Wednesday, January 30, 2008

So, copy editors, what now?

If you already have read my earlier post "I need a new decoder ring," take a turn back and read it again.

John McIntyre has posted a great response at his Baltimore Sun blog.

There have been some excellent comments.

I've made some more suggestions about an ISO9000-like program for copy desks -- maybe newsrooms in general?

Over at Testy Copy Editors, there is a long thread going on the future of copy editing. Some of it touches on what I've written here. Some of it is very sobering:
  • The major metro that once had 40 copy editors and now has 15.
  • Comments like:
    • "I think copy editing as we know it might be gone in the next decade."
    • "An occasional $700,000 libel settlement is cheaper than paying for a copy desk" (in commenting on management attitudes)
    • "If you read what our owners are writing in their memos, they explicitly state that they want to eliminate the 'culture' of copy editing as well as the jobs. They really want us to stop giving a damn about the language, balance and reliability of the facts."
  • I think Brian Cubbison of Syracuse nailed a lot of it when he wrote: "The job is definitely changing. A reporter who posts to a blog is taking care of the layout, pagination and even headline writing. It's important for copy editors to separate the journalism from the pica pole, and to figure out exactly where the journalism is being done."
We need to have a long conversation on this. Let's start it now and take it up when those of us who can gather in Denver for the ACES conference -- and then begin to do something.

I've shut off commenting on this post because I would like you to post any comments on the original post -- that way we can have one thread and a better conversation. I hope you will allow me that little bit of editorial control.

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Six ads over ...

Media Post reports this morning that the Six Flags operation plans to offer multiple ad channels to reach its thee park goers:

There are nine "Six Flags" media channels in all: Television, Radio, Print, Outdoor, Outdoor Spectacular, Attraction Integration, Experiential Marketing, and Online. The theme park company boasts that these complementary channels will allow advertisers to surround consumers with ad messages.
Oh well. I guess if you're going to pay 50 bucks a day (30 for the tykes), you get what you pay for.

Now if Wii could only learn to simulate a roller coaster ...


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I need a new decoder ring

"Woe is us," come the cries these days from the ranks of copy editors.

Consider the poor wretches, once ink-stained but now more likely to have little black flecks on their clothes from changing the toner in the printer: beset by creeping outsourcing, the view of their jobs as superfluous, the not-so-gradual flight from quality; the amateur grammarians in the public waiting to pounce on every real and imagined mistake; the professional linguists ready to pounce on every real or imagined shibboleth; near burnout and ready to flee for the exits, according to one recent study.

"Woe is us" indeed.

As we approach the American Copy Editors Society's annual convention in a couple of months, however, it might be worth stopping for a second to consider how much of this we might have brought on ourselves. Oh, we didn't go out and seek it, but we let it fester. We let ourselves be labeled as part of the production process (a cost), not part of the news gathering process (an input). And too often, I fear, we let an image grow of a "priesthood" that works in relative isolation, performing our not-always-appreciated black magic in ways and for reasons not often well understood (or coherent, if you follow some of the discussions).

I submit as an example, a blog by one Lynn Bering, freelance journalist and former newspaper columnist in Clarion, Pa. I'm sure she meant "I want to be a copy editor when I grow up" to be in praise, or at least admiration, of the beleaguered class. But then there's this:

But in high school I discovered English and grammar and realized what I really wanted to be most of all when I grew up was a copy editor. I wanted to be meticulous with language, to be able to quote the MLA, Chicago AND AP style guides, to red-pen papers all the day long.

Alas, I became a writer instead. I didn’t have the grit for copy editing. That’s why I admire folks like Grammar Girl and Gail Gedan Spencer, who authors The Skinny blog. Copy editors know stuff writers don’t. It’s like a secret society with complicated rules and secret handshakes. I am too impatient to be a copy editor and I lack the extra brain cells it requires to acquire their finesse in editing.

We know stuff others don't ... like complicated rules and secret handshakes. If that is how we are perceived, I'd suggest we have a serious problem. And we know damn well this is not just one person's perception. So far, I have not seen ACES being particularly active in dealing with this.

Meanwhile, I seem to have misplaced my decoder ring and book of incantations. If you find them, send them along, will you? I never did learn the secret handshakes, and my skull on a stick is in the shop.

Update: John McIntyre, assistant managing editor in charge of copy desks at the Baltimore Sun, pens an excellent follow-up post: Let me pull back the curtain. Copy editing is not like deciphering Babylonian cuneiform or reconstructing the genetic code. Like everything else in journalism, if it were too difficult, journalists couldn’t do it.

Between that and the comments below, we have an excellent conversation going here. How can we not only pull the curtain back but make sure it stays back? Keeping a compilation of errors caught is a start. But I fear that to higher-ups that will quickly become same-old, same-old. A year ago I suggested that each copy desk should blog about the language problems it faces, become a community resource for such questions and answers, maybe put some Google AdSense on the blog to show we are not just a cost but at least have our heads in the cash-flow game.

I'm sure there are other ideas out there. For instance, industry has a quality standard, ISO9001. I'll even bet that a lot of the papers we work at have implemented it or similar quality-assurance programs from organizations such as Ifra, but in the backshop, not the newsroom. Maybe we need to talk about the pros and cons of a quality recognition program for copy desks (and, yes, I can think of a lot of problems as well as possibilities, not the least of which is defining quality in a way that is more than just a mechanical thing but that also does not impinge on press freedom).

What should ACES role be in all this?

Let's keep up the discussion.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Online privacy - are our standards changing?

This past spring, I, along with Larry Timbs and Will Atkinson presented a paper to the Newspaper Association of America dealing with the ethical problems that having newspaper archives digitized and online can raise -- things that were not issues in the era when archives fell under what in legal circles was known as "practical obscurity."

(Here is a summary column I wrote on it. The paper has now been published in Grassroots Editor and can be found here (PDF).)

During the research, Emily Nussbaum wrote in New York magazine about an emerging generation for whom privacy was perhaps a bit of a nostalgic concept and for whom the operative method was now to simply deal with it, accept that invasions would be part of your life and move on. (That's an over-simplification, and you should read the article.)

Then recently I came across this post by Zach Echola, a media producer in the upper Midwest, in which he talks about his attitude toward the privacy dangers online. Essentially, he throws it back at those who would find the information:

The real voyeurs are those employers and companies that pry into our online lives unprovoked and unnecessarily.

Much of what is on the Internet is not intended for a mass audience and never reaches that–or any–audience.

It is delusional to think that everything that happens online has any relevance beyond its creator’s ego. In the case of drunken Facebook photos between friends, the intent is for other friends to view the photos, not anyone else. ...

Are people really so dumb that they can’t differentiate work from play on the Web? I think not. And I think there’s a generation of kids coming into the work force with a basic understanding of this. ...

The greatest flaw in thinking about the Internet, is thinking that bloggers (including me), Facebook users or people who post photos to flickr want mass attention and fame. We don’t (or at the very least, we don’t expect it). We target our message, whether it be photos of a night out with friends or posts about the Internet, to those few people who might perchance stumble across a slice of our digital selves (key word: slice). We are outliers. We are all Chris Anderson’s Tail.

15 minutes of fame has given way to being famous to 15 people. Mass media is dying, if it isn’t already dead. Get over yourselves.

Isn’t privacy a two-way street?

Is this a naive cry in the wilderness, or are we really seeing a defiant shift here to perhaps a time when the rules have changed and privacy is seen as an almost quaint notion that is your responsibility, not mine?

(In our paper, we suggested there might even be a legal basis for this shift - a theory that turns media into custodians of the information with a duty not to disclose, rather than simply distributors. It's one of those ideas floating out there that journalists need to pay closer attention to, as they should be doing with much of modern information policy.)

Lots to think about. What do you think?

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Quick Hits

Felix Salmon has an intriguing analysis over at the Seeking Alpha media blog about why he things the Wall Street Journal will eventually be all or almost all free, despite Rupert Murdoch's announcement last week that parts would remain subscription-only.

I like Salmon's last line: In the age of the internet, reading a newspaper has become a social activity. Murdoch, owner of MySpace, knows full well the value of that activity. Which is why I still think is going to be free, even if it might take a little bit longer than I first thought for that to happen.

"In the age of the internet, reading a newspaper has become a social activity" -- lots to chew on and think about there.

Fred Wilson, former chairman of, has a take on it too -- he's another free WSJ proponent, with this:
Here's the deal. Digital media is not about scarcity and never will be. That's the old media game. Online it's about ubiquity, about being part of the conversation, about links, authority, page rank, and if you are a news organization like the WSJ - its about anchoring the discussion.

Joe Michaud is stepping aside as president of in April to start his own consultancy. As a result, he's become more active on his blog. Some good reading there. Check out his take on the Kindle media reader that Amazon introduced late last year. And pay special attention to his call that in 2008, it's no longer enough to innovate -- it has to be innovation for results in this struggling business.

Dan Kennedy has a nice post on how Gatehouse and the editor at its Danvers, Mass., paper are doing multimedia. This is a good example of Howard Owens' "give them all cameras" philosophy that prompts quality vs. quantity disputes on video message boards and forums.

Watch the video. What do you think? Kennedy has an thoughtful take in the comments area:
My guess is that only a few people will watch it, but that it's the right few people. The people who were interviewed, their families and friends. And now they're all attuned to the fact that their hometown weekly is posting videos, so they'll be more likely to check in the future. This is about the slow work of community-building, not reaching masses of people.

Howard Owens and Howard Weaver have both linked to this post from Zac Echola about how
out how he discovered and consumed news from Saturday's South Carolina primary. Echola, a producer at Forum Communications, is one of those young consumers you drool over. The Howards have reproduced significant parts -- I'm going to make you go read it with this task: Identify when he first went to a mainstream media site.

Speaking of Owens, he has an interesting post from the weekend on the "Six roles, or job duties, of modern journalism" -- ethical, guide/filter, understanding and context, conversation leader, aggregator, straight news.

How many of those are you prepared for? Which ones scare you?

If you're picking up a theme here this morning -- that, as Kennedy says, news is becoming "about community building," you're right.

I did a presentation for the regional American Copy Editors Society meeting this weekend on community building and moderation from what we have learned at Hartsville Today and from what has been learned elsewhere. I'll do a longer post later, but I was struck by how different the "journalist mindset" is from those "out there." Sometimes it's almost counterintuitive.

Quick example from the Nashua, N.H., paper that came up on a discussion group. You have a city councilman who has created multiple pseudonyms on your forums and is making it seem (by posts and responses) that it is more than one person (known as "sock puppeting"). You can tell it is the same person from IP info, etc. Do you out him?

The journalists, of course, hardly missed a beat in saying "yes." And that would be the easy traditional answer -- person in position of trust abuses that trust, even so slightly -- and wham!

But is it possible your online community could read it differently, that instead of doing your job, you are just exhibiting your Zeus-like powers. "Well, if they can out him, they could out me," could be the thinking. And so you lose that member, too. Maybe others. Is is worth destroying the community?

We'll talk more about this later based on this weekend's gig. For now, I just leave you with that to think about.

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Friday, January 25, 2008

Tools of the trade

Jim Thomson, editor at a great Northwestern daily (uh-huh), has a great post -- and photo -- on his blog of the tools of the newspaper trade.

If you have a dirty mind, do not click. There's a reason we're all a little weird in this business. It's the lingo.

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Journalists plan to head for the exits

No great surprise here, but a study from Ball State University that is getting some new attention finds almost three-quarters of newspaper journalists 34 and younger who were questioned intend to leave journalism or aren't sure about their futures.

Overall (according to the study abstract), almost 23 percent of the 770 journalists questioned said they intend to get out.* You could look at that and wonder whether it's the best and brightest, or if it's the "untrainables" Paul Conley talks about (more here). But when you take the two figures together, it's pretty clear it's not the old hacks.

Young copy editors and designers appear to be under the most stress, according to the study by Scott Reinardy. (Anyone at ACES listening? What can we do about this?)

Many of the reasons are the same old: Stress, long and lousy hours, lousy pay. Some of that never will change, but what can change is publishers' recognizing those are systemic to the industry and building in other incentives (not all necessarily monetary). Unfortunately, that seems to fall on deaf ears.

So will the last one out please turn off the press.

(Most are not actually leaving media. They intend to freelance or do PR. Some intend to move into academia, although without a Ph.D. these days that's getting harder and harder. See an E&P story synthesizing it all.)

(Update: Now that I look at this, it is not "new." It was presented at AEJMC in August -- one of those sessions I had to miss because of a conflict. But it is worth bringing to general attention, even if a little late. Good example, though, of PR -- Ball State got E&P to bite on this one as "new." Further Update: Simon Owens at bloggasm apparently wrote first about this, from which the E&P story came. Owens said E&P ripped him off, but that he later got an apology that it was an "honest mistake.")

*There appears to be a slight discrepancy between the abstract and the numbers in the full study. The abstract says: Additionally, journalists expressing intentions to leave the profession (n = 173) demonstrated high rates of exhaustion and cynicism ... The total number of journalists who took the survey (N) was 770, so 173/770=22.47 percent. However, in the text, Reinardy writes: When the journalists were asked if they had intentions to leave newspaper journalism, 25.7 percent answered “yes” and 36.2 percent answered “don’t know.” No tables are provided, so I can't tell if the N for this part of the study is less than 770.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Snapshots - feedback please

I'd like your feedback, dear readers.

About a year ago, when came out with its search engine that produced a popup image of a site when you moused over a link, I thought it was a decent widget -- it would let you see where you were going, and Snap was building a decent search engine.

But lately I've been having second thoughts. Snap has changed its model somewhat so that it is becoming more ad oriented. And now it is inserting its own helpful links in some posts. (See the screen shot of a recent post and the Snap material around Tiger Woods.)
I've always pledged to keep this blog ad free. And I wonder if the popups have lost their usefulness.

So tell me -- stay or go? Do they actually give you any utility, or should I just remove the code? Let me know in the comments.

(Update: Sentiment seems clear - Snap is gone.)



ACES schedule

The schedule for the American Copy Editors Society annual meeting in Denver, April 10-12, is now posted on the ACES Web site.

This is one of my must-go meetings of every year. Of course, it helps that I am doing two presentations, but even if I weren't, I'd be there. I hope you will be, too, even in these tough times.

I will miss Alex Cruden's annual panel of readers looking at our headlines. I don't see it on the schedule. But I do like the idea that ACES is expanding some of its sessions past newspapers to corporate and other forms of editing.


Our economy's problems explained

Yep, and The State did it all in one top-o-A1 graphic.

In case you're having trouble reading that, the number on the left is 12,092.72. The number on the right -- the one that's higher compared with the first one -- is 11,971.19.

So down is up and up is down.

Lewis Carroll would have been proud.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Quick hits

Visit Wired Journalists

Ryan Sholin has formed Wired Journalists, a group on Ning designed to help journalists get more comfortable with the tools and opportunities of he wired world. It's partly an outgrowth of Howard Owens' recent post challenging journalists to set objectives for 2008 that include getting more familiar with the wired (and these days, wireless) world. I've joined and look forward to helping out any way I can.

Actually, one of the first and best lessons for newsroom types out of this might be how easy it is to form such social groups using Ning. Just imagine had this been used during Katrina ...

Meranda Watling writes about following local folks on Twitter. I admit to not using Twit much (I'm cheap - I don't pay for texting on my cell phone and I forget to log on at the office). But I am intrigued by its possibilities (and probably more interested now that a few people have "found" me). I think Watling has a point when we may need to figure out a way to monitor relevant traffic. Just one more newsroom input. (Think of it as listening to the police scanner.)

She also points to the New York Times article on Twitter's use by journalists on the campaign trail. I don't claim any great foresight here, but this is why for the past year and some one of the syllabus requirements in my advanced editing class has been to produce an SMS version of every story. Students quickly find out it isn't always easy, especially when the story really doesn't have any news. I'm putting together an "Effective SMS" guide for class and maybe to use at the ACES conference, so all thoughts welcome.

(Personally, I'm a big fan of Twittervision, which scampers around a world map showing you the latest tweets. If we'd only had this at 3 a.m. in college ...)

And Bryan Murley points to a student journalist at Ball State who is Twittering a trial.

Everyblock is up and running in New York, Chicago and San Francisco. This is Adrian Holovaty's project to bring data to the masses. Crime reports, restaurant inspections, true confessions from the personals on Craigslist. Kind of gives a new dimension to the definition of "peeping Tom." It's a fascinating idea, but we'll wait and see if a bunch of raw data, even when presented in a relatively pleasing graphical way, can sustain interest. I predict it will if advertisers are comfortable with the audience churn (much as they had to learn to be at the advent of all-news radio, lo those many years ago). The project is funded by one of the Knight News Challenge grants.

If you're a journalism student planning to graduate sometime soon, check out Mindy McAdams' resources page for what you should be doing online.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Wither the American newspaper - a primer

So much has been written on the state of the American newspaper. So much bile has been spewed and so many hands have been wrung.

So why am I pointing you to another post about it? Because you need read practically no other thing than this blog post by Rod Dreher on BeliefNet, "Why Mainstream Journalism is in Pain."

Actually, it's not so much the post by Dreher (also of the Dallas Morning News) that I want you to read, although it is a fine, if not overly distinguished, recap of the topic at hand.

No, I want you to read the comments -- all of them (95-plus at this point). Reasoned. Solid. Thoughtful. Insightful. Compared with the way these things normally play out, hardly a troll or a flamer among them. Just real people telling you why they consume news but, for the most part, just don't take the paper anymore. The biggest reasons: It's paper, it's a mess, it takes a lot of work to read and to recycle. Content is weak. And, of course, there are the claims of liberal or conservative bias, although to get hung up on those would be missing the larger point.

Some also agonize, as does Dreher, over what we would do without papers; others have a pretty clear vision of a future without them.

Vox populi -- read it and listen closely

(Thanks to Gary Karr for the outpoint)


Monday, January 21, 2008

Dwyre pens a must-read column

If you read nothing else this week, read L.A. Times sports columnist Bill Dwyre's take on the controversy about a Golf Channel anchor's ill-advised comment about Tiger Woods and the firing of a Golfweek editor for putting a noose on the cover promoting the story inside.

Dwyre takes it beyond a single incident, seeing a parable of our times. Aside from tossing it aside as yet another rant at the machine, think about his larger meaning. An excerpt:

We blog before we report, when it should be the other way around.

We write more about ourselves than we do about our subjects. We have Facebook and YouTube, and we see the world as being all about us, on all topics, every day. News isn't news unless we agree with it.

We are afraid of quiet. Our children don't see the world around them in our minivans. They watch TV.

The editor of Golfweek who put the noose on the cover probably went home that night, thinking he had done what his bosses and the world around him kept telling him -- to think outside the box, be creative, groundbreaking, innovative.

There is a fine line between those things and stupidity, of course.

Our society has a massive appetite for drama, and little for reality. We read about Britney Spears when we need to read about Afghanistan. And the media, which has the mandate -- and the constitutional right -- to lead us from this abyss, are all too often not doing so. Media, which once led public opinion, now all too often follow it.
Then, when you are done, go over to Columbia Journalism Review and spend some time with Lawrence Lanahan's cover story, "Secrets of the City." Lanahan, in looking at this final season of "The Wire" and what it says about journalism, the myriad forces we are dealing with, and the Herculean task of trying to convey the reality that is the modern metropolis, does a good job of not turning the chasm between David Simon, creator of "The Wire," and his former employer, the Baltimore Sun, into a simplistic he said-they said or into an overblown morality play.

He explores the conflict in a way that helps sketch out and make you think about these broader journalistic forces and conflicts of vision and purpose.

If you don't read the article at least twice, you're not getting all of it.

(Unfortunately, like "The Sopranos," I'll have to wait till "The Wire" comes to A&E or a similar channel. Yeah, I'm cheap. I have a problem with paying $80 a month for cable, so I don't get the premium tier and don't get HBO, and I haven't been able to crib an invite to someone else's feed.)

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AP Style Update - heart attack

AP has added a stylebook entry differentiating among heart attack, heart failure and cardiac arrest.

Heart attack (myocardial infarction) -- Blockage of one or more arteries supplying blood to the heart.
Heart failure -- Chronic condition when a weakened heart can no longer effectively pump blood.
Cardiac arrest, or sudden cardiac arrest -- The heart suddenly stops beating. It can be due to a heart attack or rhythm problem, or as a result of electrocution or other trauma.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Ira Glass - great videos on storytelling

Discovered on You Tube a great set of videos in which Ira Glass ("This American Life") discusses the art -- and the hard work -- of storytelling.

If you are a beginner, start with video 3. You need both the advice, and the reassurance, that things will be OK, but that you have to work at it and recognize the disconnect between your skills and ideals.

In video 1, he talks about the power of the anecdote in storytelling and the need for a nut graf (or more than one).

In video 2, he talks about the need to be willing to deal with many false starts and the need to be ruthless in knowing when to kill those so that you are doing enough reporting to find the really great stories.

And in video 4 he talks about being natural -- and being compelling as a result.

Yes, he frames this in terms of broadcast, but there is plenty of good stuff here for "print" as well -- and besides, who's really making that kind of distinction anymore when it comes to storytelling?

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Here we go again, they vs. it

Permit me a moment of dissent and perhaps a little cynicism. The "should we use 'it' or 'they' when referring to entities" debate is frothing again, this time under the rhetoric that using "it" makes corporations and such seem so much less, well, less human.

I find no problem with that, and in fact take some comfort that the language has not yet succumbed to the spin of the PR-meisters in this case.

Andy Bechtel points out on his blog a question posed by a PR teacher at the University of Georgia, Karen Miller, on her blog: Wouldn't we be better off if reminded that a company really is "they" rather than "it"? That is, it seems to me that the grammar is teaching us to think incorrectly about what organizations really are.

The underlying meme here is to give a human face to that faceless corporation down the street. PR and advertising (now increasingly known as integrated marketing communications) have been trying to do it for decades. Kumbaya.

Thanks but no thanks. General Motors says it lost billions of dollars, and Dell acknowledges that it had a problem with computers bursting into flames. Yes, there will be idiomatic departures -- The Jaycees say they will donate ... (even there, while I can argue for "says it will," I'll grant the dissonance on the ear).*

If you want to suggest "they" is a more accurate description, I'd be more impressed if organizations would then let "them" speak freely about what goes on in "their" organization instead of insisting that "we speak with one voice."

I agree with Bechtel, John McIntyre and others that many shibboleths need close examination and ditching. But I also think language has a power and meaning, and too often these days we are too timid to assert that over the spin. In other words, I don't see this as a shibboleth; I think it has real linguistic value in demarking the limits of the true embodiment of personhood, and I'm not ready yet to just casually invest every Tom, Dick and Harry Inc. with it. I know this is a tough argument, but sometimes just because everyone tends to use it in casual conversation, as Bechtel notes, does not mean it should be abandoned.

McIntyre has an excellent recent post on this blurring, in this case of usage, but it carries on in the same logical vein. McIntyre also has, in an earlier post, commented on the use of "everyone ... their," which for several years I have cheerily accepted. But this is not the same as the corporate "they." Follow his link to Pinker's commentary, an excellent explanation of the idea of "everyone" as a variable and "they" as a bound variable, not as a subject-pronoun relationship.

*Having said that, if we want to go to the British system of plural usage throughout -- subject and verb -- then what the hey. At least then we are being intellectually consistent.

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Dr. Wordsmith will be missed

While I was gone, John Means sent out his last "The Village Wordsmith" from the San Antonio Express News. (Here's an example, his last online column I can find.)

With Vol. XI, No. 9, Means penned his farewell:

The first issue of the Village Wordsmith saw light in April 1997. It talked about the difference between convince and persuade, then-congressman and former congressman, copspeak and several other malapropisms that appeared (and sometimes still do) in the columns of the San Antonio Express-News.
And for the next 10 years and a bit more, Dr. Wordsmith has tried to lead Express-News writers and editors on the paths of righteousness as defined by the Associated Press and Express-News style books, the dictionary and countless English teachers at elementary and secondary schools, colleges and universities – many of whom are on this publication’s mailing list and some of whom have graciously contributed examples of our writers’ shortcomings. We’re grateful for all such observations.
Thanks to a retirement offer from the Express-News’ Mohogany Row, this is our last offering. It’s been a delightful decade, pointing out as humorously as possible the foibles of my co-workers.
Means becomes another on the list of clear, concise and often humorous newsroom commentators on journalists and their language who are headed off into the sunset. (John Rains at Fayetteville, for instance, is now posting infrequently.)

It's a shame. At a time when copy-editing functions are being reduced and line editing is being sucked into the production maw, such commentators are needed more than ever to, as means said, point out our foibles.

All the best, John. All the best. I will miss the enjoyment of seeing the e-mail telling me another of your fine newsletters had arrived.

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Copy-editing jobs

While I was gone, a couple of developments on the future of copy-editing jobs beat:

  • The Allentown Morning Call announced a major restructuring, including further conversion to a universal desk that will also, as I read the memo, have greater responsibilities for posting online. The paper also hopes to install a Tansa spelling- and usage-check system. Tansa is a system sold as several steps above spellcheck, allowing more customization and looking at copy in context to detect problems.
    • The key point from publisher Ardith Hilliard's memo: Tansa would save editing time for the copy desk, allowing us to more effectively operate a universal desk with fewer editors.
    • That brought a quick response from Lucas Grindley: Picture a world rife with budget cuts that obliterate the copy desk by replacing people with computers, and leaving the "hard stuff" for desk editors. (Grindley is operations manager at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.)
    • Tansa President Robert Lanzio quickly responded on Grindley's blog that Tansa has not been "the direct cause of any job losses in the USA." Grindley countered: Regardless of whether you all built Tansa to replace copy editors, don't you agree that if a large copy desk becomes more efficient, then it could be reduced in size?" Leaving Lanzio with the tepid response: " To date, the statement I made is true."
Tansa was discussed back on this blog in November 2005. At the time, those commenting said it was not that great at detecting even some of the harder language problems. I don't know whether it has been improved since then. The danger here is that copy editor jobs are too easily equated with spell-check. If the system really is used to free them from routine so that they can look more closely at the substance of stories in the context of the reader, great.

But the reality may be instead that as copy desks are reduced, line editors are given more of this responsibility. Bad move. Line eds are too busy already. They also are too invested in the stories -- and I want them to be, because they need to be effective salesmen and saleswomen for their reporters. But that makes them exactly the wrong people to stand in for the readers.

As my friend Brian Murley commented on Grindley's blog: Tansa is more likely the victim of the law of unintended consequences. Still, it's easy to see how it could become the "indirect" cause of the loss of copy editing jobs. Heck, if people seem willing to ship such jobs to India, why wouldn't a software system help them achieve that goal?

(The Call also is eliminating a news librarian, another step in a sad trend.)
  • The Miami Herald had a dalliance with outsourcing design and editing of a neighborhood section to India. Fortunately, cooler heads and common sense prevailed. As Executive Editor Anders Gyllenhaal wrote: "The more we looked at the prospects of editing and layout from outside the newsroom, the more it was clear these skills involving news judgment and experience are not likely to work well from afar." However, ad production and monitoring of Web site comments will continue from overseas.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Someone apply quickly -- they need help

This is from a job posting on the American Copy Editors Society job board. My special favorite is that you have to be able to check "fax."

Copy editor at Lebhar-Friedman in New York:

Copy edits editorial material and advertisements for fax, grammar and syntax, as well as reviews all copy for clarity and correct usage according to in-house style. Read through all stories (surfing) to ensure consistency throughout publications. Skill Requirements Must be able to flow text and edit copy in InDesign. Must be an excellent copy editor and proofreader. Strong writing skills, excellent knowledge of grammar. Must be able to input corrections and edits accurately. Must know Quark inside and out. Proficient in MS Word. Must know Photoshop to the extent of being able to make a bad jpeg into a usable file (including color correction, photo sizing, basic retouching, etc.). Must know AP style. Interpersonal Skills Must be able to take instruction and then take action on said instruction without repetitive re-instruction. Must be able to work well under deadline pressure and be prepared to work late hours.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

AP Style - gambling, not gaming

AP has created a new entry that reverses the spin of the "gaming" industry:

Gambling: Preferred term for playing games of chance. Avoid use of the term gaming except in quotations or proper names.


AP Style - percent

AP has made a major overhaul of its style for the word "percent." The long tradition of repeating the word after every figure has been dropped and replaced.

The printed 2007 stylebook dropped the guidance on repeating "percent," but it did not provide a substitute for that part of the entry. It has now done so online, and the hyphenated form, without repeating "percent," is the new standard. Here is the entry (with new material highlighted):

Percent: One word. It takes a singular verb when standing alone or when a singular word follows an of construction: The teacher said 60 percent was a failing grade. He said 50 percent of the membership was there.
It takes a plural verb when a plural word follows an of construction: He said 50 percent of the members were there.
Use figures for percent and percentages: 1 percent, 2.5 percent (use decimals, not fractions), 10 percent, 4 percentage points.
For a range, 12 to 15 percent, or between 12 and 15 percent. [Updated April 22, 2008, to reflect AP's use, now, of the "to."]
For amounts less than 1 percent, precede the decimal with a zero: The cost of living rose 0.6 percent.
However, as noted in an "ask the editor" entry, be careful with this style because you can imply ranges that are not there. The example used was market share jumping from 16 percent to 25 percent, not 16-25 percent.

AP also has decided to drop the "to" in ranges and use the hyphen instead: 20-30 people. [As of April 2008, there is no indication that has changed, based on several "Ask the Editor" entries.] However, "million" and "billion" are still repeated to prevent confusion: $12 million to $14 million, not $12-14 million or $12 to $14 million. (I could easily see the hyphenated form coming to be accepted, however, given AP's new guidance on ranges.)

(Note that if you are updating your percentage entry in the current printed stylebook, you also need to update the "punctuation and usage examples" under "numerals." This change apparently dates internally to early 2007, but the new language in the stylebook specifying the hyphen "to" is rather recent and online only. I've never seen a formal announcement.)

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Back in the saddle (Carnival of Journalism 2)

Well, just back from the "2007-08 New Grandson Tour" and into the crucible of the first day of classes, so I have not had a chance to think many deep -- or shallow, for that matter -- thoughts, but a few things ran through my mind as I was on the road, trying to crib Internet access where I could:

  • I wonder if sometimes what we're doing online forgets what it's like for those without high-speed access. Sure, the figures tell us more and more people have it, but there remain significant pockets - demographic and geographic -- that don't. In my case, it was a situation of son and daughter-in-law having moved into a new house and not having it yet and other relatives who will never have it. Between "borrowing" high-speed from a few unprotected sites and spending hours on dial-up, I was pretty much able to keep up with e-mail. But RSS? Too much of a hassle. Many of my favorite news Web sites? Big, omnivorous time sinks.
  • This comes to mind because while I was near Louisville, its Metropolitan Housing Coalition released a report about high rates of home foreclosures, and buried in it (page 25 - click on Read More and you'll get a PDF) is this about one of the causes:
  • High expense or debt levels - extraordinary transportation costs – driving vehicles with low gasoline mileage and/or substantial maintenance needs, jobs requiring extensive non-reimbursed driving or commuting, having a number of cars in the household; high utility costs due to poorly insulated home or energy inefficient elements or systems; extensive deferred maintenance needs or a household disaster such as a fire; high communications related expenses – cell phones, internet, cable television; little or no savings and high levels of debt; financially naive or lacking money management skills; excessive credit card bills; and using equity in home to pay ongoing monthly expenses. (Emphasis mine.)
    Now, let's not overplay this, but it's one of the first times I've seen telecommunications expenses listed as an explicit factor leading to financial distress. But maybe, as a generation of journalists on the cusp of an era when we may no longer control our own "printing press" (not necessarily a bad thing -- but that's for another post), it's time we took some serious notice of this. The more I though about it, and tallied my telcom bills, the more I wondered if we are heading into a period even more unsettling than we have foreseen so far -- as more and more efforts shift to digital, will our audiences be able to afford us?
  • Feedblitz rocks! The ability to take RSS feeds, turn them into e-mail digests, then download those e-mails for offline reading was a godsend. (I use an online, not an onboard, RSS reader, and even had I used an onboard one, the online time to do the RSS downloads still would have been questionable.)
  • Putting Wi-Fi into its restaurants may be one of the smarter moves McDonald's has done. The price is generally reasonable (and some restaurants are free, especially overseas), and although I didn't use it on this trip (other things intervened), knowing a reliable, almost high-speed connection is widely available should attract business (see also). Right now, Mickey D's is a bit balkanized among service providers, but if it could swing a national deal at a set price, I could see news organizations negotiating in bulk and telling reporters that if they have to file, head to the nearest arches. (Maybe they already do, and I'd like to hear about it, if that's the case.) If MickeyD's picks up a Coke or two in the process, it becomes very lucrative. Think about how many "road warriors" in all forms of business this could attract (yeah, there are technologies like Wi-Max, too, but the arches are a lot more ubiquitous right now, even more so than Starbucks and its Wi-Fi).
  • Enough already with the Facebook widgets! Sure, a fair number are fun, but if I get one more vampire or werewolf or Scrabble or news quiz invite ...
  • A lot of the stories I read about the potential breakup of Landmark concentrated on the Weather Channel. They missed or glossed over the 800-pound (or $850 million) gorilla, Dominion Enterprises. People I've talked with inside and outside the company say the classified publications could surprise in the price they fetch. And don't underestimate Landmark's community newspapers division, based in Shelbyville, Ky. It not only has a good number of highly profitable newspaper titles, but its stable also includes real estate magazines (probably hurting a little now, but likely to rebound) and some highly trafficked sports Web sites in partnership with Rivals. In fact, the nine larger papers may well be the consolation prize. This will be a very interesting breakup to watch, if it happens.
(Now, back to the baby pics. Chrs.)

Adrian Monck is hosting this month's Carnival of Journalism.

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