Saturday, September 29, 2007
A fumble online
Sure, anytime LSU plays in the Louisiana Superdome, Tiger fans will show up. LSU has fans statewide, and the drive from the Baton Rouge campus to New Orleans takes about an hour. But for this game, the dome is the home of Tulane, despite what the Web site of Sports Illustrated says here.

The Bayou Bengals took over in the second half and won the game, 34-9. The Green Wave will claim a moral victory, however.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 8:13 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Interesting reads
  • Roy Peter Clark of The Poynter Institute on his crusade against "crusade."
  • Carl Sessions Stepp of American Journalism Review on the big changes in the newsroom, including what this transformation means for editing and wire news.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 2:44 PM | Permalink | 1 comments
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Quoting the president in style
It's not often that the Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar gets a mention on the front pages of U.S. newspapers, especially those regional papers that increasingly focus on local news.

But the protests in Myanmar percolated from the back pages to 1A in The News & Observer today. The centerpiece package includes this promo to a related story inside. Look closely, and you will see that President Bush's quote has been altered. An editor has placed "Myanmar" in place of "Burma," the country's former name.

Certainly, some readers may know "Burma" better than "Myanmar." Stories should reflect that the country's name has changed and that some people continue to resist that change. A Wikipedia entry is dedicated to the naming controversy. The AP Stylebook, however, recommends "Myanmar." As posted here, I had to deal with the Burma/Myanmar question before the AP got around to it.

Here's the problem with inserting brackets into this direct quote: Bush almost certainly used "Burma" for a reason. He is using the word that opponents of the government prefer, and by saying "Burma" before an audience at the United Nations, he's making his allegiance clear. To splice in "Myanmar" alters the meaning of what Bush said in significant way.

Editors should not impose AP style on direct quotes in a manner that warps meaning, even in the interest providing clarity to the reader. Keep the quote as is, pick another one or paraphrase it.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 11:54 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Coach vs. columnist
The football coach at Oklahoma State is unhappy with a column in The Oklahoman, saying it was full of fact errors. He also described the unidentified editor of the column as "garbage." The columnist and others are fighting back, calling the coach's tirade inappropriate.

Judge for yourself by reading the column and then watching a clip of the coach's news conference. Finally, read the columnist's response.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 3:44 PM | Permalink | 1 comments
Friday, September 21, 2007
Bush becomes Saddam?

Canadian news magazine Maclean's has this striking image and headline on the cover of the latest issue. It seems certain to be fodder for cable TV news and talk radio here in the United States.

The Senate took time to officially condemn the for the Petraeus/Betray Us headline on a full-page ad. Will Congress now consider a declaration of war over this cover?

When in doubt, why not blame Canada?

UPDATE: Here's the story behind the cover along with some reaction to it.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 12:38 PM | Permalink | 1 comments
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Newspapers as animal art
A sculptor uses copies of The New York Times to make eye-catching (and somewhat spooky) artwork. The city's streets serve as the gallery.

Related post here.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 9:29 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Alternative traffic
Returning from the rewarding EyeTrack seminar at Poynter, I find myself again contemplating what works and what doesn't when it comes to alternative story forms — and just what is an alternative story form.

Here's an example from The News & Observer's front page. (To get a better view, try the .pdf that's available on the paper's site, or click on the image here.) Most journalists would agree that this "traffic misery" story is being told in an alternative format. Let's assess:


— It's a great idea to tell this "report" story as an ASF. The news matches the form.

— The main image is strong and manages to catch the eye even though we have seen this type of photograph before.

— The presentation is effective; the story is easy to follow and understand. The placement and "square footage" on the page indicate that the N&O thinks this story is worth spending some time with.


— I found myself looking for a graf or two of intro text to tell me what I am looking at and why it's a front-page story. Headline text alone can't do this.

— I asked myself: "OK. Says who?" A "methodology" textbox on the Texas Transportation Institute and its authority on traffic in North Carolina would be handy.

— The smaller, "iconic" images are OK, but the dollars coming out of the gas container are a little over the top.

— The numbers need more context in some cases. Is "commuter time in congestion" a measurement by year, by month or by week? This is often a hazard of the "big numbers" approach — the numbers become mere numbers detached from their reality.

CONCLUSION: This is a good effort that could have been better with another round of polish and editing. The idea is ahead of the execution. Despite its faults, this is more engaging than 28 inches of gray, number-encumbered text under a headline that says "Report: Local traffic snarls worsen."

Related posts here and here.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 1:19 PM | Permalink | 1 comments
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Wish you were here

This blog will likely be quiet for the next several days. I will be at The Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla., for a workshop on putting its EyeTrack research into action.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 8:48 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Friday, September 14, 2007
Go fish
Barry Saunders, a columnist for The News & Observer, is being accused of anti-Catholic bias. At issue is a sentence in a piece about the Duke lacrosse case. Here's what Saunders said about the three players who were falsely accused of rape and are now apparently seeking a lot of money for their trouble:
How about a compromise figure? Instead of $30 million, how about a fish sandwich, a Yoo-hoo and a one-way Greyhound bus ticket?
The reference to a fish sandwich and the fact that two of the three players are Catholic has set off an angry reaction from the lacrosse crowd. Here's an example:
Does the News & Observer endorse anti-Catholic remarks? "Fish sandwiches" sounds an awful lot like "fish eaters"!
Linda Williams, an assistant managing editor at the paper, says it's a cultural misunderstanding. Perhaps, but selecting a main course without religious connotations may have avoided the whole issue and kept the focus on Saunders' message.

UPDATE: Here's what one of my colleagues, a Catholic from Wisconsin, told me after I mentioned the column to her:
I am absolutely positively sure that I never ever ever would have read the reference to a fish sandwich as anti-Catholic (macaroni and cheese, maybe; fish sandwich, never). Seems to me that some folks have way too little to think about and do.
The more I think about this, the more I think the outrage is a convenient contrivance, picked up and spread by those who are still miffed at the media coverage of the lacrosse case.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 4:00 PM | Permalink | 3 comments
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Interesting reads
  • Sara Quinn of The Poynter Institute tells us what EyeTrack research has found about alternative story forms.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 9:30 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Swinging editors
A Massachusetts newspaper wanted to use a broken baseball bat for a photo illustration, so two editors set out to break one. As seen in this video, they discovered that getting that done isn't as easy it looks on TV.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 11:16 AM | Permalink | 1 comments
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Hearst goes multimedia
The Hearst Journalism Awards Program is the Pulitzer competition of college journalism, and it honors the best in writing and photography.

The Hearst people recently updated the program's Web site with the deadlines and rules for this academic year. For the first time, the competition includes a category for multimedia. The rules for that category mention editing as a consideration. Yet, the overall competition has no categories specific to editing. Why not a headline-writing contest?

UPDATE: I asked Richard Cole, a former dean of the UNC-Chapel Hill journalism school who has served as chairman of the Hearst steering committee, about the lack of a headline category. Here's his reply:
That has been talked about in the past, but the thinking was that headlines alone weren't appropriate for a separate category. And the Hearst folks aren't much interested in adding another j-writing category.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 12:44 PM | Permalink | 1 comments
Monday, September 10, 2007
More human than human is not necessarily better
My employer's overhauled "My UNC" page has a new aggregator, but it doesn't seem to be much of an improvement. It offers this headline and link to a letter to the editor that asks the campus paper to cover an out-of-state story. (DTH is short for Daily Tar Heel.) Is this really the top news on campus today?

In a related development, Pam Robinson at Words at Work points us to a Business Week piece that argues that editors will no longer be necessary in the glorious age of technology. I, for one, do not welcome our aggregate overlords.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 8:08 PM | Permalink | 1 comments
Friday, September 07, 2007
Why an obit missed deadline
Readers of The News & Observer woke up Thursday to news of the death of opera singer Luciano Pavarotti. At least, that's what they saw on the front page in this blurb, which had the basic news, a reference to tight deadlines and a suggestion that readers go online for the full Pavarotti story. (Deadline pressure may also be the reason that a comma is missing after "ages" in the blurb's headline.)

A turn of the page, however, gave readers a different story on Pavarotti. The headline on 2A read "Pavarotti's health declines." An Associated Press story described how the singer was very ill yet still very much alive.

So how is it that 1A and 2A could disagree? Blame it on a combination of deadlines and computer problems. A server crash hit the newsroom as the news of Pavarotti's death hit the wire services, crippling the N&O's ability to update pages for its final edition. Here's how an e-mail from the front-page editor to the newsroom described it:
This system error did in fact happen right on deadline this morning around 1:45 a.m. The result was that we couldn't print a newspaper that had a full Pavarotti obit on the front page, thereby shortchanging our readers and missing a great opportunity.
And the cause of the "system error"? Reporters and editors had too many personal files on the server, causing it to collapse at an especially inconvenient time. Another e-mail sent to the N&O newsroom listed people who have too many files saved on the server; most violators are reporters, but at least one is a copy editor. Curiously, one person on the list is a reporter who left the paper several weeks ago.

Moral of the story: Save files to the desktop or other out-of-the-way place. Don't use the server that's intended for daily use for long-term storage.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 2:46 PM | Permalink | 3 comments
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
Covering Larry Craig
It appears that the Larry Craig story isn't over. The senator, a Republican from Idaho, is still the talk of TV and the Web after his guilty plea over an incident in an airport bathroom came to light. Craig is keeping the story going by keeping his options open, asserting that his statement that he "intends to resign" by the end of the month doesn't mean that he will.

Here are a few observations on coverage of the Craig scandal on the Web, on television and in print:

ONLINE: This blaring headline at The Huffington Post offers a cliche with "worst nightmare." The headline also editorializes by using this label. Any "worst nightmare" is an indicator of hyperbole, and it begs the reader to think of even worse nightmares. A headline on a story about a traffic jam, for example, calls it "every motorist's worst nightmare." Maybe, but I can think of worse things. In this case, the situation in Iraq is a "worse nightmare" for the GOP than a waffling senator from Idaho.

ON TV: Fox News specializes in confrontational interviewing, as seen on "Hannity & Colmes" and other programming. It's important to spell the names of the interrogated correctly, of course. That didn't happen here. The name of the man being interviewed is Mike Rogers, not Mike Rodgers. Who is Mike Rogers? This Washington Post profile of the influential blogger tells us, and the story spells his name correctly.

IN PRINT: The Star Tribune newspaper is still wondering how it was beaten on the Craig story. Roll Call had it first, even though the Minneapolis paper had the home-field advantage. (Craig was nabbed at the airport there.) The paper's public editor tries to explain how the incident and Craig's guilty plea were overlooked.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 12:09 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
What's Burma to you?
The New York Times and The Associated Press call it Myanmar, but some people insist on calling the Asian nation Burma, as shown in this recent post and comment thread at Metafilter.

Related post here.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 11:40 AM | Permalink | 0 comments