Monday, March 29, 2004

Oh ... never mind
Score one for our side. E-mail just in to director of S.C. Press Association from director of student media at Univ. of S.C.: That press release "is incorrect" and media will be allowed access to Coulter.
Good to see common sense prevails.

Friday, March 26, 2004

Maybe it's just me, but ...
Got an announcement in this morning from the student productions board at the University of South Carolina with the following line:
Editors Note - No media coverage, except University Media will be allowed in the Koger Center

This is a public event -- at $20 a ticket. If you are going to allow some media in, then allow all in, and yes, even though that's the PR arm of the university, it's still media. It puts out a newspaper, etc. (Partial censorship is, in my mind, even more intellectually dishonest than a total ban, and on a univerisity campus I find it doubly offensive.) I think students should go to hear what Coulter says, but I have a hard time encouraging them to attend such an event with these kinds of restrictions.

The text of the news release is below. Feel free to contact the person involved to express your thoughts, for or against.

For Immediate Release
> March 15, 2004
> Carolina Productions
> Ishita Shah
> 864.777.7130
> Editors Note - No media coverage, except University Media will be
> allowed in the Koger Center
> Headline - Carolina Productions presents an Evening with Ann Coulter,
> April 1st, "Lets hear the other side"
> Release Copy:
> *** Ann Coulter, author of the bestseller "Slander: Liberal Lies About
> the American Right" will be speaking at 8pm on Thursday, April 1, 2004
> at the University of South Carolina Koger Center.*
> *** Coulter will discuss her latest book, comment on the current
> administration, and will share her insights on politics today.* After
> her lecture, Ann Coulter will sign books in the lobby.*
> *** The event is free for USC students, faculty, and staff (one ticket
> per USC ID), tickets available at Russell House Information desk
> starting *March 15, 2004. General Public tickets are available at any
> Capital Ticket outlets for $20, starting March 22, 2004.
> For more information on Coulter's visit to USC, contact Carolina Productions at 803.777.7130 or visit
> Ishita Shah
> Ideas & Issues Commissioner
> Carolina Productions
> University of South Carolina
> Russell House 227
> Columbia, SC 29208
> (803) 777-7130

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Do we need a disclaimer?
Perhaps one of the most telling things of last week's defrocking by USAToday of former reporter Jack Kelley was the two-desk, single-column hed on the lower right: Several major stories/appear to be accurate.

(I claim no original thought here. John McIntyre of ACES first pointed it out.)

What a sad commentary. Maybe we need that disclaimer "some stories may be true" on all our papers and broadcasts. That's overreacting, you say. I agree. But do you think maybe the public sees it that way?

(Here's a link to one of the stories in the paid archive for a start if you want to go back and review -- as a public service to journalism, USAToday should get this out of the paid archives and post it free on its site. Here's a free link to a Mediamix column on the subject, though it will expire in a few days.)

A final thought from ACES
Been sitting here the past few days getting back in the swing and reflecting on how to summarize the ACES meeting. As usual, there was a cornucopia of good stuff. But if I had to pick what seemed to be a common theme, it is that a lot of questioning is going on about the "rules" we have lived with for years -- and that's good.

This is not to say that as copy editors we have suddenly become a loose bunch. Precision remains paramount. But it's precision of thought, of meaning, of context. It's not enough anymore to obsess about whether that comma belongs there or whether to change like to such as. We really can miss the forest if all we do is concentrate on the trees. And as Bill Walsh (of the Washington Post), John McIntyre (of the Baltimore Sun) and others keep noting, some of the "rules" aren't really "rules" at all, and some of the others, which are imposed by the necessary arbitrariness of style, not grammar, are due for a critical look with the knowledge that ours is a living, adapting language.

It can be scary; it takes us out of our comfort zone. But it is, after all, what we as copy editors are supposed to do best: precision questioning.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

ACES-Readers panel

So what does this headline say to you? Study: Chill out, guys

To most of those on a panel of young (teens and 20s) we-wish-you-were-readers this morning, here's what it said: It's a story about studying, and don't get so stressed out about it.
What the story really was about: That men who explode with anger risk strokes and heart attacks.

And there's the problem when we try to connect with those we wish would read. In our attempt to talk in their language, we talk right past them. We violate the first rule of copy editing -- do your darndest to make sure the message sent is the same as the one received.

These yearly readers' panels are one of the best features of the ACES conference. They continually remind us that some of the conventions and shibboleths we observe are barriers. Over the years, these panels keep telling us, for instance, that some things we consider poor breaks in headlines just don't register with readers. Here was one from this session that didn't bother them:
EU imposes trade
sanctions on U.S.
What did bother them is that they by and large had no clue what the story was about.

If I may liberally borrow from moderator Alex Cruden's summation of the session:

  • Don't go overboard trying to use young people's language. It's seen as corny.

  • They want to know right away what it is about -- only sometimes will they read into a story.

  • Just clever heads don't cut it. They want and need information.

  • They generally skip the labels and go right to the main hed.

  • They get the use of quote marks in context, if it is familiar to them (they know 'Passion' refers to the film).

  • They're willing to look at the front page, but it has to interest them right away.

As one of the panelists, a young man in his 20s, said: Be clever, but clear.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Drop Joe a line
Joe Marren is looking for feedback on the student publication at Buffalo State, the Bengal News Online. Take a look and drop him a line. There's a contact link on the page.

From the online editing sessions
A couple high points from the session with online editors (I've decided not to identify specifically who said what so as not to cast any particular operation in a false light):

  • Was dismayed to hear one person in the audience, who said his company ran Web sites for TV, relay that what his meager staff does is more "triage" than editing. As for the TV stations, his summary: "They don't care about the facts; they just want it up."

  • Interesting thought from one online editor who notes a difference in the way people who feel they have been wronged approach it when dealing with a Web vs. print story. In print, he says, people often would ask for a follow-up. But online, he gets people who say "change it now." Print publications with Web sites need to listen closely to this because the public clearly grasps that the Web has a greater capacity -- and therefore a greater responsibility -- to get it right, correct it quickly if it isn't right, and provide a clear path to such corrections. I've written before about how newspapers do poorly in using their online assets to promote credibility. Several of the panelists said their organizations were still debating whether to have an online corrections area. There should be no debate. The answer is yes.

  • Headlines on the Web need to be direct, clear and specific. None of this journalese. Mayor nixes arena contract becomes Mayor decides against $90 million contract for new sports arena.

  • Avoid puns in heds. Online readers don't want to be played with; they want to be led to what they need to know and be able to find it quickly without a decoder ring.

Finally, one panelist noted that he has noticed "the Web is changing the newspaper" when it comes to packaging, advancing stories and adopting a more conversational tone. This is a good thing.

From Houston ...
Corrected 3-20: It's Janice Castro, not Janet. Had one of those "oh crap" moments walking back to the hotel last night (every former reporter knows those cold-sweat moments) realizing that in the rush to free up a machine yesterday for others here I had made that big mistake. A building full of copy editors and I do that (slink away quietly ...). My apologies.
Biggest disappointment at the ACES conference so far: The relatively few copy editors -- only 15 to 20 -- who turned out for the online editing sessions. But it's an emerging area and the realization probably isn't there yet that this may well be one of the biggest issues news organization copy editors will have to deal with in the next few years.

Most encouraging moment so far: The packed room for the presentation by Deborah Gump, Susan Keith and Janice Castro on what research is telling us about copy editors, their jobs, how people read the paper and online, and the future. We need many more of these sessions that bridge from academia to the real world and the real problems of working professionals. It's obvious copy editors have the interest. Thanks Deb, Susan and Janice for a good session.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

ACES-Do blogs threaten our future?
Tom Mangan's session this morning was interesting. I've written here before about his basic thesis -- that if editors, especially copy editors, ignore blogs and other parts of cyberspace, we risk having our jobs marginalized -- so I won't belabor it (you also can check out his blog -- Prints the Chaff link in the sidebar). But there are a couple of interesting things to add, I think.

"If you are editing every day, I think you should be writing every day" and blogs give editors a way to do that. Good point, Tom. Copy editors especially need to know the travails of writing, and with more copy editors being hired with that specialty and not necessarily coming off reporting jobs, as Tom says we owe it to writers to stay abreast.

His second observation is that online editing will expand editing duties -- focusing on the micro issues of grammar and style will have to be balanced with a greater need for links and context. Tom calls it developing a "meta-narrative -- a running narrative of your main story." That's a lot of what we're trying to do with the storybuilder positions at Newsplex. Tom suggests it's like developing the writethru skill that wire-service editors have.

So, good presentation. Killer soundtrack. But about those notecards (grin)....

More from Houston later.

ACES begins
Hello from Houston where the American Copy Editors Society conference is under way. Low 80s and humid, and a lot of good stuff on tap.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

From the brevity file ...
"A growing number of ..."
How often do we read or hear that? But about half the time it's not needed.
A growing number of states are embracing the Medicaid changes. = More states are embracing ... (Or, if you want to emphasize the fluid nature, go ahead and use "more and more." It still saves a word.)

There can be a use for "a growing number": The program adds Tennessee to a growing number of states that are ..., for instance. (And vary it occasionally with more and more. Why always dip into the same bag of journalese?)

The video cell phones are coming ...
Check out this article on about how the BBC is using souped-up video cell phones to file from the scene quickly.
Just as at Newsplex we showed in February that it's possible to do a credible job of supplemental journalism using basic cell phone cameras and a mobile weblog publishing system (see SC Primary Moblog), the BBC is pushing the envelope on video.

American newsrooms and classrooms should pay attention. As Forbes notes, "While the concept is being pioneered in the U.K., it's one that is sure to soon land on U.S. shores and will undoubtedly affect the practice of journalism globally."

It's not healthy being U.S.-centric too much in our look at modern journalism. Because of technology and cultural factors, U.S. journalism is trailing in some important areas.

Why we do what we do
If you want reinforcement in why what we do as editors, especially copy editors, is important -- especially the next time someone asks what difference does it make if we use something incorrectly as long as it's understandable -- I commend to you Paula LaRocque's latest column in Quill: "Communicators should be careful to get it right: Our mistakes set the tone for how language is used." To briefly quote: "Being a proficient communicator means using with precision and grace the communicator's only tool -- the language. Excellence is always threatened by the illogical, inaccurate or banal." Here's the link to Quill. Unfortunately, as of this posting, the latest issue hasn't gone online.

Friday, March 12, 2004

Pay Attention to the AP's Curley

When the AP’s Tom Curley talks these days, it pays to listen, because if the AP can pull off what he hopes, it’s not going to be a question of if we do – or teach – multimedia journalism. It’s going to be how and when.

Curley, who last year moved from USAToday to become president and CEO of the world’s oldest and largest wire service, was here recently doing the dog-and-pony show for the South Carolina Press Association. As Curley briefly flashed on the screen a mock-up of the AP’s plan to deliver its wire as a multimedia product, I found myself instinctively turning to a colleague and saying, “if AP can pull this off, it changes everything.”

Curley no longer wants AP to be that boring line-by-line display on newsroom computer screens. Instead, he wants all the media elements – pictures, graphics, text and, if available, AP audio and video – in one place on the newsroom's computer screens. This might also incorporate AP’s “e-assign,” the initiative that will give AP members a peek into the wire service’s assignment plans each day, detailing what coverage plans are, who is assigned, what photos, graphics, etc. Curley says “e-assign” is set to roll out before the end of the year.

When the AP starts to display all the multimedia elements, it will put pressure on the industry to install content management systems. Some newsrooms already are well into into CMS. But, as has been the case with other “innovations” in the news industry, Rogers’ classic adoption curve is heavily elongated: There are some early adopters and a few in the early majority, but much of the industry historically has fallen into the late majority or laggards, sometimes kicking and screaming as they are dragged into modernity. Content management, which is important to truly converging news production and dissemination, is not exactly user friendly, either. Some of my formerly sane friends have struggled with installing content management systems – where every element on the page, on the Web site, of video, etc., gets its own tag and is stored in a database so that each element can be retrieved whenever needed for whatever medium. One of those friends is now wrestling the beast at a midsized Southern newspaper, with the joke being that he’s about two cases of Jack Daniels into the process with several more to go.

The AP is the behind-the-scenes, 800-pound gorilla when it comes to forcing the news industry into change. Blondheim details how the then New York Associated Press was “a dominant force in prodding the industry in the direction of integration, and ultimately of consolidation” and, in the process, had significant influence in shaping the nation’s telegraph network. Coopersmith shows how the AP pretty much single-handedly saved AT&T’s Picture Telegraph from extinction, and the resulting Wirephoto settled the debate about whether newspapers would run pictures. (Both good articles are in the fall 2000 “American Journalism.” Unfortunately, the American Journalism Historians Association Web site has only an index, not full text).

In a bit of serendipity, Columbia, the city from whence this blog originates and which houses Newsplex, the experimental newsroom put together by Ifra and the University of South Carolina, also was home to one of the first fully computerized newsrooms in the world – the AP bureau, which at that time was across from the Statehouse. Old-timers still talk about how executives from the New York Times and other chains traipsed through the bureau in the 1970s. It wasn’t too many years later that computers started becoming standard newsroom equipment.

And it’s well-known how AP forced the industry into digital photography in the 1990s. In its classic model, the wire service began by distributing the equipment – the “free” LeafDesk that brought sometimes derisive comments from those in the industry because of the server charges. Then, one day, AP “flipped the switch” and told newspapers that from then on, it was all-digital or nothing. Notice how long it took the industry to buy all those expensive digital cameras that many shops had been resisting?

So now the AP is talking about another major move forward. It already has a content management system, ENPS. The flagship customer was the BBC, rather well-regarded for its multimedia efforts. If – and I think it’s more likely when – the AP perfects its multimedia presentation system, the rules will change. If I were a journalism executive, I’d pay close attention. The AP may again be about to heavily influence my technology future. And if I were a journalism school director, I’d start looking for donation of a CMS – and, maybe, some Jack Daniels.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Virtually Wrong
Heard on NPR today about John Kerry: "... now that he's the Democrats' virtual candidate."
No wonder the Dems have trouble -- they can't get a real candidate, only a virtual one.
Do it correctly: ... now that he's virtually the Democrats' candidate. I'm not much for the word virtually anyhow. It's overused. But if we must use it, let's put it where it belongs and use the adverb, not the adjective.

AP for the classroom - finally?
Had a chance to chat briefly with the AP's new head honcho, Tom Curley, recently. Good news, perhaps, for cash-strapped college journalism programs. Curley says the AP has finally decided to provide a low-cost wire service feed for educational use. He didn't provide details on cost, etc., but the marginal cost to AP of providing a selected feed is so low that if the wire service is being honest about it, the cost to provide the feed to schools for educational use should be relatively marginal as well.

I take a little personal satisfaction in this -- for the better part of my last decade with the AP, I suggested at one time or another that the company needed to get its wire into classrooms as a marketing tool. AP has long suffered from declining commitment by its members to contributing the stories that the wire service's business model requires (you don't think it can afford to hire all the people that would be needed were those contributions to dry up, do you?).

Contributions might be up; I don't know. But I do know the man and woman hours put into pestering and otherwise trying to get those contributions was up significantly.

The AP suffers from two problems. First, the near extinction of radio news departments with deregulation and the closing of most afternoon newspapers. AP used to be able to rely on those PM papers for coverage of late-morning events, and those radio stations in every county seat, podunk as they might be, usually had a newsman or newswoman who could find the way around the courthouse, knew everyone, and could keep AP abreast of big developments, especially with ongoing trials. Without those two things, AP has to devote more resources just to getting the basic news. Some of that might be changing with more live filing by news outlets to the Internet (where AP can pick off stories earlier in the cycle, assuming they are filed before presstime), but the jury's still out on that.

Second, with the disappearance of the big black teletype machines, with their clatter and bells, "the wire" has become just another silent computer input to more than a generation of young journos. Every time the bell clattered on one of those old teletype boxes, it was the best marketing tool AP had as newroom folk rushed to see what was up.
At the same time, the basic wire was so expensive -- thousands of dollars a year -- that many schools dropped it. Bad move for AP, which needs more than ever to socialize young journos to the value of the news cooperative idea so that when they get out on desks, they think of the AP and possibly contribute.

So finally AP seems to understand. Good news, it seems, for schools (though we'll wait for the pricing and other details) and good news, I hope, for AP.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Sigh ...
Pardon my laggardness in posting. Went to a press association meeting late last week, got a touch of food poisoning and have been laid low since. But, hey, lost 11 pounds! I have some observations about AP and the coming push to multimedia that I'll post shortly.