Saturday, March 31, 2007
Is Cartman a newsman?
The Drudge Report routinely posts raw numbers like this for the cable news shows. One can make the usual arguments that audience share and demographics give a better picture than simple totals. What is notable here, however, is the inclusion of "South Park" in the list.

I appreciate the topical nature of "South Park" — especially its take on Scientology and its spoof of "World of Warcraft." But I wouldn't call it a news show. Why would Drudge?

This and more Drudge absurdity here.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 5:10 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Thursday, March 29, 2007
For hire: youthful, dazzling ombudsmen
There's a lot of talk about media ombudsmen this week. Apparently, they're old and boring.

The chatter comes as George Solomon, the ombudsman at ESPN, signs off, and The New York Times looks for a successor to Byron Calame.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 3:03 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
A matter of that
This headline from The Huffington Post is confusing, especially to those of us who have worked in the newsroom and seen "newspaper politics" in action. (Newsrooms are offices, after all, which is probably why many journalists like to watch "The Office.") What this headline needs is a "that" in the right place:

FBI Agent Told To Keep Quiet
After Telling Newspaper That Politics

Were Involved In Firings

Sometimes "that" isn't necessary — after "said," for example. But it's helpful and necessary in other situations.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 4:56 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Capital offenses
AP style doesn't favor capitalization. When in doubt, lowercase a word, no matter how "important" it may seem.

Sometimes, of course, we should capitalize words — sometimes within a word. Proper names are among words we must capitalize. That seems obvious, but sometimes we go low when we shouldn't. Here are two examples where we needed to go uppercase:

The Microsoft product is PowerPoint. Sure, making the second "p" uppercase is a marketing gimmick, but that's what Bill Gates' minions decided to call it. If we are going to use it in big type, let's get it right.

This paragraph from an AP story isn't the first time* a political figure has referred to the planet-destroying weapon from "Star Wars." But that weapon has a proper name: the Death Star. "Jedi" should also be uppercase, but I will stop there at the expense of exposing my "Star Wars" geekiness.

* During the 2000 campaign, John McCain compared himself to Luke Skywalker fighting his way out of the Death Star.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 12:18 PM | Permalink | 1 comments
Friday, March 23, 2007
The cliche defense

I'm not sure which is more odd about this interview with former House member Tom DeLay — that DeLay doesn't seem to know the content of his own book or that he doesn't know that cliches are to be avoided. Either way, his editor should have done a better job helping him with the book and preparing for questions about some of its phrasing.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 3:37 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Before and after
Headline at the Politico Web site before the news conference by John and Elizabeth Edwards:

Edwards to Suspend Campaign

Headline at after the Edwards' news conference:

Edwards: 'Campaign goes on' despite wife's cancer

The upshot: Sometimes it's better not to rely on an anonymous source, as Politico did. And don't link to a lone story with a lone anonymous source as Drudge did. Just wait for the news to happen. At least Wonkette has the courage and humor to admit that it didn't know what was going on.

UPDATE: Politico's blogger apologizes.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 1:34 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Alternative opinions

The Arizona Republic has changed its Monday editions to make it more fast and friendly. The new version includes more alternative story forms.

The comments here reflect that this sort of thing is still in the experimental stages. Some of it works; some of it doesn't. But I do like this gamble on the editorial page. Unlike the dull pontificating in most newspapers, the Republic offers its views as a list. This is much more engaging than what I see in my daily paper, The News & Observer.

This and previous posts on alternative story forms are available here.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 11:08 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
If it's Saturday, where is everybody?
You've probably heard about the recent buyouts at the Star Tribune. As this story says, the move affects writers and people "behind the scenes" such as copy editors. Now get the inside story here. A key quote from a reporter:
There's been some scrambling to fill slots for copy editing and designing on the weekend. They're just discovering someone's not going to be there.
Speaking of the Minneapolis paper, its public editor has an interesting column on the editing and trimming of wire stories — and the conspiracy theories posited by readers.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 10:46 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
NYT copy editor takes your questions
Merrill Perlman, director of copy desks at The New York Times whom some of you may know from ACES, gets a turn to answer reader questions as part of the Talk to the Newsroom series.

She's already been confronted with a cranky query about the lack of serial commas in the Times. An anonymous source tells me that Merrill would rather not discuss grammar and punctuation all the time, so send her questions about other things.

UPDATE: Be sure to check out this Q&A. Merrill does a great job discussing fact checking and style issues. She also talks about editing and the Web. I was heartened to read that the Times is recognizing the role of copy editing — a big issue as we all head toward online.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 9:51 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Monday, March 19, 2007
Fighting words
Can we all agree to end the use of "basket-brawl"? Has anyone really used that word in everyday conversation? It still pops up routinely in the sports media.

If you insist on using "basket-brawl," then I get to write this:

Cagers in fracas in Big Apple as key tilt goes awry
posted by Andy Bechtel at 3:13 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
The eyes have it
Poynter Institute is nearly ready to release its latest EyeTrack study, and the findings will be presented at the ACES conference in Miami, among other places. This column at the Poynter site gives us a preview and includes a Q&A with noted designer Mario Garcia.

UPDATE: Here are some results from Poynter. And here's some reaction.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 9:49 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Is this the best they can do?
Spammers need some editing help. Do they really expect us to believe their ploys when they write like this?
Because of unusual number of invalid login attempts on you account, we had to believe that, their might be some security problem on you account. So we have decided to put an extra verification process to ensure your identity and your account security. Please click the link bellow:


It is all about your security. Thank you. and visit the customer service section.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 4:31 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Thursday, March 15, 2007
Check your headlines
A few headlines that need tweaking:
PUBLICATION: The Drudge Report.
PROBLEMS: Poor word choice. "Credit" isn't the right pick here because it has positive connotations. The killing of Daniel Pearl wasn't a good thing. And why is "confesses" in quotation marks?
SOLUTIONS: Change "credit" to "responsibility." Delete quotation marks.
PUBLICATION: The Huffington Post.
PROBLEMS: Punctuation error; photo looks odd.
SOLUTION: His last name is Edwards, so put the apostrophe after the S. Check under "possessives" in the AP Stylebook. Also, ask the photo desk whether the image has been flopped, which would be a no-no.

PUBLICATION: The Charlotte Observer.
PROBLEM: Run-on headline.
SOLUTION: Put a comma after "down" — it's necessary because the headline has two independent clauses.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 12:30 PM | Permalink | 1 comments
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Walking on sunshine
Ted Vaden, the public editor at The News & Observer, asks the same question I did this morning: Why does a story about access to public records have unidentified sources?

To its credit, the N&O has been doing some excellent work for Sunshine Week. Too bad its collection of stories on the topic requires registration, which seems ironic.

UPDATE: The Daily Tar Heel offers its take on Sunshine Week.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 5:23 PM | Permalink | 2 comments
To the woodshed
This New York Times story on the firing of numerous U.S. attorneys includes e-mails from Bush administration officials. Here's an excerpt:
“Has ODAG ever called Carol Lam and woodshedded her re immigration enforcement? Has anyone?”

ODAG is the Office of the Deputy Attorney General, and Lam is one of the ousted prosecutors. But what's interesting here is the "woodshedded" reference. "Woodshed" can be a verb (as defined here, among other places), but I get the feeling that this e-mail was not talking about practicing a musical instrument.

The stories about the firing of the attorneys, by the way, are in need of context. Already we are reading and hearing the "everybody does it" rationale, but is that the case? Are the actions of the Bush administration different from others? If so, how? And how are U.S. attorneys selected, and what do they do? All of these questions would make for a great Q&A. Let's hope that a wire desk puts one together.

UPDATE: A kind reader of this blog directed me to this Q&A from the Los Angeles Times.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 3:07 PM | Permalink | 1 comments
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Teaching tips
Tom Bowers, a former colleague at UNC-Chapel Hill who retired last year, has started a blog about teaching. It promises to be a valuable resource for those in the classroom now, either full time or on the side, and those considering it.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 10:14 AM | Permalink | 1 comments
Thursday, March 08, 2007
Sorry, wrong number
Here's why it pays to doublecheck phone numbers, e-mail addresses, etc. It's one of those things copy editors have done forever, but the practice is being pushed aside as editing is pushed aside in the rush to post to the Web.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 12:16 PM | Permalink | 1 comments
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
Layer upon layer
Layering of information is important in display type, which includes headlines and cutlines. Each element can contribute to the storytelling and add facts before the reader gets to the text. This story package from The Daily Tar Heel doesn't do that well.


The news is about an Iranian woman who has been in jail for overstaying her visa. She was freed Tuesday and reunited with her daughter. It's a story that's been in the news off and on for several months.


Readers who may not be familiar with this woman's case are likely baffled about what this story is about. This problem is worsened by the fact that the story itself takes six paragraphs to get around to the reason for her detention. The display type never explains why she was in jail. This is a missed opportunity to refresh memories of those who have some recollection of the case and introduce it to newcomers.


Copy editors can fix these things. It's why we are here, after all. With this story, the copy editor had three chances to pull this package together: in main headline, though that would be tough given its size and shape; in the drophead; and in the cutlines. The cutline under the main photo is probably the easiest place to include the "why" of this story.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 1:13 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
Bono, the singing editor
U2 singer Bono is stepping into the editor's role for an issue of Vanity Fair. His issue, which will hit newsstands in July, will focus on Africa. (The photo of him and Graydon Carter is worth clicking on the link.)

Bono proposes that the magazine change its name to Fair Vanity, and he argues that stories should be more like 45s: "I don’t want the reader to be weighed down.”

But what if the writers want to do double albums?
posted by Andy Bechtel at 12:58 PM | Permalink | 1 comments
Launch and relaunch
  • A weekly newspaper for Carrboro, N.C., is one of several publications launching soon in the Triangle (also known as "Raleigh-Durham" to those outside North Carolina).
  • The Star-Bulletin in Honolulu launches a redesign that eliminates jumps from the front page.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 11:59 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Monday, March 05, 2007
Slanted story
Fellow editing professor Bill Cloud passed this one along. It's from the Times-Dispatch in Richmond, Va.

I've heard of putting an angle on a story, but this is ridiculous — and hideous. I blame the ad department, not the page designer.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 9:10 AM | Permalink | 4 comments
Sunday, March 04, 2007
Baghdad, a town without pity
Yet another headline goof courtesy of the news aggregator at my employer's Web site. The link took you to a story that got it right: Sadr City.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 8:35 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Mission of Burma
The Associated Press may have relented in the Burma/Myanmar debate, but the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal isn't budging. The Asian country's military leaders renamed it in 1988, a change that hasn't been universally embraced. For example, in this piece critical of a U.N. official for insisting on using "Myanmar" as the name, the Journal says:
The Burmese democracy movement of Aung San Suu Kyi continues to call it by its rightful name, and we'll stick with her over the junta.
I had my own experience about this country's name a few years ago. When I was on the wire desk at The News & Observer, the managing editor collared me one afternoon and asked: "Why is the BBC calling this place Burma, and the wire story we used today called it Myanmar?" I told her I would look into the matter and make a recommendation. After some calls and e-mails to the wire services as well as some quick research, here's what I came up with:
Stories should use "Myanmar" in references to this country. The government there, however unpleasant it might be, has stated that this is the nation’s name, and international organizations have accepted it. Because the United States and some other Western countries have resisted the use of "Myanmar," stories that instead use "Burma" will imply support for the resistance by these countries. Stories about the country should include a phrase such as “also known as Burma” to indicate that some people continue to call it that and to remind readers that the country’s government has changed its name in the relatively recent past.
The AP Stylebook has since added an entry preferring "Myanmar," and I have moved on from the newsroom to the classroom. My memo is still useful in class discussions on matters of geography and style.

Now if I could only get the AP to go with "Ground Zero" as an acceptable uppercase usage in references to the World Trade Center site...
posted by Andy Bechtel at 7:28 PM | Permalink | 2 comments
Friday, March 02, 2007
Editing: a life skill
This column in the Christian Science Monitor underscores what I tell my students: Editing is a skill that can go outside the bounds of your job. In this case, the columnist detected a possible Internet scam by noticing the editing errors in an e-mail.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 8:58 AM | Permalink | 0 comments