Thursday, January 31, 2008
Mavericks and lions
Reducing ideology to shorthand is tricky business. Such labels rarely capture the complexity (or nuance, if you prefer) of the views of a person or group. Here are two examples.


The liberal watchdogs* at Media Matters have been taking note of references to presidential candidate John McCain as a "maverick." The organization says The New York Times and USA Today are among the newspapers labeling McCain this way, with the Times going as far as calling him a "maverick flyboy" at the top of this story.

Media Matters complains that "maverick" is not an accurate description of McCain. The definition of maverick does seem to fit the senator, however. "A person who refuses to conform to a particular party or group" is loose enough to fit McCain's positions on the Bush tax cuts and immigration. And it's apparent that many Republicans, including Tom DeLay and Rush Limbaugh, do not like McCain "maverickism."

Instead of focusing on accuracy, Media Matters would have a more compelling case against this usage by stressing how "maverick" has become a McCain cliche. The word, as noun or adjective, has diminished in effectiveness through overuse. Most readers are probably skipping past it at this point. And yet this USA Today story uses it repeatedly.


Barack Obama won a big endorsement this week from Sen. Edward Kennedy — or the "liberal lion," as he's often called in news stories and commentaries. It's a label used by friends and foes alike.

To be sure, Kennedy is a liberal. He's even been identified as the most liberal member of the Senate. But why is he a lion? Is it his mighty mane of gray?

Besides the obvious definition, "lion" can also a "celebrated or influential person." Kennedy may be at that level in the Senate thanks to his long service there, but how meaningful is the "liberal lion" label to readers? A few may be amused by the alliteration, but many are probably treating this like "maverick" and ignoring the reference.


Beware of any labels, especially those used frequently. When possible, give examples of the viewpoints of the individual or organization. Such details are better than vague descriptions.

* Yes, I am aware that this is a shorthand description of this organization.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 12:07 PM | Permalink | 2 comments
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Turning to Wikipedia
This story in American Journalism Review returns us to the issue of Wikipedia and its utility in journalism. Copy editors at The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times are among the sources quoted.

It turns out that Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales suggests what I have told students in my editing classes: Wikipedia is OK as a starting point for research, but it shouldn't be your last stop. As mentioned here, there's enough junk on Wikipedia to use it with caution.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 11:55 AM | Permalink | 1 comments
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Interesting reading (Business section)
  • Fast Company magazine on how Yahoo is competing with ESPN as the king of sports coverage online.
  • My employer on the appointment of Penelope Muse Abernathy as Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 9:53 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Sunday, January 27, 2008
Our generation
Can't think of a good headline for that story? Try this headline generator, inspired by the signs used to sell British tabloids.

My favorites generated so far:



posted by Andy Bechtel at 5:21 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Saturday, January 26, 2008
The wrong train
Call it irony or curious coincidence. Just a couple of days after The News & Observer announced it would outsource some advertising jobs to India and the Philippines, this ad appears in the paper.

Look closely at the title of the first movie in the left column. The correct name of the latest piece of cinematic whimsy from director Wes Anderson is "The Darjeeling Limited." The setting of the movie? India. Perhaps the new crew taking over ad duties at the N&O will catch that sort of thing.

The N&O news side got it right — in the capsule reviews on the same page as this ad, the movie is listed as "The Darjeeling Limited." Perhaps Anderson could take this error as a hint and call the inevitable extended DVD version "The Darjeeling Unlimited."

UPDATE: A reader reacts to the N&O's decision. (It's the third letter on the page.)
posted by Andy Bechtel at 9:57 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Friday, January 25, 2008
Editing with Fidel
An Associated Press story about Fidel Castro has an editing angle.

The Cuban leader says that when his health declined in 2006, his thoughts turned to his legacy, and he made last-minute changes to his memoirs. In an essay published this week in Cuban newspapers, Castro described the scene this way:
While the doctors fought for my life, the head aide of the Council of State read at my urging the text, and I dictated the necessary changes.
Talk about editing on deadline!
posted by Andy Bechtel at 12:52 PM | Permalink | 1 comments
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
The desk on HBO
Perhaps you have heard about the new season of "The Wire" on HBO. Apparently the show's executive producer, former Baltimore Sun reporter David Simon, isn't offering a flattering portrayal of the newsroom, including the copy desk. Here's what one friend reports about the most recent episode:
Don’t know if you watch "The Wire," but I just groaned at this scene in Sunday’s episode. The Sun is downsizing. They offer an old-timer a choice: buyout or the copy desk. He takes the buyout. Sigh….
My former colleague Pam Nelson mentioned another "Wire" reference to the desk in this post at her blog, Triangle Grammar Guide.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 1:40 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Interesting reading
posted by Andy Bechtel at 8:04 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Sunday, January 20, 2008
ACES announces conference schedule
A tentative schedule for the national conference of the American Copy Editors Society is available on the group's site. The 12th annual gathering is April 10-12 in Denver. Here's the official pitch:
What does the future hold for editors of the printed word? This is one of the many questions copy editors face in a future of changing operations, dwindling resources and shrinking print revenue. Join colleagues from across the country — and mediums — at the ACES national conference in Denver.

The 2008 meeting, April 10-12, will feature the fundamentals of the craft and a primer for what's to come. Each year, more than 500 copy desk executives, professionals, students and academics come together for three days of lectures, discussions and more. Why not you?
This is my favorite conference of the year because of its energy and enthusiasm. I hope to see you there.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 11:28 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Saturday, January 19, 2008
Deckard: a blade runner and newspaper reader
"Blade Runner: The Final Cut" has a brief run at a theater in my area. I had never seen the movie, originally released in 1982, on the big screen. The experience did not disappoint.

Among other things, I noticed that our first view of the Deckard character, played by Harrison Ford, shows him reading a newspaper. Apparently, the visionaries who dreamed up what Los Angeles would look like in 2019 thought that print media would last at least that long.

UPDATE: See more newspapers of the future (as foretold in the movies) in this post at I09.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 10:09 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Friday, January 18, 2008
Edwards ripped out of the headlines

John Edwards' presidential campaign, perhaps inspired by this report, has created this video to complain about how the media have turned the Democratic race into a two-person contest. Edwards isn't one of the two people. If he were, this video wouldn't exist.

The video is interesting to editing types in that it makes prominent use of newspaper and Web headlines to make its point, followed by clips from cable TV news.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 9:28 AM | Permalink | 1 comments
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
They put a spell on you
A simple misspelling by a political candidate is front-page news in The News & Observer today. It's not the error itself that merited the attention, but the way Pat McCrory's campaign handled it.

When the "governer" problem was pointed out to McCrory's people, they blamed a computer hacker who had somehow altered the "banner" of the e-mail that included the mistake. Then the campaign backtracked and blamed the blunder on an overworked graphic designer. (Aren't they all?)

It would, of course, have been better to admit the error from the start or to say nothing until the source of the error can be identified and confirmed. Humility is better than paranoia. My colleague Paul Jones, however, points out that such e-mail banners can be confusing to those who don't understand how they work. An update to one, done from a remote server, can look like hocus-pocus, but it's probably not "hacker magic."

Although it's an interesting combination of crisis communication and copy editing, the matter will likely be forgotten in a day or two. The Charlotte Observer treated it that way, including it in a textbox with this perfunctory story about McCrory's bid. The textbox mentioned Under the Dome, calling it "a Raleigh-based blog." Actually, Under the Dome is a blog and long-running column that is part of the Observer's sister paper, The News & Observer of Raleigh.

Note to Charlotte: Now that both papers are owned by McClatchy, it's OK to mention your "competitor" by name.

UPDATE: News & Observer columnist Rob Christensen writes about what the "governer" gaffe says about the McCrory campaign.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 12:17 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
It and them
Karen Miller Russell, who teaches public relations at the University of Georgia, poses an interesting question on her blog. Is it time to allow writers to refer to a company or organization as "they" instead of "it"?

Many of us speak of a company as "them" in casual conversation. "Did your hear about Apple? They're releasing a new operating system."

But grammar tells us that a company is a singular unit that takes a singular verb and a singular pronoun: "Apple is releasing a new version of its operating system."

Yet Miller suggests that "they" is the better choice because it's more accurate. She wants to know what editing types think — and so do I.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 12:45 PM | Permalink | 4 comments
Monday, January 14, 2008
A helping of words
News stories can broaden our vocabulary, making us better writers and editors. Reading this obit on Eddie "Bozo" Miller, a record-breaking gourmand, added a word to the dictionary in my head: trencherman.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 10:29 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Friday, January 11, 2008
Interesting reading
  • Jared M. Spool of User Interface Engineering tells us how The New York Times is presenting information about the presidential race in innovative and interactive ways.
  • Newsdesigner presents its picks for the best front pages on the New Hampshire primary, and headlines get a mention too.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 10:53 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Thursday, January 10, 2008
Good stories quickly
Want to learn about alternative story forms in a hurry? Try this upcoming Society for News Design Quick Course in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Given the SND sponsorship and the impressive list of designers who will serve as trainers, it’s safe to say this two-day workshop will have a visual focus. It’s suitable for reporters and editors, too.

For more on readership and story forms, check out this Q&A with Sara Quinn of The Poynter Institute. For information about copy editing and ASFs, take a look at this post.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 9:16 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Wednesday, January 09, 2008
Who could forget Richard Gephardt?
My colleague Leroy Towns recently wrote about how television is still the best way to get election results. He said that the immediacy and the drama are there, not online.

Although I am a print person, I admit that I have gotten my election news through TV for as long as I can remember. Even when I was the Nation & World editor at The News & Observer, I had one eye on the wires and another on CNN. After reading Towns' blog, I decided to challenge myself for the New Hampshire primary. No TV, only the Web. Would it be the same? Or would I be left wanting?

With polls closing in New Hampshire, I began to feel the itch to turn on the TV and flip through CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and C-SPAN. I was a political junkie in the true sense of the term. I turned to the computer instead and went to the Washington Post's site, which a friend had recommended as quick and complete on election nights. I found early returns there and on MSNBC. The News & Observer site was a step slower on the numbers, but its Under the Dome blog gave me some of the flavor of the night.

I went to bed without having watched a split second of Chris Matthews and Wolf Blitzer. I hadn't seen any speech by any candidate. I didn't hear the "analysis" by Bill Bennett and other pontificators. Yet I understood that John McCain had an easy win, that Hillary Clinton pulled off an upset and that John Edwards was still optimistic despite another loss. Maybe I didn't need TV after all. The Web could give me results as they came in, and the newspaper could put it all into perspective the morning after.

Then I noticed this post at MSNBC's site that forced me to question my new method. Journalists should always check out claims of the first, the last and the only. But the site didn't do that when it said Wednesday night: "In the modern primary era, this is the first four-way split in Iowa and New Hampshire in the Republican and Democratic races." The MSNBC site forgot that Richard Gephardt won in Iowa in 1988, not Michael Dukakis. This isn't hard to track down and verify.

Sure, errors happen. But even after this one was pointed out in the post's comments and on prominent sites such as Talking Points Memo, the MSNBC post stood untouched for nearly 12 hours. It was corrected mid-morning Wednesday and an editor's note blamed "the late-night haze of election returns and the barrage of numbers."

Maybe I will turn on my TV again. Sure, they make mistakes too, but they correct themselves more quickly.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 9:31 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Tuesday, January 08, 2008
Title page

For all the talk (and jokes) about the decline of print media, the front page of a newspaper maintains a certain power.

This photo from the aftermath of the LSU-Ohio State game illustrates one aspect of that power: the keepsake value of a historic front page. Does the victorious player flip open his laptop or tap his iPhone to get out the message that his team has won a national title? No, he shows off a newspaper.

And it's suitable for framing.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 8:44 AM | Permalink | 1 comments
Saturday, January 05, 2008
That doesn't ring a bell
This post at Swampland, a Time magazine blog, starts this way:
If the New Hampshire Democratic Party’s 100 Club dinner is any bell weather – Barack Obama will handily win here.
Never mind the awkward use of a dash where a comma would do just fine. The real issue here is "bell weather." What the writer meant was "bellwether." Its definitions include:
  • A male sheep that leads the flock, usually bearing a bell.
  • A person or thing that assumes the leadership or forefront, as of a profession or industry.
The post went up on the Time site at about 9:30 p.m. Friday, and a few comments mention the mistake, which at this writing is still there. Says one:
It's BELLWETHER, not "bell weather." Who is your copy editor?
It's a reasonable question. Will Time answer it?

UPDATE: As of the day after the New Hampshire primary, this error is still there.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 11:24 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Friday, January 04, 2008
Bhutto from beyond
Parade magazine, that Sunday staple of hundreds of U.S. newspapers, isn't known for its timeliness. As noted here, events can overtake the "news" in Parade — things happen between publication and circulation that can render stories out of date.

The latest example is a big one. The cover story for the Jan. 6 issue is on Benazir Bhutto, and it went to press Dec. 21, nearly a week before the former leader of Pakistan was assassinated Dec. 27. Parade issued a statement to editors of newspapers that include the magazine in Sunday editions, arguing that the interview with Bhutto is even more relevant now.

Perhaps, but the motivation behind sticking with the out-of-date cover story probably has more to do with the fact that 32 million copies of Parade had already gone out the door.

Now newspapers are working to explain the situation to readers. The Wichita Eagle is using this blog to get the word out, and The News & Observer ran this ad on 8A today. Many readers will probably overlook these efforts and wonder why Parade missed the assassination story. So it goes.

For more, check out:
  • This story from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer about Parade's dilemma.
  • The Parade interview, already online at the magazine's site, with an editor's note.
UPDATE: The N&O includes a mention of the Parade problem in its "Coming Sunday" promos on the Saturday front page.

FURTHER UPDATE: Not everyone got the word in time. This post is getting numerous hits from people who are trying to figure this out. (Welcome!) Search terms leading them here include "Parade error." Angry readers are also leaving comments at the Parade site. "Parade should stick with celebrity nonsense subjects such as whether or not Britney is wearing panties," says one. "Obviously important subjects are beyond beyond their capabilities."
posted by Andy Bechtel at 11:52 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Thursday, January 03, 2008
It's what it is
Each semester on the final exam in my editing course, I include an it's/its error for students to detect and repair. Most of them catch it.

Yet the confusion continues. This example is especially egregious because it's in the headline on the top story on a newspaper Web site. It's correct in the text, which makes this even a little more painful.

UPDATE: I checked back at the site about an hour after posting this and noticed that the bad headline has been repaired. It's unclear when that was done or how long the error was there.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 9:07 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Wednesday, January 02, 2008
Politically quotable
With the Iowa caucuses kicking off the start of presidential season, let's take a brief look back at what the candidates have said so far. Here are the two best quotes of the political preseason from the copy editor's perspective:


Candidate: Mitt Romney

What he said: "If you look at the dictionary, the term 'saw' includes 'being aware of' in the sense I've described. It's a figure of speech and very familiar, and it's very common. And I saw my dad march with Martin Luther King. I did not see it with my own eyes, but I saw him in the sense of being aware of his participation in that great effort."

Why he said it: Romney was trying to explain claims that his father, then the governor of Michigan, marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King during the civil rights era. The Huffington Post explains in this timeline.

Why it's interesting: Romney's efforts to broadly define "saw" remind us of the need to be precise in our word choices. It's worth noting that most readers and listeners will take things literally rather than figuratively, as most people likely did here.

Aftermath: The MLK imbroglio seems to have disappeared, but Romney has found himself in a tough fight with Mike Huckabee in Iowa.


Candidate: Tom Tancredo.

What he said: "I have to tell you, so far it's been wonderful, because all I've heard so far is people trying to out-Tancredo Tancredo. It is great!"

Why he said it: During a debate, rival candidates were taking a hard line on immigration, the major issue in Tancredo's campaign.

Why it's interesting: Not only did Tancredo speak of himself in the third person, he also turned his surname into a verb. The "-out" prefix is a nice touch.

Aftermath: Tancredo dropped out of the race last month and endorsed Romney.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 12:58 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Tuesday, January 01, 2008
Comics on the grow at N&O
Forget Iowa and New Hampshire. The big vote in these parts is the one about The News & Observer's comics lineup. With all precincts reporting, the results are in.

In a surprising move, N&O editors have decided to keep all of the current comics and bring in nine more, including "Mallard Fillmore" and "Mother Goose and Grimm." And "Cathy" and "Hagar the Horrible," dropped from the lineup in recent years, are coming back.

The paper will move Jumble, the crossword puzzle and horoscopes to another page to accommodate the additions. Comics will be grouped by theme, and they may be on the paper's Web site later this year.

This Q&A explains the paper's reasoning behind it all, including why "Fillmore" will be on the comics pages while "Doonesbury" will stay on the op-ed page.

See you in the funny papers! (And what about that phrase anyway?)

Previous post here.

UPDATE: Readers love the decision to expand the comics.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 12:50 PM | Permalink | 2 comments