Saturday, December 30, 2006
The dude abides
Of all the odd bracketing that pops up in direct quotes, this has to be one of the more puzzling examples. In this quote about resolutions for the new year, what word was removed, and why was "dude" put in its place? This dude would like to know.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 10:32 PM | Permalink | 1 comments
Friday, December 29, 2006
First words on Saddam's execution
Here's a quick look at some Web headlines on the execution of Saddam Hussein:

The news apparently merits two sirens on The Drudge Report — a designation that is perhaps similar to BULLETIN from The Associated Press.

The rival Huffington Post went without the flash but offered this all-caps headline:

CNN followed a few moments later with this:

We'll have to wait to see what the papers say.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 10:18 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Winter meetings
The Southeast chapter of the American Copy Editors Society will hold its next workshop in Chapel Hill on Jan. 28. This is an all-day gathering, and the main session will be on the changes in newsrooms and how they affect copy editing.

Cost is just $15 if you are an ACES member and register early. Go here for more information.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 9:16 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Presidents, celebrities and drop-Dead headlines
Rachel Sklar at The Huffington Post wonders why the coverage of the death of Gerald Ford hasn't included a famous front page from The Daily News in New York. She writes:

"The omission of one newspaper headline over the course of an entire presidency and distinguished, honorable career is certainly no big deal, but this one in particular is so colorful, so iconic and so famous that its absence seems worthy of note."

My guess: The cable networks think that showing "DROP DEAD" with a story about the death of a president is inappropriate.

UPDATE: The latest issue of Entertainment Weekly includes a similar headline — offering evidence that Sklar is correct about the impact of the "DROP DEAD" word choice and structure. The magazine went to print before Ford's death, by the way.

More on the Daily News headline here.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 11:19 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Ombuds and editors
Editing issues are included in these recent columns by ombudsmen:
  • Ted Vaden at The News & Observer notes that stories posted on the paper's site during the day are bypassing the copy desk.
  • James Campbell at The Houston Chronicle discusses the paper's corrections and includes a reader's request for more copy editors and proofreaders.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 9:50 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Saturday, December 23, 2006
Best. Mixed metaphor. Ever.
From a blog comment about District Attorney Mike Nifong and the Duke lacrosse case:
I'm not running for election as he was when he put this whole house of cards on the front burner.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 9:49 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Thursday, December 21, 2006
More on story forms
It's good to read that the recent Midwest meeting of ACES included a discussion of alternative story forms and what they mean for copy editing. I agree with the designer from Chicago on these recommendations:
  • Content rules.
  • Collaboration is essential.
  • Words aren't dead. Long live words!
  • Copy editors can be newsroom leaders in deciding when and how to use alternative story forms.
More on alternative story forms here and here.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 3:16 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Editing in India
With all of the talk about copy editing being outsourced to Asia, you may be interested to know that editors in India have many of the same concerns that U.S. copy editors have.

As one editor says in this article on the Clear English India movement:
Jyoti Sanyal, author of the The Statesman Style Book, told Asia Times Online that he was moved to start the project because of "dismay that built up within me through 30 years of editing reporters' garbage as a sub-editor in an English-language newspaper."
posted by Andy Bechtel at 8:53 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Blog a cliche
The people at Gawker have compiled a list of cliches from the blog world.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 10:21 AM | Permalink | 2 comments
Monday, December 18, 2006
Give us proof, but give us time
This column in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram touches on the issue of proofreading — or lack thereof. Reader advocate David House argues that old-fashioned proofreaders would catch foolish mistakes:
We're missing a human remedy from the Stone Age that would erect a mighty backup defense against errors that no computer program or harried staffer on deadline could match: proofreaders, those wonderful thinkers, grammarians, spellers and widely read all-around trivia experts from yesteryear. Their roles were absorbed by technology and loaded onto copy editors, and we've paid the price in inaccuracies ever since.
At my most recent newsroom job, reading proofs was part of the job description for all copy editors. Granted, the copy desk was often too busy to read each page proof line by line, but the task was not ignored altogether. Section fronts were proofed carefully. In an earlier job at the Greensboro paper, copy editors initialed page proofs to add a layer of accountability.

Even desk managers read proofs. As Nation & World editor at the Raleigh paper, I read proofs from the Business section, partly to make sure the A section had no overlap with Business (Enron stories, for example, that could work in either place). Sometimes that's all I had time to check; on other occasions I was able to read beyond the display type and do a line-by-line read.

Bottom line: Give copy editors the time, and they will prove that they can proofread.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 9:44 AM | Permalink | 1 comments
Friday, December 15, 2006
Warming up
Anders Gyllenhaal, editor of Star Tribune in Minnesota and my former colleague at The News & Observer, is headed for The Miami Herald. Once he makes the move in February, Gyllenhaal will have time to get acclimated and perhaps pop in at the ACES conference in late April.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 2:41 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
The page as art
The New York Times has a cool feature (including video) about Serkan Ozkaya, an artist who draws newspaper pages. Here's what he says about his work:
A newspaper is history, one-a-day history. It’s our memory of what happened. So to make a drawing of it, to make a simulation of it, is what art always does: to mimic life, to mimic what is real.
Ozkaya's work will be on the Arts front in the NYT this weekend in a "picture within picture within picture" view.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 10:38 AM | Permalink | 1 comments
Thursday, December 14, 2006
More aggregator weirdness
My employer's news aggregator continues to struggle. In this example, we see inconsistent headline styles, redundancy and misspelling.

For previous posts on the shortcomings of aggregators, go here and here.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 10:41 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Has 'Gone wild' been tamed?
Note: A version of this post appears in the most recent issue of the newsletter of the Amercian Copy Editors Society. Don't get the newsletter? Join ACES and you will.

At the ACES conference in Cleveland earlier this year, I saw a TV advertisement asserting that Chevrolet dealers in the area had "gone wild" and were offering good prices on cars and trucks — deals so good that they bordered on reckless. The pitch included the winking narration and lilting Caribbean music heard on ads for "Girls Gone Wild" videos.

The car ad never said "you won't believe what these dealers will do," but the connection was clear. The "gone wild" phrase had nearly trickled down to the level where it began. Now that the "gone wild" description has become so common as to be picked up by Ohio car dealers, does that mean it has lost its utility? Has "gone wild" gone stale?

The "Girls Gone Wild" video series, started in the late 1990s, features young women exposing themselves, often in public places such as bars, the beach and Mardi Gras parades. The series, heavily advertised on late-night television, has made a rich man of its founder, Joe Francis. The counterpart “Guys Gone Wild” debuted in 2004.

Because of the popularity of the series and the saturation of the advertising, "Girls Gone Wild" seeped into mainstream culture. Even those who have never seen one of the videos or the ads knows that a girl "gone wild" is a person out of control, impetuous, skirting the edges of acceptable and legal behavior.

As the phrase entered the language, it was picked up by copy editors. It’s inspired headlines such as these:
  • "FEMA GONE WILD," reported the Philadelphia Daily News in a story about how Katrina survivors used federal aid to buy alcohol, tickets to sporting events and, yes, "Girls Gone Wild" videos. The San Francisco Chronicle and Palm Beach Post used the same headline with opinion pieces on the topic.
  • In a blog post, the editorial board of the Wichita Eagle told readers to "Get ready for gerrymandering gone wild."
  • U.S. News and World Report had a cover story on "books gone wild." The story focused on issues of fabrication and plagiarism.
As headline writers, we shouldn't be shy about weaving in references to popular culture. Phrases from movies, television and music can provide a fresh way to describe a situation. They also allow headline writers to connect to readers, to let them know that we, too, are plugged into what’s going on.

Like puns in headlines, these references work best when they clearly reflect the content of the story. That’s why the Daily News headline is more effective than the ones in U.S. News and World Report and the Wichita blog.

The danger, of course, is when the reference becomes passe. Headline writers run the risk of sounding hopelessly out of date when they use phrases from a dozen years ago. We have to recognize that tastes and trends move quickly. Otherwise we fall victim to cliche and anachronism.

For example, a reference to "a field of dreams" probably doesn’t work anymore, 17 years after the release of the movie of that name. The same goes for "a league of their own." Even "jump the shark" has jumped the shark.

Time is running out for "gone wild." Perhaps one indicator that the description is losing its impact comes from The Onion. "Girls gone wild released back into civilization" read a headline in the satirical paper a few months ago. When The Onion turns a phrase on its head, it’s probably time for the legitimate media to give it a rest.

UPDATE: This post has prompted a few testy comments at Testy Copy Editors. Says one: "Write headlines that reflect the story, not ones that show we understand pop culture." OK. But on occasion, why not do both?
posted by Andy Bechtel at 11:26 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Be Bob Woodward's assistant
Bob Woodward, one of the most famous journalists in the world, needs an assistant. The job posting mentions editing skills. Any takers?
posted by Andy Bechtel at 12:18 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Unhappy clams
Ted Vaden, the public editor at The News & Observer, writes that some readers didn't like this front-page headline:

Done eating that oyster?
The state wants the shell

The readers prefer "finished" and argue that "done" is for cakes, not people — a distinction that's new to me.

UPDATE: Fellow blogger and former colleague Pam Nelson elaborates.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 11:59 AM | Permalink | 2 comments
Sunday, December 10, 2006
Dean Smith, genteel and gentile

Bill Cloud, a sharp-eyed colleague and fellow teacher of editing, ran across this description of Dean Smith, former basketball coach of the Tar Heels. My guess is the writer meant "genteel" or perhaps "gentle."
posted by Andy Bechtel at 7:55 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Saturday, December 09, 2006
All hail 'Truthiness'
"Truthiness" — Stephen Colbert's famous noun — tops the 2006 word list at Merriam-Webster. The dictionary site, citing Colbert, defines "truthiness" as "truth that comes from the gut, not books."

The Comedy Central funnyman responded to the news in characteristic fashion:
Though I’m no fan of reference books and their fact-based agendas, I am a fan of anyone who chooses to honor me. And what an honor. Truthiness now joins the lexicographical pantheon with words like ‘squash,’ ‘merry,’ ‘crumpet,’ ‘the,’ ‘xylophone,’ ‘circuitous,’ ‘others’ and others.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 8:30 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Thursday, December 07, 2006
A quick study of Iraq coverage
The Charlotte Observer and The News & Observer of Raleigh may share ownership, but they don't always share news judgment. Here is how each paper handled the report of the Iraq Study Group: Charlotte made it the display lead; the N&O used an alternative story form mid-page to refer to broader coverage on page 3A.

UPDATE: The N&O public editor, Ted Vaden, discusses reader complaints about the failure to put a proper story about the Iraq report on the front page. I agree with Vaden and the readers; a story needed to be out there. Alternative story forms are great, but this is a major development in the biggest story in the world.
Meanwhile, the New York tabloids also differed in their approaches to this story. The Post monkeyed around with a "Planet of the Apes" look, and the Daily News allowed Jennifer Aniston to loom over President Bush.

See what other papers did at the Newseum.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 3:29 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
To be or not to be

Headlines often omit words that you see in story text: articles such as "a" and "the," and "to be" verbs. The readers fill in the presence of these missing words — at least we hope they do. This technique helps the headline writer, especially in a tight spot where every letter counts. Sometimes you need those words for the headline to make sense, however.

Such is the case here. Web profiles are a new source for police investigations. As it is, the headline's verb could be "profiles," which makes this ambiguous. If a headline can be read two ways, you can be sure that many readers will read it the way you didn't intend. One solution here is to eliminate "new" since most things we write about are new. That would make room for our "to be" verb.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 9:13 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
I passed the audition
Your Language Arts Grade: 100%

Way to go! You know not to trust the MS Grammar Check and you know "no" from "know." Now, go forth and spread the good word (or at least, the proper use of apostrophes).

Are You Gooder at Grammar?
Make a Quiz

But this probably won't get me tenure.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 12:52 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Monday, December 04, 2006
Spelling still counts
Spelling errors still pop up in print and online despite our best efforts. Here are two examples:
Word misspelled: Government.
Possible reasons for error: Haste related to Web journalism.
Possible solutions: Check spelling before posting; slow down.

Word misspelled: Aficionado.
Possible reasons for error: Foreign origins of word.
Solutions: Use extra caution when working with such words; consider using a more familiar one.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 3:41 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
When we assume — and cut — too much
Too often stories take some information for granted, leaving out context and asking readers to fill in what's missing. This problem seems to be particularly common in coverage of sports and politics. Copy editors can fill in those gaps and use caution when they trim wire stories.

The example here is from the sports world. (Here is the full version.) In addition to exactly what Jeremy Shockey said, here are some things that need to be explained, at least in passing:
  • Shockey is a tight end for the New York Giants.
  • Shockey's number on the team is 80.
  • Bill Parcells is the coach of the Dallas Cowboys; he is also a former coach of the Giants.
  • The "horrific collapse" refers to a recent game in which the Giants squandered a 21-0 lead.
  • The Giants and the Cowboys are playing in a game that will make a significant difference in the standings in the NFC East.
Without these elements, this story is hard to follow and probably only understood by the ardent fan. Audience is a consideration as well: Perhaps New York readers know Shockey's number, but what about readers in North Carolina?

Dallas, by the way, defeated the Giants on Sunday despite Shockey's prediction.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 10:31 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Sunday, December 03, 2006
Spiffed-up WSJ to slim down
The Wall Street Journal will cut its page size, reduce the numer of stories that jump and add photographs and graphics. The changes begin at the start of 2007.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 8:42 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Friday, December 01, 2006
The wheels fall off
My long-held dream (OK, my recent and unlikely goal) of becoming a contestant on "Wheel of Fortune" has come to an end. (Here is how it all started.)

The wheels came off in a hotel ballroom where I joined about 60 other hopefuls. After 90 minutes of simulated "Wheel" games and a surprisingly tough written test, the "Wheel" staff announced about a dozen names of those still in the running. I did not make the cut.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 10:44 AM | Permalink | 2 comments