Monday, December 31, 2007
'War on Terror' is over (If you want it)
Britain's government is apparently dropping "war on terror" from its vocabulary. The Daily Mail reports that "Islamic terrorist" is also out. You can sample the reaction in these comments at BoingBoing.

As discussed in this post, "war on terror" has become so overused as to become meaningless. Here's a resolution for the new year for writers and editors: When tempted to type this into a story or label a page with it, ask whether it's accurate and informative. The answer is likely no.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 3:58 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Sunday, December 30, 2007
Interesting reading
  • Michael Roehrman, copy desk chief at The Wichita Eagle, on the lingo of the desk.
  • Linton Weeks of The Washington Post on how some people take offense at "OMG" — as in "Oh my God."
posted by Andy Bechtel at 12:57 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Friday, December 21, 2007
Southeast ACES to gather
The next meeting of the Southeast chapter of the American Copy Editors Society is set. Here are the details:

WHEN: Sunday, Jan. 27, from 1 to 5 p.m.

WHERE: The Herald in Rock Hill, S.C.

  • Moderating a Web site and what it means for copy editors.
  • Sports as news: When does a sports story need to move into the news section? Who should handle the copy editing? Is a knowledge of sports necessary to properly handle such a story?
  • Lost on the campaign trail: With so much copy being generated in this election cycle and too little space, how can a copy editor find the wheat among the chaff? What can the copy desk do to help give readers the information they need in forms they can easily digest?
  • What's Your Beef: A chance for copy editors to talk about what worries them or makes them angry.
For more information, contact Holly Kerfoot at hkerfoot (at)

And if you haven't visited the ACES site lately, check out its spiffy redesign. It will make a copy editor proud, as form follows function.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 12:48 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Bracket madness
The examples of unnecessary brackets in direct quotes keep coming. This one is especially noteworthy because it shows us how one quote can go in different directions.

Here's the original quote from UNC basketball coach Roy Williams, promising to work his players hard after an ugly win against Nicholls State:
"They may be tired of me, but they'll be a hell of a lot more tired of me after tomorrow."
Here's that quote in The News & Observer:

"They may be tired of me," said an irritated Williams after his team allowed the Colonels to shoot 47.3 percent overall, and 50 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. "But they'll be a [heck] of a lot more tired of me after tomorrow."

Here it is in the Durham paper, The Herald-Sun:
"They may be tired of me, but they'll be a hell of a lot more tired of me after [today]."
Thanks to brackets, N&O readers were spared the unpleasantness of seeing "hell" in print. Thanks to brackets, Herald-Sun readers were spared the trouble of figuring out what day it is.

My hunch is the readers could have dealt with these issues without the distracting doctoring of the Williams quote. If that hunch is wrong, a partial quote or paraphrase would have dodged those issues. After all, dodging is OK sometimes.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 10:52 AM | Permalink | 1 comments
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Coming soon to a computer screen near you
The kind and creative people at NewsU have added my course on alternative story forms to the site's "coming soon" list.

That has been sending some traffic to this blog, and perhaps some of you are landing here for the first time and asking: "OK, pal. Where are the story forms?"

Please try this post for starters, and here for a collection of posts on this topic. Thanks for your interest, and I hope you enjoy the course when it's released, which will probably happen in January.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 1:59 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Caught on tape
This headline from falls into a familiar trap — including words that can be read as either nouns or verbs. That ambiguity leads to reader confusion. The pileup of adjectives doesn't help matters.

Here are two ways to interpret this:
  • CIA agents are recording questions that they expect will come up at a White House briefing.
  • Videotapes made and destroyed by the CIA are expected to be a topic at a White House briefing.
The second option is the meaning intended here, although it's possible that the first is true as well. These days, who knows?

On a related note, the White House is unhappy with this New York Times story on the CIA tapes.

Remarks from Dana Perino, the White House press secretary, took a journalistic tack. She criticized the headline package as well as the use of anonymous sources.

A correction on this drophead is reportedly in the works.

Read the correction here.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 1:10 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Monday, December 17, 2007
Interesting reads
  • David Byrne of Talking Heads on his tour of The New York Times, including a stop at the afternoon news meeting.
  • Tim Shea, a copy editor at the Herald-Mail in western Maryland, on how his visit to The Poynter Institute made a real splash.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 9:02 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Googlepedia vs. Wikipedia
Google is entering the encyclopedia game with "knol," which is short for "unit of knowledge." Unlike Wikipedia, authors of each entry will be identified. Here is how Google explains its decision:
We believe that knowing who wrote what will significantly help users make better use of Web content.
In addition, readers can rate entries and comment on them. Fair enough. Knol, however, may still suffer from the accuracy problems that have plagued Wikipedia because Google won't deploy editors to look over its content. Larry Sanger, editor-in-chief at the rival Citizendium, says that could lead to trouble:
Knol is apt to produce precisely the same sort of uneven content, with many of the same abuses, that Wikipedia has. Without actual editors, the same sort of problems about misleading and damaging information are apt to plague knol.
For more, check out:
posted by Andy Bechtel at 9:39 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Friday, December 14, 2007
[Eric] Clapton is God
Bracketing is back. Here's a quote from the Associated Press story about the death of Ike Turner from the man himself:
You can go ask Snoop Dogg or Eminem, you can ask the Rolling Stones or [Eric] Clapton, or you can ask anybody — anybody, they all know my contribution to music.
For some reason, the AP feels the need to clarify which Clapton is mentioned here by inserting his first name into this direct quote. No, Turner wasn't talking about Bruce Clapton, Ashley Clapton or any random Clapton on the planet. He was talking about Eric. Readers everywhere are saved from possible Clapton confusion. Whew!

As my colleague Bill Cloud asks: If it were Mozart, would you add [Wolfgang]?

Previous posts on this topic here.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 9:48 AM | Permalink | 3 comments
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Busted headlines on blogs
If newspapers decide that blog posts on their sites don't need editing, what about the headlines on those posts? Who will write them, and who will check to make sure they accomplish what headlines are supposed to accomplish?

This example of a misspelling in a blog headline is especially unfortunate because the post after this one is from the newspaper's expert on grammar. And yes, readers noticed, as evidenced by the first comment here.

Previous post on this topic here.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 1:53 PM | Permalink | 3 comments
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Remembering Rene Cappon
Associated Press editor Rene "Jack" Cappon has died at age 83. Editor & Publisher has a nice appreciation.

Cappon's book "The Associated Press Guide to News Writing: The Resource for Professional Journalists" will live on in newsrooms and classrooms (including in my Advanced Editing course). Known as "The Word" in previous editions, the book stresses brevity and specificity, among other qualities of fine writing.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 12:28 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Sunday, December 09, 2007
Interesting reads
  • Perry Parks at the Committee of Concerned Journalists on what the rush to be "hyperlocal" means for international news. (Related post at Headsup here.)
posted by Andy Bechtel at 11:15 AM | Permalink | 1 comments
Friday, December 07, 2007
The news world hands them stardom
Romenesko has this post linking to a pair of columns that are critical of the coverage of the shootings at the mall in Nebraska. Both say that the media are focusing too much on the killer, with one writer arguing that the killer remain unidentified.

Although I am not sure removing the shooter's name is all that helpful, I am sympathetic to these viewpoints. Much of the coverage has focused too much on the killer, and has been especially awful in this way. Several hours after the killings, the centerpiece at the site was a mug of the killer with the headline borrowed from his suicide note: "Now I'll be famous." Earlier today, the site's top story was about the 911 calls from frightened shoppers — the sort of material that local TV news uses to sensational effect.

By playing up the killer and the chaos and shock that he created, and others give him exactly what he wants. Shootings in shopping malls are news. They can be reported and edited, however, with sensitivity and dignity — and that can be done without (as Morrissey once sang) handing the killers stardom.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 10:57 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Thursday, December 06, 2007
Please allow me to introduce myself

The "ad watch" on claims by political candidates is a great opportunity for an alternative story form. The Associated Press is on the right track by presenting information this way.

Like most story forms, these need a bit of introductory text to help the reader understand the topic and how it will be discussed. That intro text is missing here, which is especially mystifying when the story becomes a blurb and a link on the Web. A proper introduction would have made this "ad watch" work better in this list of stories at Yahoo.

For another "ad watch" approach, check out PolitiFact.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 9:53 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Is there truth in whispers?
"Rumor" is a word to use with caution, especially in headlines. Deep in this Politico piece about this recent Washington Post story about Barack Obama, the definition of the word becomes an issue. The Post story uses the word several times, as does the headline: "Foes Use Obama's Muslim Ties to Fuel Rumors About Him."

"Rumor" means different things to different people, and that means trouble. In France, journalists speak of "true rumors" and "false rumors." Is a rumor necessarily false? Or can a rumor be either true or false? The editor on the Post story puts it this way:
Saying something is a rumor is not saying it’s true. ... We didn’t say it was a false rumor. To me, a rumor is not true.
Dictionaries indicate otherwise. Here is how Webster's New World College Dictionary describes the word:
  • General talk not based on definite knowledge; mere gossip; hearsay.
  • An unconfirmed report, story or statement in general circulation.
Indeed, some rumors turn out to be true, and others don't. To see this in action, watch the firings and hirings that follow the end of a football season.

UPDATE: Talking Points Memo chimes in on the use of "rumors" in the Post story.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 8:35 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Headlining Huckabee
With presidential candidate Mike Huckabee apparently on the rise, it’s time to consider how headline writers will attempt plays on words and other tricks based on his surname. The Drudge Report is already on to this, as seen here. The only thing missing is an exclamation mark: "Huckaboom!" As silly as this is, at least Drudge didn’t refer to the movie “I Heart Huckabees” in this headline. That’s been done.

Drudge, the New York tabloids and others like to use first names for some politicians, shortening those when necessary. This headline in The New York Post is an example. And of course, nastier nicknames are handy for headlines on op-ed pieces and snark-infested blogs. “Slick Willie” and “Shrub” come to mind. (Related posts here and here.)

Huckabee’s name is too long for stingy headline counts on the pages of The New York Post, so he’ll need a nickname to get copy editors through eight years of his administration. After all, they can only use “prez” so often.

Here are some options, with pros and cons for each:


UPSIDE: Contraction looks vaguely hip, possibly appealing to younger readers. Who could resist “H’bee/blasts/Iran”?

DOWNSIDE: Conjures images of Applebee’s restaurant.

The HB

UPSIDE: Adding “the” eliminates possible confusion with the football abbreviation for halfback and gives the appearance of “the one and only.” (Example: The Ohio State University.)

DOWNSIDE: Is anyone really buying the “The” thing?


UPSIDE: If it works for Mayor Bloomberg, why not for President Huckabee?

DOWNSIDE: Not distinctive. Potential for confusion with references to microphones. (Related post.)


UPSIDE: Memorable.

DOWNSIDE: Pejorative.


UPSIDE: Concise. Reference to Twain may appeal to literary types. Can fit anywhere “Bush” was, allowing for easy recycling of headlines. (“Bush pushes/budget plan” from 2001 becomes “Huck pushes/budget plan” in 2009.)

DOWNSIDE: Increased chance for accidental profanity in big type: “H” and “F” are pretty close on the keyboard.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 12:05 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Sunday, December 02, 2007
Interesting reads
  • Fiona Spruill, editor of the Web newsroom at The New York Times, on the paper's site, including thoughts regarding print/online collaboration.
  • Thomas B. Edsall of The Huffington Post on possible fabrication by a National Review blogger, who promises better sourcing and "more context" from now on.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 7:44 PM | Permalink | 0 comments