used in the business world:

"The work force reduction notification is currently in progress. Unfortunately your position is one that has been eliminated."

posted by Andy Bechtel at 10:15 AM | Permalink | 1 comments
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Does a split make a difference?
Headline purists would recoil at this example from a newspaper Web site. The crime? A bad split from line to line. But do readers notice or care?

This advice, from a University of Missouri tip sheet, is typical:

"Don't split nouns and modifiers or verb forms and prepositional phrases over two lines unless space is main consideration. Write "Faculty to vote (first line) on tenure policy" (second line)."

In this example, the headline would be more graceful if the "$1" and the "million" were together on the same line. Separating them invites a split second of misinterpretation. Did he win a dollar?
posted by Andy Bechtel at 1:11 PM | Permalink | 1 comments
Monday, August 28, 2006
In bad taste
Sign outside a restaurant near campus:

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Blackend chicken sandwhich

posted by Andy Bechtel at 12:09 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Sunday, August 27, 2006
And that's the word
Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central is getting kudos for coining two TV buzzwords this year. A group called Global Language Monitor points to these Colbert creations as among the biggies for 2006:
  • "Truthiness," meaning "truth unencumbered by the facts."
  • "Wikiality," meaning "reality as determined by majority vote."
posted by Andy Bechtel at 7:19 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Friday, August 25, 2006
Internships go digital
The prestigious Dow Jones editing program is going digital. Online editing will be among the opportunities for college students this year.

Internships at old-fashioned newspapers will still be available. Here are the details.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 5:00 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Thursday, August 24, 2006
Put the message in the box
Textboxes — timelimes, glossaries, checklists, mini-biographies, etc. — are being used more and more by newspapers and magazines. Done well, these bite-size packages of information can give background or context to a story. They are especially handy when a "teachable moment" comes along.

That thought brings us to a Daily Tar Heel story about new professors on campus. These newbies are finding their way just like freshmen. Near the end of the story come these paragraphs on the tenure process:

Tenure-track faculty have a total of six years to earn tenure.

Assistant faculty members are reviewed internally by their individual departments after three years. If reappointed, a more encompassing review is conducted during their sixth year.

Those who earn tenure are promoted to the post of associate professor.

Yes, some editing is necessary. But the point here is this: Rather than bury this bit of information, why not pull it out of the story and reshape it into a textbox accompanying it? Many undergraduates are probably aware of tenure but aren't sure how it works. Here's a chance to explain that.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 8:19 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Something smells funny
The New York Times has named a perfume critic. Chandler Burr, an author and writer for magazines such as The Atlantic, will write a column called Scent Strip, which will include a four-star rating system.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 1:00 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
A different route
The inverted pyramid form of newswriting, though still useful, is often tired. Here's an example in a story about delays in a road project in Durham, N.C. This is the lead:

DURHAM — Durham residents looking forward to the long-anticipated completion of Durham's Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway will have to wait just a little longer.

In addition to using "Durham" too often, the lead is a wordy tease. How much longer? The story gets around to answering that question three paragraphs later:

Officials said Monday the project should finally be complete by next month.

This pyramid isn't inverted well. But rather than structuring this story that way, why not present it as a Q&A? Start with an introductory paragraph and then provide the answers to the questions that readers are asking:
  • Why is the road delayed?
  • How long has it taken to build?
  • When will it open?
  • Who's doing the work?
  • How much will to cost?
A map would help, too.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 12:29 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Saturday, August 19, 2006
Snakes on a page
How big is the hype for "Snakes on a Plane"? Here's how:

For years, The News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C., has used page 2A on Saturdays to promote (or pimp, some would say) the Sunday paper. The "Coming Sunday" promos are made up of blurbs about stories from various sections, all designed to entice the reader to buy the paper the next day to read those stories. The promos nudge out the usual 2A fare of news about celebrities and entertainment.

Today, the N&O used that coveted space for its review of "Snakes on a Plane." The movie was not screened in advance for critics (supposedly to keep the movie's Internet buzz safe from the dreaded Mainstream Media). The N&O critic had to wait to see "Snakes" on Friday, and the Saturday features section was printed before he could turn in his review. That sent "Snakes" to 2A on Saturday and the "Coming Sunday" promos into oblivion.

But it doesn't stop there. The review gets a mention on the N&O front page, complete with a caricature of Samuel L. Jackson obscuring the paper's name.

Those are some powerful snakes.

UPDATE: Well, maybe not that powerful. The opening weekend's box office for "Snakes" was weaker than expected.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 10:48 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Thursday, August 17, 2006
Radical redesigns

Alan Jacobson of BrassTacks Design writes provocatively about how to sell more newspapers, focusing on big changes in layout and news judgment in Bakersfield, Calif., and Waterbury, Conn. He also likes Maxim magazine.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 8:34 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
Words of war
You may have noticed a shift in language last week when President Bush discussed a possible terror plot in the United Kingdom. He said that we are in a war with "Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those who love freedom."

Tom Teepen of Cox News Service examines the shift and the definition of fascism in this column.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 3:03 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Population: It counts
This letter to the editor takes a newspaper to task for describing Jacksonville, Fla., as a medium-size city. The reader argues that Jacksonville's population makes it the largest city in Florida and the 13th largest in the United States. The Wikipedia entry on Jacksonville agrees with him.

Does the letter writer have a point? Not really. He's using a poor way to rank cities by population: the number of people living within city limits. Some cities, of course, have more land area than others. That's especially true for Jacksonville, which has an unusual merged city-county government. That makes Jacksonville exceptionally large geographically.

A better way to rank populations of cities is to look at metro area: a city and its suburbs. (You can read the technical definition here.) By that measure, Jacksonville is No. 45 in the United States, just ahead of Richmond, Va. Within Florida, it ranks behind Miami, Tampa-St. Petersburg and Orlando.

By that standard, Jacksonville is a medium-size city, so the newspaper's description was correct. The letter writer and Wikipedia are wrong.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 11:00 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Monday, August 14, 2006
The interview — art and science
NPR has an interesting story about interviewing. The piece focuses on ESPN, which has brought in John Sawatsky, a former broadcaster and professor, to improve the interviewing skills of its reporters and anchors.

Sawatsky's basic rules are the ones journalism professors teach to print and broadcast students alike:
  • Avoid "yes or no" questions.
  • Keep questions short and direct.
  • Don't use leading language and loaded words.
Sawatsky doesn't stop there, however. He takes on vaunted interviewers such as Larry King, Mike Wallace and Barbara Walters, offering examples of where each of these journalists has fallen short while questioning a subject.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 5:08 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Friday, August 11, 2006
CJR shakeup: print vs. online
Two editors at have resigned in protest after the journalism dean at Columbia University announced a budget cut for the site. The New York Times story on the dispute touches on the broader issue of print vs. online.

Can't we have both?

UPDATE: This Vanity Fair piece on the future of The New York Times (it's gloomy, apparently) also goes into the debate about print vs. online.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 8:19 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Thursday, August 10, 2006
Third-person Flavor
What compels people to speak of themselves in the third person? The Editor's Blog would like to know.

A rarity in everyday conversation, third-person references pop up in news stories often enough that a fellow copy editor and I used to collect them for our amusement. Athletes, politicians and entertainers made up the bulk of our list; "normal" people rarely did. The third-person quotes came in two tones: self-aggrandizing or self-pitying — and sometimes both.

A profile of Flavor Flav in the latest Entertainment Weekly has six third-person references from its subject. Flav, whose real name is William Drayton Jr., is the former Public Enemy rapper turned star of reality TV. Flav embodies the phenomenon, representing all third-person speakers out there. Here are the quotes:
  • On his resurgence: "Your man Flavor Flav is living! I'm sitting here doing an interview at the world-famous Ivy restaurant, with a piece of lemon inside my water. Can't nothing be better than that.''
  • On his down-and-out days: "What happened to Flav during that time? I stayed home being a father. I got on drugs more. I got more stressed out. I kept getting arrested for driving with no license. And my personal appearance was not looking too cool."
  • On his new hobby, bowling: "Watch out, y'all! Flavor Flav's first bowl of the day, right here! What's it gonna be?"
  • On making TV history: "The best thing that happened to Flavor Flav on [Surreal Life] was getting smacked in the face by Brigitte Nielsen and then Flavor Flav smacking the s--- out of Brigitte. That's what opened up the doors for Flavor Flav on national TV. It was a very historical moment."
posted by Andy Bechtel at 5:47 PM | Permalink | 1 comments
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
Our ever-changing moods
Some call it subjunctivitis: the problem created by those "I wish it were" and "if he were" sentences. They sound odd because of an apparent subject-verb disagreement. But that's subjunctive mood for you.

According to the Columbia Guide to Standard American English, mood "suggests part of the speaker's attitude toward the action the verb specifies." Here are some moods the guide mentions:
  • Indicative indicates a statement of fact: "Austin is the capital of Texas." Questions that ask for facts are also indicative.
  • Imperative indicates a command: "Get out of here!"
  • Subjunctive indicates a "what if" tone of conjecture or possibility: "If I were president, there would be a chicken in every pot."
Sometimes people try too hard to be correct and use the subjunctive when they don't need to. This happened in a recent NPR report on Mel Gibson's brush with the law. "Gibson asked the officer if he were Jewish," the reporter said. Gibson was looking for a statement of fact, not conjecture. Here's a better way to express that idea: "Gibson asked the officer whether he was Jewish."

For more on the subjunctive mood, take a look at this column by James Kilpatrick.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 9:11 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
It's what it is
No editing blog is complete without an its/it's mistake from a newspaper. Here is this blog's example, found in a half-page ad on the back of Monday's classified section.

UPDATE: A similar Volvo ad ran Tuesday in the same position in the same paper. Someone changed the image to a different model of car, but no one repaired the its/it's error.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 8:26 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Monday, August 07, 2006
Shadid on the scene
In my former job as Nation & World editor at the Raleigh paper, I knew where to look for a good "scene" story: Anthony Shadid, a reporter for The Washington Post. Shadid consistently captures the tone of a situation, and his stories are always rich with details and quotes. His stories, ostensibly sidebars, are often more informative than the straight news on the diplomatic and military developments.

This story from Lebanon is a good example of his work. (Registration may be required.)
posted by Andy Bechtel at 9:55 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Sunday, August 06, 2006
Changes at EditTeach
The already excellent EditTeach site is getting even better. The changes include more tips, quizzes and news items. An area of journalism research is in the works. It's good stuff for professionals, academics and students of all levels.

Kudos to Deborah Gump of Ohio University, who has led the way on this project. Deborah announced the new site's "tapioca opening" (as opposed to "soft opening") at the recent convention of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 4:47 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Thursday, August 03, 2006
This Mother is liberal
A Huffington Post item refers to Mother Jones magazine as "left-leaning." Isn't this a case where the "liberal" label would apply? Mother Jones has leaned to the left for so long that it's fallen over.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 11:30 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
This just in
The cable news networks seem to be using all-caps labels such as "BREAKING NEWS" and "DEVELOPING STORY" more and more. I am not sure exactly what a developing story is versus one that is undeveloping, but here are some more labels for possible use:
posted by Andy Bechtel at 2:47 PM | Permalink | 3 comments