The Editor's Desk

Thoughts on editing for print and digital media

Month: July, 2006

Journalism and tourism

The hiatus is over, and it’s time to get back to blogging, among other things.

My family went to New York and Montreal for our summer vacation. One of the highlights of the trip was a visit inside The New York Times.

The bulk of this tour, of course, was walking around large rooms full of desks and computers, but it was fascinating to see the nerve center of one of the world’s most important newspapers. We visited the boardroom, which is lined with autographed photographs of the famous people who have visited through the decades. We strolled the halls decorated with the seemingly countless Pulitzers the paper has won. And we saw some familiar names on the schedules for the Metro copy desk.

Even my 6-year-old son was impressed. Thanks to Arlene Schneider and Don Hecker at the Times for making this such a memorable part of our trip.

Vacation, all I ever wanted

This blog is on hiatus. Please check in for new posts at the end of July. Thanks for reading.

Prayers for judgment continue

Here’s what a huge banner promises at a Crunch gym in Manhattan:


Some dictionaries note “judgement” as a variant spelling of “judgment.” The ruling here: “Judgment” is still preferred.

Wiki wars

Wikipedia, where everyone is a writer and editor, is ripe for mischief. Earlier today, an image from the original “Star Wars” was included under the listing for 2006 Israeli-Lebanon conflict, as noted at Wonkette. The cutline reads: “An IDF laser cannon fires into Southern Lebanon.”

The prank has since been edited out of the entry, allowing Wikipedia advocates to point to the online encyclopedia’s self-correcting abilitities. Other assertions, not as absurd but nonetheless faulty, slip by. Such errors, sometimes deliberate, appear frequently and often go uncorrected for extended periods, as NPR reported earlier this year.

As a source for fact-checking, Wikipedia is OK as a starting point, as many entries list primary sources at the end. But the site is inadequate as a “one-stop shop” for careful editors.

UPDATE: Stephen Colbert has a funny take on Wikipedia that’s available on YouTube.

Plagiarism sacks Duke QB

Duke University is without a starting quarterback for the upcoming season because Zack Asack has been suspended for plagiarism. A lot has been said lately about Duke’s balance of academics and athletics, but this is a heartening indication that the university takes such transgressions seriously.

Here are some interesting facts on plagiarism, a problem in the classroom and the newsroom.

Colbert cuts to the truthiness

Stephen Colbert has a funny take on the announcement that The New York Times is reducing its page size.

Location, location, location

Chimney Rock, a privately owned tourist attraction in the North Carolina mountains, is for sale for a cool $55 million. As the clever headline in The News & Observer says: “The price is steep, but you can’t top the view.”

The story, however, points us in the wrong direction:

Since 1902, the Morse family has owned the park in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Rutherford County, about 250 miles east of Raleigh.

The Web version of the story corrects the error.

Don’t be like mike

What is the better short form for “microphone” — “mike” or “mic”? The AP prefers the former, and that seems to be the consensus in a recent discussion at the American Copy Editors Society site.

I appreciate the arguments of the “mike” advocates. “Mic” seems more contemporary, however, and “mike” reminds me of old Hardy Boys books that refer to blue jeans as “dungarees.”

“Mic” would have been handy in this headline, which probably made some readers wonder: “Who’s Mike?”

The president talks some s—

The dreaded “comment picked up by a microphone” has struck again. This time, President Bush was overheard using some rough language in criticism of Hezbollah while he dined with British leader Tony Blair at a summit.

Here’s how the AP story used the direct quote:

“See the irony is that what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this s— and it’s over,” Bush told Blair as he chewed on a buttered roll.

It’s unusual to capture the president talking this way, and the choice of words reflects his frustration with the Mideast situation. The “shit” is part of the news, much more so than the buttered roll. It will be interesting to see which, if any, newspapers publish his comment as is.

UPDATE: Here’s how a few papers and wire services handled this:

  • “Munching on a roll, Bush told Blair, ‘What they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this [expletive] and it’s over.” — McClatchy Newspapers, as published in The News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.
  • “Using a vulgarity, Mr. Bush said at one point that Syria should get Hezbollah to stop its attacks on Israel, describing American policy in the kind of unfettered language that he acknowledged only weeks ago sometimes gets him in trouble when he uses it publicly.” — The New York Times
  • “His solution to the Middle East crisis was that Syria should press Hizbollah to ‘stop doing this shit,’ ” — Reuters, as published on the Washington Post’s site

USA Today has a story on the decision on what to run.

Sneaking over the wall

Newspapers go to great pains to tell readers about the barrier between the news and editorial sides. Readers don’t want to believe that the two departments exist on separate planes, however.

The recent stories about the U.S. government’s use of financial records in terrorism investigations have brought us back to the issue of news vs. editorial. The New York Times editorial defending the publication of the story took careful note of the fact that the editorial board was not part of the decision to publish the story. The Wall Street Journal followed suit, although there’s some indication that the news side isn’t happy with the way the editorial side handled the situation.

In my experience, news and editorial are discrete operations. In nearly five years leading the wire desk at The News & Observer in Raleigh, I exchanged pleasantries with members of the editorial board, and once in a while, I had to ask them whether they were planning to run “Doonesbury” when the strip was in the news for some reason. That was the extent of our contact.

But the separation isn’t absolute. I recall a time at the News & Record in Greensboro when the news copy desk breached the barrier. It happened when someone on the desk noticed this headline on an op-ed piece as the first edition of the paper rolled off the press: “A black priest pulls out.”

The headline produced snickers, and the copy editor who normally handled the editorial pages was gone for the day and couldn’t be found. So the news side went into the computer system, found the column, rewrote the headline and resent the page for later editions.

Our decision to sneak over the wall was worth saving the paper from the embarrassing double entendre.


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