Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Box out
As noted here awhile ago, copy editors can play a significant role in making alternative story forms better. One way we can do that is identifying possible textboxes and pulling them out of the gray text of stories. Here are two recent examples:
  • This News & Observer sports story on the departure of Johnny Dawkins to Stanford includes several paragraphs at the end about other Duke coaches who have left to become head coaches elsewhere. With the obligatory "meanwhile," the section of the story feels tacked on, and its delivery is rushed and jumbled. It's a perfect opportunity to break that information out as a separate item as part of the story package. Make it a grid-style textbox with each person's name, destination and coaching record.
  • This Charlotte Observer news story attempts to tell the story of a possible burglary. It does so in a narrative style. (My fellow blogger FEV has a good critique of this here.) Near the end of the story, the writer introduces a detective with the Charlotte police who offers some tips on foiling such crimes. Then the story drops back into narrative mode. The bullet points should have been a clue: This is a textbox. Remove it from the story and make it a separate item. As is, the tips damage the flow of the "story" that the writer is trying to tell.
EyeTrack research has indicated that readers notice alternative story text and recall more information from it versus traditional text, whether it's in print or online. Let's help the reader and make that happen.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 1:25 PM | Permalink | 2 comments
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Interesting reading
  • Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo, on the way The Associated Press covered an advertisement critical of John McCain.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 11:32 AM | Permalink | 2 comments
Monday, April 28, 2008
Calling all midcareer copy editors
The Institute for Midcareer Copy Editors is back. If you would like to refresh your skills and pick up some new ones, this four-day gathering at UNC-Chapel Hill is for you.

The program, which begins July 13 and ends July 16, is open to 18 copy editors. Some costs (including lodging) are covered, but you must pay your own travel. The deadline for applying is May 9.

Topics will include online editing, alternative story forms and media ethics. Check out the institute's site for more information and an application. Once there, you can also order one of Bill Cloud's "Whip [Brackets] Now" buttons, a stylish accessory at the recent ACES conference.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 12:24 PM | Permalink | 1 comments
Friday, April 25, 2008
War style
The federal government has put together a "stylebook" for terms related to war and terrorism. "Islamo-fascism" is not recommended, but "totalitarian" is. The Associated Press tells us more in this story.

For further reading, check out how National Public Radio analyzed the language of war in this series of articles in 2006.

UPDATE: David Schanzer, director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, offers his view on this topic.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 8:41 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Fashion news
CNN is testing the idea of selling T-shirts with wacky headlines from its Web site. Check out the selection here.

Comments such as these show that not everyone is enthusiastic about the idea, and it seems odd to see a "serious" news site try to make money from the news of the weird and (occasionally) gruesome.

The Onion has been doing this sort of thing for some time, and it has extended the concept to the "make your own headline" magnet kit. Such merchandise is a natural for that site, but not so much for CNN.

UPDATE: A colleague chimes in: "No longer can headline writers really know how their words will break in different formats. For example, a line that fits on an XXL will not fit on an M."
posted by Andy Bechtel at 9:06 AM | Permalink | 1 comments
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Voice coach
John Robinson, my friend and former colleague at the News & Record, has said that reporters' blogs do not need editing in the same way as their stories in the print newspaper. Part of his argument is that copy editing will deaden the tone of newspaper blogs:
The best blogs have a unique voice, the voice of the blogger. Almost by definition, editing would quiet that.
That point of view came to mind again recently when a student stopped by my office. This student is one of five working at The News & Observer this semester, reporting for that newspaper's Under the Dome blog.

Under the Dome is a long-running column of political tidbits, mostly about state government. The blog version recently celebrated its first birthday. In print and online, the Dome column has a mildly snarky tone and speaks of itself in the third person once in a while: "Dome has learned..."

I asked the student about his semester at the N&O. Here's a reasonable recreation of that part of our conversation:

ME: How has your Dome experience been?

STUDENT: Good. I've really enjoyed it and learned a lot.

ME: Are your posts edited before they go online?

STUDENT: Yes. My posts are edited by the main reporter in charge of Dome.

ME: In what way?

STUDENT: The biggest thing was to put voice into the posts. He said my copy was a bit dry.

ME: So he reworked your writing to fit the tone of Dome?

STUDENT: Exactly. He really helped.

In this case at least, editing didn't diminish the blog's voice. It made it loud and clear.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 12:49 PM | Permalink | 5 comments
Sunday, April 20, 2008
Interesting reading
  • Nicole Stockdale of The Dallas Morning News, on planning and editing the newspaper's Points section.
  • John Robinson of the News & Record in Greensboro, on what advice from retired editors fails to tell us about the present and the future.
  • Celia Rivenbark of McClatchy Newspapers, on the phrase "it is what it is." (Related discussions here and here.)
posted by Andy Bechtel at 12:03 PM | Permalink | 1 comments
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Things are going to slide, slide in all directions
With slideshows proliferating on news sites, I added them to my editing class this year.

This semester, students used Soundslides Plus to put together a slideshow about a recent news event. I gave them 10 images and a wire story about a tornado hitting Atlanta. I asked the students to choose the best six photos and to put them in an order that made sense to tell a story. The students used the cutline information from each Associated Press photo and tapped into the wire story to bridge gaps in the larger story.

The students seemed to enjoy this assignment, and it was interesting to see what photo sequences they came up with. They found it challenging to turn the images and words into a larger story. They were also surprised how much editing the AP cutlines needed.

To get ready for this assignment, we looked at several well-done slideshows from The Washington Post and other sites. I also wanted to show one that didn't work so well. Too bad this one from Yahoo! came along too late in the semester. It wanders from the Northwest-Delta merger to Gloria Allred in seven slides.

For some tips about slideshows, check out this batch of posts from Mindy McAdams, who teaches at the University of Florida and blogs at Teaching Online Journalism.

UPDATE: My colleague Ryan Thornburg offers this possible explanation for the Yahoo slideshow: Photo galleries like this are created by a computer, based on keyword. In this case, "TSA" was the keyword. Thus, the shot of a mannequin wearing a nipple ring. Humans set up the keywords that create the galleries, and humans have the ability to re-order the photos once the gallery is generated.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 1:17 PM | Permalink | 5 comments
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Spelling is a snap
Students in my editing classes may submit errors that they find in the print media and get extra credit. I encourage such finds in newspapers, magazines and books. I accept other professionally produced writing, however.

Today, someone brought in a spelling mistake. That's typical. The place where the error appeared was not: on a Snapple bottle cap. The cap reads as follows:

Real Fact #127

A humminbird's heart beats 1,400 times a minute.

Get all the "Real Facts" at

The missing "g" is there on the Web version. I suppose it's less expensive to fix that than to recall thousands of bottle caps.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 9:21 AM | Permalink | 6 comments
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Tax tips
On this April 15, let's do our best to avoid these tired phrases:
  • A taxing day
  • Death and taxes
  • The taxman cometh
Best wishes to all of you filing your returns on deadline.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 8:35 AM | Permalink | 2 comments
Monday, April 14, 2008
After ACES
The 12th annual conference of the American Copy Editors Society is over. Eyewitness accounts such as these from Jim Thomsen of The Kitsap Sun testify to the success of this year's gathering. Here's my "takeaway" and a look ahead:

  • Seeing old friends and making new ones, including readers of this blog. (Hi, Eileen!)
  • Bridging the gap with page designers by talking honestly about how we work together. (Thanks, Josh!)
  • Discussing the identity of the organization and considering widening the scope of "copy editor" beyond the newspaper tradition of ACES.
  • Checking out Red Rocks with a friend who's a copy editor turned lawyer turning librarian.
  • Drinking beer. It's better in Colorado.
  • Lower attendance.
  • Declining membership.
  • Malaise about the business side of journalism — countered by our dedication to what we do. It's frustrating to see good journalists laid off and left out in the cold by hiring freezes.

The next conference is set for April 2009 in Minneapolis. As reflected by the state of the profession overall, ACES is in transition and has a lot of work to do. There's no time for fiddling. Luckily, the leadership and membership understand the challenges ahead and are committed to taking them on.

On the lighter side, there's also talk of an "editing smackdown" between Bill Walsh of The Washington Post and Merrill Perlman of The New York Times. This would be a marquee event, a clash of editing titans. I'm suggesting that my colleague Bill Cloud serve as referee.

Read more memories of the 2008 conference and check out the collection of handouts and exercises.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 12:30 PM | Permalink | 7 comments
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
Wish you were here
This blog will be quiet for the rest of the week. I will be at the ACES conference in Denver. I hope to see you there. If you cannot attend this year, you can still follow the fun online.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 9:28 AM | Permalink | 2 comments
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
Interesting reading
  • Harvey Araton of The New York Times, on the top 10 reasons that he prefers to cover the Final Four of women's basketball.
  • Sandy Bucknam of The Telegraph in Nashua, N.H., on the damage inflicted by a renegade spell-check program.
  • Daniel Hunt of the American Copy Editors Society, on his "impatient enthusiasm" for the organization's national conference, which begins Thursday.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 12:22 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Saturday, April 05, 2008
Going Mad online
If you thought Mad magazine's famous "fold-in" feature worked only in print, guess again. As this gallery at The New York Times shows, the format works on the Web as well.

Check out the accompanying profile on Mad artist Al Jaffee too. His wordplay to rename the Times features section is a good example of why he's been successful all these years.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 10:24 AM | Permalink | 2 comments
Thursday, April 03, 2008
Fall on me
When my wife detected a discrepancy in our cell phone bill, she called the company to ask why we were being charged $9 more this month than in past months.

The answer from customer service: My wife's employee discount "fell off" the bill. This $9 fall happened on March 4, but it was unclear what caused it. The fallen discount has been picked up and put back on the bill.

In the days of the newspaper composing room, type sometimes fell off a page before it went to press. The result was a missing period or missing paragraph in a story. But how does something fall off of a .pdf statement? And how is that the one item that fell off is the discount?

I'm not falling for it.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 7:43 AM | Permalink | 1 comments
Wednesday, April 02, 2008
My colleague Bill Cloud has found another curious example of bracketed information spliced into a direct quote. The story is about Skip Caray, the Atlanta Braves broadcaster. Here's a Caray quote as it appeared in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
I was in intensive care for three weeks. I don't remember any of it. I woke up one day, and all my kids were there and my wife, and my cardiologist. I woke up and said, 'Where the hell am I and what are y'all doing here?' I had no idea.
Here is the same quote as published in the sports section of The News & Observer:
I was in intensive care for three weeks. I don't remember any of it. I woke up one day, and all my kids were there and my wife, and my cardiologist. I woke up and said, 'Where the [heck] am I and what are y'all doing here?' I had no idea.
As Cloud says: "When the quote appeared in The News & Observer, the 'hell' was replaced by a bracketed '[heck],' leaving readers to wonder whether he said something much worse."

Cloud and Bill Montgomery of the Houston Chronicle will lead a session at the ACES conference on working with quotes and the problems associated with inserting brackets into them. "[Eric] Clapton Is God" should be a good one.

Related post here.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 9:59 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
Hello, Larry
Poor Larry King. In recent years, he has often come off as woefully unprepared. Interviews with the surviving Beatles and Eric Clapton were especially awkward.

King is usually on steadier ground in the political realm, but perhaps less so about higher education, at least on this night. In a discussion about the presidential campaign on his show Monday, he says:
Chelsea Clinton, by the way, was confronted by another question about the Monica Lewinsky story today. It was from a student in a Q and A at North Carolina University.
That exchange took place at North Carolina State University, which is in Raleigh. North Carolina Central University, a historically black college, is in Durham. The University of North Carolina, as the flagship campus is known in the national media, is in Chapel Hill. It also refers to the 16-campus system. (See 'em all here.)

The state has yet to establish North Carolina University.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 8:46 AM | Permalink | 0 comments