The Editor's Desk

Thoughts on editing for print and digital media

Month: January, 2007

Democratic adjectives

The Democrat/Democratic debate rolls on this week, thanks to President Bush’s use of “Democrat” as an adjective during the State of the Union. “I congratulate the Democrat majority,” he said, even though the prepared text said “Democratic” majority. In an interview with NPR this week, the president said the usage was an “oversight.”

The Democrat(ic) leadership seems to accept that explanation, but some liberal blogs are not. One even faults The Washington Post for not digging deeper in its story on the issue.

So what’s all the fuss about? An article in The New Yorker offers some background about it all and mentions a copy editor’s efforts to put the “ic” back in.

UPDATE: Bush makes light of the situation as seen in this YouTube clip.

D.C. legends

Beware of anyone or anything described as “legendary.” It is not a synonym for “famous” or “well-known.” You have to be special to be a legend.

The Associated Press breaks this rule in a story about the Scooter Libby trial:

Martin had succeeded legendary Republican operative Mary Matalin as Cheney’s political and public affairs assistant.

Matalin is certainly one of the better-known political consultants, but is she a legend?

An attractive headline


Here’s one positive side to the rush toward online news at the expense of print: Copy editors won’t have to write so many one-column headlines. Those narrow widths are hard to work with, and it always seems that complicated stories go in those spots on the page.

This headline hits the mark. It’s clear, lively and active. It has a play on words, but that element is subtle enough to avoid the groans that puns can elicit. It breaks cleanly from line to line. The drophead widens the thought of the main headline.

Fine work!

Drone on

The San Francisco Chronicle is posting voicemails from readers in podcast form. Check out this example from a caller who is angry about the way the paper describes drone aircraft. He wants to know why the “sub-editors” aren’t doing a better job.

I would get such calls in my days on the wire desk at The News & Observer. Story play was more often a topic than word choices, but some conversations included both. Some common subjects and themes:

  • the Mideast and how the N&O was favoring Israel or how it was favoring the Palestinians;
  • Iraq and how the N&O was cheerleading the war or how it was covering up the real progress there;
  • anything to do with John Kerry or Bill Clinton.

I was always happy to talk with a reader, but not be talked at. Some brought up legitimate issues; others didn’t. I also got the idea that some of these callers weren’t so much angry as lonely. And they knew someone would always pick up the phone in the newsroom.

UPDATE: Some wonder whether the Chronicle call was legitimate. Is there a “Simpsons” connection?

Editing ‘Relentlessly Local’ copy

This semester, students in my Advanced Editing class are the copy editors for writers in another course at UNC, Community Journalism. Together, these students are producing the Carrboro Commons, a “relentlessly local” online newspaper focusing on Carrboro, N.C.

The first results of this partnership went on the Web this week. The Commons is still a work in progress, and we have some technical issues to work on. (Going from Word to InCopy to WordPress isn’t as simple as you would think.) For the next issue, we plan to add a companion “print” edition — InDesign layouts that can be downloaded in .pdf.

Swatch or swath?

The word “swatch” in this lead brings to my mind the image of a fabric sample, not a place. My dictionary seems to agree, but it does note this second definition: “A patch or area of a material or surface.” Does this place fit that meaning?

I like “swath” here instead of “swatch.” My dictionary defines that as “a broad strip or area of something.”

Either way, “swatch” is one to watch.

Perils of the preprint

Parade magazine revealed its preprinted nature this week. In the Jan. 21 issue, an article on Drew Barrymore mentions “long-term boyfriend” Fabrizio Moretti, the drummer for the Strokes. Their relationship is cited as evidence of Barrymore’s turn toward career stability and personal maturity.

Alas, Barrymore and Moretti have broken up, as reported Jan. 10 in Spin magazine, among other places. Such mistakes happen when real life overtakes deadlines of magazines that are printed far in advance. But why didn’t Parade’s editors ask Marilyn Vos Savant (the so-called smartest person in the world) whether this relationship would last?

A copy editor’s parting shot

A Philadelphia Inquirer copy editor says goodbye to the paper he loves — and has some harsh words for its publisher. Here’s the gist:

It is my greatest hope that The Inquirer will continue to be a great
newspaper. But I fear that now the reporting staff will be too small. Who knows what stories we won’t have the time, space or staff to uncover? I fear the copy desk, which lost more than one out of four editors, will be too harried to do its job. And I fear for an institution beaten down by misguided ownership.

Simply red

A student in my editing class asks a good question: Is this human blood in this front-page photo, or is it fuel or fluid from the car? The cutline is unclear.

Far from left

This photo and cutline that you see here are just as they are at The Washington Post’s site. They appeared with Howard Kurtz’s column about the feud between Bill O’Reilly and MSNBC.

It’s unclear why the cutline refers to four people when the photo clearly has only one person. It’s amusing, however, how the directional clues in the cutline refer to O’Reilly as “far left” — is this part of the liberal conspiracy against the Fox News commentator or just a silly mistake? And why does Joe Scarborough, the one person in the photo, look so stylized here? This looks like a photo of the Madame Tussauds rendering of Scarborough.

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