Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Quoted in style
The practice of bracketing in direct quotes continues to confuse and amuse. Here's one of the picayune variety:

"Over the last couple [of] years, we've had some questions raised over customer etiquette, especially cell phones," said Regal spokeswoman Karen Lane.

The AP Stylebook does recommend "of" after "couple" in constructions like this one. But the person quoted didn't say it that way. Should we correct direct quotes to get them to conform to style? If we do, why not go all the way and redo the quote this way:

"During the past couple of years, we've had some questions raised about customer etiquette, especially cell phones."
Getting back to the story, more curiosity follows:

"And ... [piracy] is something that's a big concern within the industry."

I'm guessing that the bracket here is in place of a pronoun, but what was said between "and" and that insertion? Ellipses always make me wonder what was removed — and why.

This and more bracketing discussion here.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 12:41 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
HuffPo and hyphens
The Huffington Post has launched a redesign, and the site's look and organization have improved. It's also forged a partnership with Talking Points Memo, the liberal blog that made the firings of the U.S. attorneys a big story.

HuffPo still has problems with other things, however. Some are big — the site's dangerous use of file photos, for example. Others (as seen in theses examples) are little, and little things don't get much smaller than the hyphen.

That piece of punctuation can get a good argument going. Stack some words up to modify a noun, and you may need a hyphen. That's where the debate can begin, but most agree that a hyphen is not needed between an adverb and an adjective. Consider the "-ly" as the glue sticking these words into one idea. Adding a hyphen would be redundant to that task.

For this and previous posts on The Huffington Post, go here.

UPDATE: A Chicago Tribune critic reviews the new Huffington Post, comparing it favorably with Google News.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 2:26 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
  • Teresa Weaver, ousted as books editor at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, is headed to Atlanta magazine. Meanwhile, the paper is on the defensive abouts its arts coverage. And don't miss Stephen Colbert's take on the state of book criticism.
  • A reporter for The Los Angeles Times explains why she's taking the paper's buyout offer — she's tired of celebrity news overtaking in-depth reporting on jobs and the economy.
  • The blog at SND Update has started doing reviews of movies about journalism. The most recent review is a look at "Shattered Glass," which is of special interest to editing types.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 10:49 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Spaced out
Claims to be the "first" or "last" or "most recent" anything should be doublechecked. In the example here, the year for the first shuttle mission should be 1981, not 1962.

The "theme-park-ride" construction also looks awkward, but hyphenation is another issue altogether.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 9:35 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Friday, May 25, 2007
Read and relax
Finally, someone has invented a way to make it easier to enjoy the newspaper when you are multitasking — it's called the Loo Read. It's available in broadsheet or tabloid formats.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 5:56 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Link and respond
Some random links and thoughts on each:

ITEM: Democratic candidate John Edwards dismisses the phrase "war on terror" as a "bumper sticker" slogan.

THOUGHTS: Copy editors have been ahead of Edwards on this one. As advocates for specificity, we like narrowly tailored labels, not vague generalizations. "War on terror" has become so overused that it's an easy target for parody, as the "Borat" movie showed when the titular character told a rodeo crowd: "We support your war of terror."

ITEM: Star Tribune editor Nancy Barnes discusses reorganization and cutbacks at the Minneapolis paper.

THOUGHTS: I worked with Nancy more than 10 years ago when I was the copy editor in The News & Observer's bureau in Chapel Hill and she was the assigning editor there. We also worked together later in the Raleigh newsroom. She's a dedicated editor when it comes to local coverage, but despite her obligatory statements in this interview, she doesn't think much of national or international news. Also, it would have been nice to see her mention the role of copy editing as newsrooms change.

ITEM: A letter writer wants more coverage of math contests and less about offbeat competitions such as "rock, paper, scissors" tournaments.

THOUGHTS: The reader is asking a lot of a regional paper, albeit increasingly local, to cover events like this. The problem: Math contests are routine and not of tremendous interest to anyone not participating. The solution: Find stories with similar content but have an element of oddity or human interest, such as this one about how geometry and miniature golf intersect.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 1:53 PM | Permalink | 2 comments
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Bugged by news judgment
Do some newspapers make too much of one of the great cyclical stories, the emergence of the 17-year cicadas? This reporter in Illinois, where the insects are popping up, thinks so.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 10:26 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Sunday, May 20, 2007
Cutline by Art Vandalay
When I recently told someone that my editing course includes time spent on writing photo captions, the person gave me a puzzled look. How hard could that be? That has to be taught?

Well, it's not as easy as it looks, but it's easy to find examples of cutlines (as we call them) that fall short. They don't explain enough, or they state the obvious, among other pitfalls.

This one, however, shows how a copy editor can save the day. This photograph, as originally sent by The Associated Press, mentioned that the man's sign had a "Seinfeld" reference. But it didn't explain the reference. The story with the photo is about a pair of wayward whales in California.

Thankfully, a copy editor at The News & Observer did, telling the reader how "Seinfeld" character George Costanza once tried to impress a woman by claiming to be a marine biologist — only to face reality one day on the beach. Now the image, cutline and story work together. Nice work!

(Click on the image for a better view.)
posted by Andy Bechtel at 2:18 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Friday, May 18, 2007
A magazine article observed
N&O, Observer match-up "a little bit like porcupines mating"

This headline on Romenesko caught my eye for two reasons: the prickly imagery and the fact that I worked at The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., off and on for nearly 10 years. I still read the paper every day. When it's in the news, I notice.

Romenesko linked to this story about the N&O in Charlotte magazine. It argues that the N&O and Charlotte Observer are losing their competitive edges because they are now owned by the same company. The author says it's better to have the papers as professional adversaries, not teammates. (Editor & Publisher did a similar story last month.)

As a former N&O wire editor, I had felt the informal competition between the paper and The Charlotte Observer. On occasion, the managing editor would ask, "Charlotte had this story on its front page today. Why didn't you pitch it for ours?" The question sometimes came with that day's Observer with the story circled in red ink. Other section editors at the N&O got similar questions. The message, politely but pointedly deliverered, was clear: The Charlotte Observer is our rival, and we want to put out a better paper than they do. Don't worry too much about what Greensboro, Wilmington or Winston-Salem do. Worry about Charlotte.

Now reporters and editors for the Charlotte and Raleigh papers are working together on stories big and small. I've noticed this in the bylines in the N&O, where it used to be verboten to run a story with a Charlotte credit line. Now such stories are routine, and double bylines with N&O and Observer reporters are frequent. I was hoping that the magazine article would provide significant insight into the extent of this partnership and what it would mean for readers in North Carolina.

The story, however, falls short. Its main problem is sourcing: The writer never quotes anyone from the Raleigh paper. Sure, it's Charlotte magazine, but it needs to have voices that go beyond Mecklenburg County. This is a chance for a story to get more local than the E&P article did, but it's an opportunity lost.

And the best source is right there in the story: John Drescher, the managing editor at the N&O, who previously worked at The Charlotte Observer and at The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C. His point of view would be especially interesting here, but it's nowhere to be found. The magazine did manage to spell his name two different ways in one paragraph — one of several editing gaffes that further undermine the story.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 11:02 AM | Permalink | 1 comments
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Actual Carlos Santana may not match photo
This cutline describes the person in the center of this photo as Carlos Santana, the star of "Delta Farce" and (presumably) the guitarist known for "Black Magic Woman" and "Smooth."

Looking at this in my Sunday paper, I wondered why the image of Santana in my mind did not match the image on the page. Had his appearance changed that much, and had he started taking roles in dumb-guy comedies? Something didn't seem right.

Alas, this correction sets the record straight: The character's name is Carlos Santana. The
actor is Danny Trejo.

UPDATE: A similar problem strikes Yahoo: That's Lindsay Lohan in that photo, not Paris Hilton. If we insist on focusing on celebrity news, let's make sure we identify the characters correctly.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 2:11 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
  • In a $17 billion deal of interest to wire editors around the world, Reuters and Thomson are planning to merge.
  • The movie writer at The Salt Lake Tribune says newspapers shouldn't purge film critics to cut costs.
  • A college paper in Ohio asks readers what they think of alternative story forms.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 9:55 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Monday, May 14, 2007
His [Nearly] exact words
In story text, direct quotes that are laden with brackets are distracting. The insertions defeat the purpose of the quote — to allow the reader to see the exact words of sources. A paraphrase or partial quote is an option when the direct quote simply doesn't work without the bracketed information. A good setup sentence for the direct quote can help too.

In a pull quote like this one, the brackets are even more distracting. The idea of the pull quote is to highlight an especially illuminating statement. Pull quotes should be pithy and clear. Splicing in explanatory text between brackets ruins that effect.

UPDATE: See a related discussion here and a previous post here.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 8:11 AM | Permalink | 2 comments
Thursday, May 10, 2007
Forcing it?
"Star Wars" fans will likely grumble that Luke Skywalker wouldn't cross Han Solo. (Lando Calrissian and Boba Fett got some raw deals from Anakin Skywalker.)

Is this is a humorous headline or a groaner? Read the full story here and comments on the headline here and here. And here is a related post.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 1:32 PM | Permalink | 1 comments
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
That's entertainment
Boxing matches are hassle for sports departments — they end late, and imagery is tightly controlled. Still, we can make sure the big words land a big punch.

The main headline here is OK, but look at the drophead. It has some "entertaining" redundancy. It appeared this way in the print edition in the Sunday paper — not good, but again, deadlines are a problem. Maybe time didn't allow a revision. But the version you see here is from this paper's Web site long after the bout was over, with plenty of time to rewrite and repair rather than "repurpose."
posted by Andy Bechtel at 7:25 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Sunday, May 06, 2007
Swan songs
Two goodbyes of note from the Sunday newspapers:
  • Byron Calame has signed off as public editor at The New York Times, and his farewell includes his concerns about the future of editing. He also thanks the copy editor who handled his columns.
  • J. Peder Zane is no longer books editor at The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. In his farewell, he discusses his new role as "ideas writer" and the state of book criticism in newspapers. Marcy Smith, a copy editor, will add coordinating book reviews for the paper to her other duties.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 8:32 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Thursday, May 03, 2007
A stink over spelling
Some parents in Staten Island, N.Y., are unhappy with a middle school there. That sounds typical, but here's why they are upset: A letter from a dean contains numerous errors in spelling and grammar.

As the parent of a first-grader, I see such errors in teacher notes, homework assignments and other prepared material that my son brings home from school. I am willing to accept some level of error — we all make mistakes, and a school doesn't have the luxury of having a copy editor on the staff. The level of error in the Staten Island example, however, does undermine the dean's message and makes one question his ability to teach.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 1:57 PM | Permalink | 3 comments
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
  • The Orlando Sentinel has announced a newsroom reorganization. "A certain number of editing jobs will be eliminated," but it's unclear whether copy editors are among those.
  • News sites are bidding for key words — how much will they pay for "Virginia Tech shootings" and other search terms?
  • Merrill Perlman of The New York Times talks to "On the Media" about copy editing. It's an entertaining Q&A.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 12:51 PM | Permalink | 2 comments
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
Alternatives everywhere
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram has launched a redesign. Among other changes, the new version includes an increased use of alternative story forms and "charticles." Reader reaction has been fairly muted, although some offered the usual unflattering comparisons to USA Today.

Speaking of alternative story forms, the trend is reaching into the world of public relations. This news release from Coca-Cola is an example.

Late last year, I led a session for writers and editors at SAS Institute in Cary, N.C., and I included SAS press releases that I had rewritten and edited into alternative formats. The audience was receptive, but many writers there remain locked into the inverted pyramid.

This and previous posts on alternative story forms are collected here.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 1:57 PM | Permalink | 0 comments