Friday, October 17, 2008
Final post here: I've officially moved
This will be my final post at this blog. I'm officially moved in at my new one. Here's the FAQ on this move:

Q. Why the move?

A. I thought it was time for a new look, and WordPress had some template options that Blogger doesn't. Plus, my custom Blogger template wouldn't allow for some of the new features in blogging.

Q. What's the new template?

A. It's called The Journalist. I think it's easier to read than this one, especially with body text. I hope you will let me know what you think of it and how I can improve it.

Q. What happens to all of the old posts and comments?

A. They are all there at the new address. Nothing was lost; even the images made the transition. It was remarkably easy to import them.

Q. Will you delete your blog here?

A. No, not for now. At some point I may delete it, but not for a while.

Q. Will the focus of the blog change as part of the move?

A. No, it has the same name, and it will still be about editing. I made, however, some subtle changes to the description to reflect journalism's move to online media.

Q. I linked to your blog from mine. Do I have to do anything?

A. I'd appreciate it if you would update links, bookmarks, etc. Here's the new address:

Thanks to all who read, comment and link here. I appreciate how this blog's audience has grown since it began in June 2006. I hope you will join the conversation at the new address. See you there.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 10:29 AM | Permalink | 49 comments
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Interesting reading
  • Chris O'Brien of The Next Newsroom Project, on the 10 things you can do right now to change your newsroom.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 9:06 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
On the move
This blog is on the move. I've decided to take it to WordPress, where I hope you will follow me. I'll probably post in both places for the near term.

Here's the new address:

Moving always requires effort and patience. I'll have some unpacking to do at the new site, and I hope you will take the moment to update the address in your blogroll if you have been kind enough to link here. If you read this blog through an RSS feed, you will have to suscribe again.

Thanks for reading and staying with me during this transition.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 8:22 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Monday, October 13, 2008
In search of Christopher Columbus
Columbus Day is confusing. What's open? What's closed?

Back in the day, newspapers ran textboxes (usually in a grid format) that listed holiday closings for banks, post offices, courts, libraries and schools. Information about garbage pickup was usually included too.

Copy editors and page designers lucky enough to work for newspapers with zoned editions had to deal with "closings boxes" tailored to specific readers in different circulation areas. This made sense for those readers, but they were often a headache for the copy desk. The problem was the size of the box changed from edition to edition, requiring changes to the overall layout of a page — the one for Rockingham County may be a lot smaller than the one for Guilford County, for example.

Readers still want this information, and nowadays many are looking online. The Hot Trends list at Google has these search terms among the top 100 on this Columbus Day:
  • columbus day 2008 calendar
  • is there mail on columbus day
  • columbus day bank holiday
  • us postal service holidays
  • is the post office open on columbus day
So, readers are looking for this information. Are they finding it easily? Not at prominent North Carolina news sites. Searches at and the Greensboro paper's site were fruitless. The News & Observer's site has this brief tucked away. A search at the Charlotte Observer's site turned up this list.

None of these sites had Columbus Day information on its homepage. Was that the right call?

UPDATE: This post is attracting some readers looking for that elusive Columbus Day information. I'm sorry I cannot provide that, but be sure to let your local media know as they plan for the Veterans Day closings.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 3:01 PM | Permalink | 2 comments
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Carry on, newspaper carriers
Today is International Newspaper Carrier Day. A story from a West Virginia paper explains what it's all about. And yes, some kids (like this one) still do this demanding work.

Related post here.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 9:26 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Thursday, October 09, 2008
What it's like to be an intern at The Washington Post
The Washington Post wants interns for summer 2009. If you are wondering about that experience, check out this Q&A with two former interns who are now full-time journalists there.

One is Caroline Hauser, a Post copy editor who earned her master's degree here at UNC-Chapel Hill a few years ago. She has some great advice for students applying for internships at the Post and elsewhere.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 10:23 AM | Permalink | 1 comments
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
Copy editors as moderators
Tom Brokaw has an accomplished career as a broadcaster. But if his performance as moderator in the “town hall” debate between John McCain and Barack Obama is any indication, Brokaw wouldn’t have made for a very good editor. Here’s why:

NEWS JUDGMENT: Brokaw got to pick the questions, which were submitted by the “town hall” audience and from others online. His task was to find the "front page" questions, focusing on the important news of the day while offering a range of topics. He got things going well enough on the economy, but he failed to pose questions about issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage and immigration. Instead he asked foreign policy questions on Iraq and Pakistan that were nearly identical to questions from the previous debate, hosted by Jim Lehrer. Those repeated questions drew the same responses from the candidates, making this segment of the “town hall” redundant. Brokaw is like the editor who doesn’t read his own paper and ends up running the same story on successive days.

LENGTH: Brokaw failed to rein in long answers. He occasionally chided Obama and McCain for exceeding the time limits — but only after letting them go on and on. Brokaw is like the assignment editor who talks tough about story length but then allows his reporters to write long, letting the copy desk and designers deal with the consequences.

WORD CHOICE: Brokaw picked an oddly worded question to wrap up the debate. “What don't you know, and how will you learn it?" Both candidates were understandably stumped, with McCain’s response echoing Donald Rumsfeld’s famous “known unknowns” remark from a few years ago. Brokaw is like the feeble editor who chooses cuteness over substance when unsure how to end a story.

These problems would have been less likely to pop up under the watch of an assertive editor. Perhaps it’s time for a copy editor to moderate one of these debates. Candidates would have to speak within the time alloted — or else. Questions would reflect the interest of the voters and complement questions from previous debates. More information would be packed into the 90-minute "news hole" of the debate.

I nominate John McIntyre of You Don’t Say. His measured tone and bow tie make him a natural for the role. Plus, he’s good on camera.

UPDATE: In comments to this post, Mr. McIntyre has politely declined the nomination. We'll open it up to suggestions.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 10:08 AM | Permalink | 9 comments
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
Interesting reading (Alternative edition)
  • Fiona Morgan of The Independent Weekly, on why readers should not give up on The News & Observer and (presumably) other newspapers dedicated to investigative journalism.
  • J. Patrick Best of The Sunday Paper, on the bankruptcy filing of Creative Loafing and the outlook for alternative weeklies.
  • Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo, on the site's evolution and how "balance" trumps "accuracy" in newspaper headlines.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 11:12 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Friday, October 03, 2008
For whomever likes Dwight Schrute

If you were among those miffed that the Biden-Palin debate pre-empted "The Office" last night, here's something for you: the Scranton branch of Dunder-Mifflin discussing "whoever" vs. "whomever."

Speaking of "The Office," if you have ever wondered whether a copy desk is similar to a paper company, this video indicates that yes, it is. (Thanks for the link, Katie Schwing!)
posted by Andy Bechtel at 2:07 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Thursday, October 02, 2008
It's nice to see alternative story forms (or "charticles," if you must) getting some detailed attention in the latest American Journalism Review. This story provides a decent look at what newspapers are doing in this area, and it identifies pros and cons of alternative approaches.

I wish the story, however, had made more mention of the importance of collaboration in making ASFs work well. That's a theme that runs throughout my NewsU course on the topic. It's not all about design; all journalists can and should participate in the conception and execution of story forms. In addition, the role of the copy editor is overlooked. Not only can copy editors significantly improve the writing and presentation of a story form, they can generate ideas for them, as noted here.

Finally, the AJR piece makes this curious assertion:
Charticles rely on authoritative, punchy writing, leaving room for opinion to seep in. And when news and opinion mix under a reporter's byline, well, you see where that could lead.
In my experience, the opposite is the case. Opinion is more likely to seep into a long-form narrative than an alternative story form. Punchy, authoritative writing is indeed an ingredient of story forms. This can be taken to an extreme, however, giving some ASFs a dry, almanac-like tone.

Of course, copy editors should guard against opinion words in any sort of news story, but the ASF is hardly a place where they proliferate. But copy editors also need to ensure that the writing is lively and interesting, regardless of the story form.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 10:49 AM | Permalink | 0 comments