Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Misc. for this week
Some links of note:
  • An editor regrets introducing the term "slow bleed" to describe the Democratic strategy on Iraq.
  • Pam Nelson, a copy editor at The News & Observer, is posting some fun quizzes that will test your knowledge of word choice and grammar.
  • Headsup: The Blog wonders whether Strom Thurmond really was as old as Fox News thinks he was.
  • Editors at the AP ban coverage of Paris Hilton. Can they add Britney Spears?
posted by Andy Bechtel at 11:04 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Reversal of fortune
The business school at UNC-Chapel Hill is displeased with a magazine's rankings. The Kenan-Flagler Business School, which usually places well in such lists, isn't among "50 Best Business Schools for Getting Hired" as listed by

The university has good reason to be upset, as Fortune's list seems to have mingled data from UNC-CH with that of its rival, N.C. State University. The NCSU School of Management placed 25th. Here's what the consulting company that helped Fortune put the list together says:
We pride ourselves on our content and are looking into possible inaccuracies that have recently been brought to our attention.
Perhaps this is a lesson about putting too much time, faith and energy into these rankings of colleges, places to live, etc. If magazines and newspapers insist on researching and reporting such lists or writing about those created by others, they should carefully examine the methods and disclose possible shortcomings to readers.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 10:04 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Monday, February 26, 2007
Naming rights and wrongs
You can say this about The Drudge Report: It's consistent. Once again, Drudge offers a collection of links to reviews of a big (and boring) event. Once again, he uses last names of the TV critics in the headlines — except for Alessandra Stanley of The New York Times. She's listed by her first name. (More on first names in headlines here.)

I stand by my previous post: Real consistency would be to use the last name of each critic.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 8:48 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Friday, February 23, 2007
The facts and Wikipedia
You may have already heard about Middlebury College's new policy restricting use of Wikipedia as a source for student papers, but this New York Times story is worth a read because it goes deeper than previous reports.

My academic department, probably like most, has its share of Wikipedia champions and Wikipedia detractors. I'm in the middle, at least for now. I use the site on occasion, but with an increasingly skeptical eye.

In class, I tell my editing students that when checking facts, Wikipedia is OK as a starting point in a search, but it must not be the last stop. (The list of original sources at the end of an entry can be a good trailhead.) But as I see more errors — not just factual, but also grammatical — on Wikipedia, I wonder whether I should follow Middlebury's lead and forbid any use of the site in the classroom.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 1:34 PM | Permalink | 1 comments
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Welcome to the machine
A professor at Kansas State has created this intriguing video that looks at text in our time. The key question: Who will organize all of this data? (Tip of the hat to Ryan Thornburg at the U.S. News & World Report site for pointing it out.)

For more video fun, check out this recent post at Common Sense Journalism.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 4:14 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Calling all collaborators
A good conversation is under way at Visual Editors: Who does the best alternative story forms?

It started as which designer does them best, but this comment broadened the discussion appropriately:
How can alternative story formats be attributed to an individual designer? I don't know how it works anywhere else, but ANY alternative story format I've ever tried was born from the efforts of editors and reporters, not exclusively me, or even me at all!
Indeed, collaboration is essential for an ASF to succeed. This is where the word people and the visual people need to work together. It helps, of course, to be both a word person and a visual person.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 10:28 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Monday, February 19, 2007
This week's misc.
  • Ted Vaden, public editor at The News & Observer, discusses the use of racial identification in news stories. Vaden appropriately touches on the themes of relevance and utility in making those decisions. Not everyone, however, is convinced, considering that someone compared Vaden to Stalin in the first comment.
  • C. Michael Curtis, editor of fiction and letters to the editor at The Atlantic, discusses editing, writing and teaching in this interview.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 11:41 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Thursday, February 15, 2007
The Google factor
Look at the mug shot that goes with this collection of links on Google News. (Click on the image for a better view.) Google seems to be taking a cue from Bill O'Reilly, the Fox News host who likes to refer to Al Franken as Stuart Smalley. The image is Franken in character as Smalley, not as himself. In addition, the top link is an op-ed piece, not a news story.

Has Google News fallen into the spin zone?

More on mugs here and here.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 10:53 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Pay attention to graphics headlines
Many charts and maps have headlines, and sometimes they are misleading. Perhaps this is because sometimes graphics artists are writing them without seeing the stories they accompany.

Perhaps that's the case here. This graphic goes with a New York Times story about how some radio stations are experimenting with video. (Think Howard Stern on E! back in the day and Don Imus on MSNBC.)

Despite the headline on the graphic, the story doesn't indicate that radio listenership is down because people have shorter attention spans nowadays. It's entirely possible that attention is simply being paid elsewhere. Headlines on graphics shoudn't come to conclusions that are not backed up with facts within the stories they are paired with.

It's up the copy desk to reconcile those contradictions.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 1:45 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
My favorite part of the sports section is the agate page, and I love the "Misc." category. Although I cannot claim to compete with fascinating items such as the hiring of an assistant volleyball coach at Valdosta State, I offer these miscellaneous items:
  • A recap of the recent meeting of the Southeast chapter of ACES.
  • The quiet launch of EditTrain, the online companion to the Institute for Midcareer Copy Editors, which is taking a break this summer.
  • The hijacking of a blog post at The News & Observer — does everything have to be about the Duke lacrosse case?
posted by Andy Bechtel at 10:18 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Sunday, February 11, 2007
Don't you (Forget about me)
Tip of the hat to Words at Work for linking to this piece that makes a compelling case for the need for copy editing in the age of the Web. Here's the gist:
We in the newspaper business, human to a fault, make enough mistakes — typographical, factual and otherwise — in our editorial and advertising content with editing. The mind cringes in contemplation of the horrors that might be unleashed upon an unsuspecting public were no editor tending the gate, figurative blue pencil at the ready, to save us from ourselves.
Indeed, the immediacy of online journalism begs for more editing, not less. But our skills seems to be forgotten in the rush to put breaking news on the Web. That's a mistake.

For more discussion on that, check out the comment to this recent post.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 7:47 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Obama in the aggregate
My employer's news aggregator continues to be a weak source of information — and continues to underscore the need for human editors. Imagine a front page with the five same stories, which is essentially what is being presented here.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 10:25 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Saturday, February 10, 2007
Editing as a matter of life and death
Tennessee's governor has halted executions in the state until a "how to" manual on lethal injections gets a rewrite. The problem stems from a previous revision that was intended to reflect Tennessee's change from the electrical chair to lethal injection. Some of the old language was still in the guide, creating the possibility of confusion.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 2:15 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Thursday, February 08, 2007
Cavalier editing
The ombudsman at the student paper at the University of Virginia discusses the need for copy editing. The column includes some handy examples from a recent story in The Cavalier Daily.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 10:07 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
Newsweek gone lame
The editors at Newsweek apparently missed this post in which I argued that "gone wild" has become tired in headlines. And this cover photo seems certain to repel anyone with a serious interest in the news.

The questionable cover comes less than six months after another one caught the attention of bloggers.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 8:16 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Monday, February 05, 2007
When down is better than up
Headlines have different "styles," or looks. Up-style headlines capitalize most words. Down-style headlines only capitalize the first word and other words that are proper names, abbreviations, etc.

Many U.S. newspapers, magazines and news sites (but not this blog, as I explain later in this post) prefer down-style — and for good reasons. For one thing, down-style headlines are a little easier to write. Capital letters, after all, take up more space than lowercase ones, and headline writers will take any extra space they can get.

Up-style headlines also run the risk of confusing readers. The example you see above illustrates this problem. "Black" refers to Jim Black, a state lawmaker. But it could be read as a color or racial designation.

The down-style version would look like this:

Judge declines to dismiss case against Black ally

That makes it clear that "Black" is a proper name, not a simple adjective.

But what about the headlines on this blog? The template is set up for up-style headlines, and I am going to let it stay that way. I will, however, try not to write any ambiguous up-style headlines.

UPDATE: Fellow blogger and editing professor Doug Fisher notes that The Associated Press is adding a headline entry to its stylebook. It recommends down-style.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 4:57 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Sunday, February 04, 2007
Headlines that make you say "D'oh!"

Donuts or doughnuts — but not dougnuts.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 8:25 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Resorting the news
Melanie Sill, the executive editor at The News & Observer, is telling readers about a reorganization of the newsroom to address the rapid changes in the profession. As Sill puts it:

We're no longer a newspaper with a Web site. We're a newsroom producing print and online publications.

The N&O's new newsroom is not as radical as Gannett's information centers, and Sill doesn't say much about the role of copy editing, which is a question that needs to be answered. It's clear, however, that the evolution of professional news organizations will affect everyone working in journalism.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 1:59 PM | Permalink | 1 comments
Friday, February 02, 2007
Finding your religion
The Religion Newswriters Association has a new online stylebook. It's a great resource that goes beyond what AP has in this area in its stylebook.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 1:27 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
The latest from the front
Here's an interesting passage from the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, which was released today:
The term 'civil war' accurately describes key elements of the Iraqi conflict, including the hardening of ethno-sectarian identities, a sea change in the character of the violence, ethno-sectarian mobilization, and population displacements.
The report also said the situation in Iraq was so complex that "civil war" isn't an ideal fit. Yet, given that U.S. intelligence is giving the term some credence, will the American wire services go along?

More on the NIE and "civil war" reaction here.

UPDATE: Columnist Charles Krauthammer discusses surges, redeployments and escalations.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 12:13 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
ACES breaks deadline
The deadline for early registration for the ACES conference in Miami has moved from Feb. 1 to Feb. 15. Take a look at the early version of the schedule, and you will see that this three-day meeting in late April is shaping up to be one of the best ACES gatherings yet.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 10:40 AM | Permalink | 0 comments