Thursday, February 28, 2008
Someone should have left this cake out in the rain
A friend at the newspaper in Augusta, Ga., passes along this amusing photograph. He's unsure of its origins, but it appears to be from this "cake" collection at Snopes, the site that verifies and refutes urban legends. Snopes thinks this one is real.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 9:38 AM | Permalink | 1 comments
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Changing Times in Washington
The new executive editor at The Washington Times, John Solomon, is making some style changes at the paper. The City Paper reports these style updates at the Times:
  • "Clinton" will be the headline word for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
  • "Gay" is approved for copy and preferred over "homosexual," except in clinical references or references to sexual activity.
  • The quotation marks will come off of "gay marriage" (preferred over "homosexual marriage").
  • "Moderate" is approved, but "centrist" is still allowed.
  • We will use "illegal immigrants," not "illegal aliens."
Solomon, vilified by the left when he was a reporter at the AP and The Washington Post, is now under fire from the right, if some of these comments are an indication. (Some of the comments at the City Paper story have the same tone.) His liberal critics are still finding fault with him, too.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 8:39 AM | Permalink | 3 comments
Monday, February 25, 2008
Muffley '08
The Q section in the Sunday News & Observer asks: What makes a perfect president? The centerpiece built around a wire story includes this list of "great — or at least provocative" presidents from movies and TV shows.

Such lists are always open to addition and subtraction. The credit line for this one cites "staff and wire reports" so it's hard to know how it was compiled. The list is OK as is, but it could be better with some editing.

If I had been in a newsroom conversation for this list, I would have suggested removing President Jack Stanton of "Primary Colors." The book made more of a mark than the movie, and John Travolta does not make for a memorable president. I would have pushed for adding Merkin Muffley, the president played by Peter Sellers in the wonderfully titled "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb."

The Muffley character is a rare voice of sanity in Stanley Kubrick's Cold War comedy. This president attempts to make the best of the terrible situation that he faces, namely an unauthorized U.S. attack on the Soviet Union. Muffley is a mild-mannered leader working amid fools and madmen. Sellers, drawing inspiration from failed presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson, plays the straight role to perfection. He received an Oscar nomination for his performance. (He also plays the title character and Capt. Lionel Mandrake.)

In the face of imminent war, Muffley is dedicated to diplomacy. He invites the Soviet ambassador into the "war room" despite the objection of his top military adviser. Even in that environment, he works hard to mediate disputes. ("Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the war room.")

Muffley deftly handles an inebriated Soviet premier in what would be the most difficult phone call in the history of the world. ("One of our base commanders, he had a sort of ... Well, he went a little funny in the head.") Muffley is deeply concerned about civilian casualties. ("You're talking about mass murder, general. Not war!") And he seems genuinely interested in Dr. Strangelove's proposal for subterranean survival in a post-war world — not just for the female-to-male ratio of 10 to 1. ("You mean people could actually stay down there for a hundred years?") Muffley's efforts almost pay off, but of course, one U.S. plane carries through with the attack, setting off the Soviet "doomsday device."

In addition to this classic depiction of a president, "Dr. Strangelove" also has a great line about newspapers. Confronted by the Soviet ambassador about an American doomsday device, Muffley denies any knowledge of the project. The ambassador's reply: "Our source was The New York Times."

As a character and as a leader, Muffley qualifies as great — or at least provocative. I hope that when this story rolls around again in 2012, he'll make the list of memorable movie presidents.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 10:03 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Saturday, February 23, 2008
Interesting reading (Music edition)
  • David Menconi of The News & Observer, on the challenges of narrowly focused music magazines in the age of the Internet.
  • Jon Wilde of The Guardian, on how the covers of music magazines aren't as good as they used to be.
  • The Black Crowes, on Maxim magazine's review of the band's new album, apparently written without the benefit of actually hearing it.
UPDATE: Maxim apologizes. Read some reaction here.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 11:12 AM | Permalink | 1 comments
Friday, February 22, 2008
Barack Obama edits himself
A New Republic article compares the books and authorship styles of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The story is pegged to the plagiarism brouhaha involving Obama's speeches.

Deep in the story is some insight on Obama as an editor. Apparently, he files some clean copy, according to this editor:
I've never worked with any other writer who needed less line editing than he did. That's how clean his writing is. That doesn't mean we didn't do some editing. I did a lot of different things. But he's sort of a self-editing phenomenon. Sometimes my role was to stand back and watch him edit himself.
This leads to a question: If Obama is elected president, will he blog from the White House? And if so, will he have an editor, or will he publish straight from his computer in the Oval Office?
posted by Andy Bechtel at 9:02 AM | Permalink | 2 comments
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Lawsuit by blog
The latest legal move in the Duke lacrosse case is being blogged — by what appears to be the lawyers and 38 players involved in that move. They're suing Duke University and the city of Durham, and they will apparently blog about their case as it goes forward.

The blog is called "Duke Lawsuit. Accountability. Responsibility. Change." It has two posts so far from "Bob" and includes .pdf files of a press release and summary of the lawsuit. Other elements include links to blogs and books friendly to their argument. It's on a Blogger template that FEV and others will find familiar.

The Duke Lawsuit blog is an interesting way to get out information: controlled and anonymous. It's also a one-way avenue of communication as no commenting is allowed, although the news media are encouraged to contact the blogger(s) through a Gmail address.

UPDATE: The News & Observer sheds some light on this public relations strategy. "Bob" appears to be Bob Bork, son of legal scholar Robert Bork.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 2:47 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Style updates from AP
The latest style rulings from The Associated Press touch on the sensitive topics of race and ethnicity. Here they are:


A person of Asian birth or descent who lives in the U.S. When possible, refer to a person's country of origin. For example: Filipino-American or Indian-American. Follow the person's preference.


Sometimes used by Mexican-Americans in the Southwest. Not interchangeable with Mexican-American. Use only if a person's preference.


Often the preferred term for a person from — or whose ancestors were from — a Spanish-speaking land or culture or from Latin America. Latina is the feminine form. Follow the person's preference. Use a more specific identification when possible, such as Cuban, Puerto Rican, Brazilian or Mexican-American. See Hispanic, nationalities and races, and race entries.

I like how AP advises specificity. It's more precise and detailed to write and edit in that way. Those details are sometimes hard to get, however.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 11:04 AM | Permalink | 2 comments
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
A semicolon goes uptown

The sometimes baffling piece of punctuation turns up in the New York subways, drawing praise from Lynne Truss and others. The story about this usage is, curiously enough, doing well on the "most popular" lists at The New York Times, defeating Paul Krugman and David Brooks.

UPDATE: The blog Notes from the Copy Editor points us to some solid advice on how to use the semicolon.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 9:05 AM | Permalink | 4 comments
Monday, February 18, 2008
To be a blog and not to roll
A recent column on the Poynter site asks: Are blogrolls still useful? My answer is yes, at least for some of us.

Blogrolls are those lists of links that many bloggers include on their sites. Some blogrolls are organized by theme, and others are just long lists. Like anything else, blogrolls require updating and revising so they don't get stale.

The Poynter piece suggests that blogrolls are out of date because many readers use RSS feeds and thus do not see the blogrolls. These readers just see individual posts. Judging just by the visits to this blog, I see that more people are reading my blog this way. (However you get here, thanks for reading.)

I'm still going to keep and update my blogroll, however. I don't use RSS feeds, so I turn to my blogroll as a guide to places I like to visit. It's my starting point.

At other blogs, I glance through the blogroll to see what that blogger's favorite places are. If it's a blog that I have never visited before, those links give me an idea what the blog is about. On occasion, I will see a blog listed somewhere else that I will add to my blogroll. (The Watch Yer Language blog from the ACES blogroll is an example of this.) So blogrolls are like news tips.

Perhaps someday all of us will read online using RSS and other specialized filters. Until then, I will keep rolling.

UPDATE: I've added three blogs to my blogroll this week: Editrix, Notes from the Copy Editor and Grammarphobia. And I am keeping Nicole Stockdale's blog, A Capital Idea, in there even though she hasn't posted in a long time.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 10:24 AM | Permalink | 4 comments
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Interesting reading
  • Clark Hoyt, public editor of The New York Times, on establishing balance in reporting on science and medicine.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 3:04 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Saturday, February 16, 2008
Copy editors in the comics
You don't see copy editors mentioned much in the comics. Maybe we're not as funny as reporters and other journalists who appear in "Shoe," "Mallard Fillmore" and other strips.

This recent "Candorville" does mention copy editors — and in gruesome fashion. At least we weren't the punch line.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 8:28 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Friday, February 15, 2008
Regime change
The spoken word is different from the written word. When we are speaking, we only have the "editor" in our heads to assist us. We all make mistakes and say things we regret.

Preparation, of course, can help us prevent these spoken errors. A word mixup by a member of Congress at a hearing, for example, is less forgivable than one in a phone conversation. Politicians are supposed to be eloquent and prepared. They have speechwriters, consultants and interns at their beck and call to reduce the chance that they will slip up.

That brings us to Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina. She was on the House panel this week that questioned pitcher Roger Clemens about steroids. In fawning remarks that drew criticism from ESPN and others, Foxx asked Clemens:
Mr. Clemens, maybe you’d like to talk about your regime and how hard you work?
The word Foxx wanted was "regimen." Here's a typical definition:
A regimen is a plan, a regulated course such as a diet, exercise or treatment, designed to give a good result.
A regime can be lots of things. It usually refers to an authoritarian government, not exercise. In the age of "regime change," is it too much to ask our leaders to know the difference?

UPDATE: As reflected in the comments to this post, some people don't agree with me on this one. Similar disagreements have come up in discussions of "sanction" and "rumor."

I decided to take "regime" and "regimen" to the AP's Ask the Stylebook site. Here's the response: "Regimen normally describes a course of treatment or a period of training or schooling. Regime is a synonym for a political system."
posted by Andy Bechtel at 10:00 AM | Permalink | 15 comments
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Are you tested? Ready? Now?
The most recent Dow Jones Newspaper Fund editing test is now available at the excellent EditTeach site. Take a look and see how you match up against students like these who did well enough on the test to land internships for the summer.

For a shorter quiz, Pam Nelson at Triangle Grammar Guide has another five questions for you. I found one of them to be unpalatable.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 9:59 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Monday, February 11, 2008
Coverage with a blue streak
For years, fans of the N.C. State Wolfpack have sensed collusion between UNC-Chapel Hill and The News & Observer's sports department.

UNC, after all, has the big journalism school in the state, so it's only natural that its graduates would work for the big newspaper in the area. And it's only natural that those graduates would provide flattering coverage to their alma mater at the expense of N.C. State and other rivals. It all makes perfect sense, yes?

Well, no. The paper has its share of Tar Heel alumni, but it's not an exclusive club (as noted here). And the coverage is not tilted in favor of one school or another, and in fact, the complaints sometimes go the other way. (See this column from public editor Ted Vaden as evidence of Tar Heel disgruntlement.)

Still, observant Wolfpackers will see what they want to see in this pair of headlines about UNC's win over Clemson. The victory extended Clemson's record of futility in Chapel Hill to 53 games. Here are the nearly identical headlines, which were both in all caps on the respective sports pages:
  • The Daily Tar Heel: THE STREAK SURVIVES
Coincidence or conspiracy? You make the call.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 10:20 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Friday, February 08, 2008
The song does not remain the same
The Associated Press has been had by Lez Zeppelin. That's Lez. Not Led.

The tribute band will play its version of Led Zep classics at the annual Bonnaroo festival this spring. The actual Led Zeppelin is not scheduled to perform, although singer Robert Plant is on the bill. Apparently, someone at the AP didn't read the press release very carefully.

The Los Angeles Times is among the papers to make note of the AP's mixup, and Lez Zep is amused by the whole thing. Dread Zeppelin could not be reached for comment.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 10:01 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Thursday, February 07, 2008
Once more into the commons
Students in my Advanced Editing class are getting experience with local copy this semester. They are part of a project that produces The Carrboro Commons, a biweekly newspaper for Carrboro, N.C.

The Commons is a hybrid of print and online. You can read it on the Web in a blog-like format, or you can download the .pdf edition and print it out on letter-size paper. Who knows — perhaps Mario Garcia and other design gurus were correct when they said the future is in small page sizes.

The first Commons of the semester is done. With any launch, we had a few bumps along the way, but I am confident that these students can make the Commons better with each issue.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 10:05 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Wednesday, February 06, 2008
Interesting reading
  • David Sullivan of The Philadelphia Inquirer, on saving the print newspaper.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 10:41 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Monday, February 04, 2008
A giant page

Of all the Super Bowl pages in the Freedom Forum's collection today, this one at The Star-Ledger is the most striking. No story text. Just a huge photo, an all-caps headline and a drophead sending readers to the sports section.

When I showed this page to students in my editing class, most of them liked it. Several noted its keepsake value, and others compared it favorably to a magazine cover. A few, though, wanted a story to go with the photo — as a newspaper would be expected to do.

Related posts here and here.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 3:32 PM | Permalink | 2 comments
Sunday, February 03, 2008
Just call them blogs already
Remember the information superhighway? Cyberspace? How about the Web logs?

This front-page promo to a business story would have been better with "blogs" rather than the more formal and outdated "Web logs." Let's follow the advice of Ask the Stylebook:
AP has found that "blog" is familiar enough to readers now that "Web log" is no longer necessary.
Perhaps it's still useful to define the term in the story or in an accompanying textbox. But even that may no longer be needed.

The language of technology changes quickly, and writers and editors must work hard to keep up with it. Otherwise, they end up looking silly, like a world leader who refers to "the Internets" and "the Google."
posted by Andy Bechtel at 1:21 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Friday, February 01, 2008
A Q&A without the Q
As story forms go, the Q&A is only marginally alternative. This is especially true of the interview Q&A, which consists of a give and take between reporter and source. Magazines have long used this format — how do you think Playboy got all those readers?

The form, though it pops up now and again, has been less popular in newspapers, which is unfortunate. This story from The News & Observer is an example of how to do this well. The news peg is a speech by Robert Reich, a former leader of the Labor Department and noted economist.

News stories about such speeches are typically written in the inverted pyramid form. And they're often dull.

This approach here is more engaging and memorable (just as EyeTrack says). The reporter takes his interview with Reich and organizes it by theme. The introductory text sets the stage, and bold lede-ins take the reader from point to point, with Reich's own words telling the story.

It's a question-and-answer story without the questions, and it's a format that works both in print and online.

Here's another way to cover a similar event.

UPDATE: An early version of this post said Reich led the Treasury Department. I regret the error.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 12:25 PM | Permalink | 3 comments