The Editor's Desk

Thoughts on editing for print and digital media

Month: February, 2007

Misc. for this week

Some links of note:

  • An editor regrets introducing the term “slow bleed” to describe the Democratic strategy on Iraq.
  • Pam Nelson, a copy editor at The News & Observer, is posting some fun quizzes that will test your knowledge of word choice and grammar.
  • Headsup: The Blog wonders whether Strom Thurmond really was as old as Fox News thinks he was.
  • Editors at the AP ban coverage of Paris Hilton. Can they add Britney Spears?

Reversal of fortune

The business school at UNC-Chapel Hill is displeased with a magazine’s rankings. The Kenan-Flagler Business School, which usually places well in such lists, isn’t among “50 Best Business Schools for Getting Hired” as listed by

The university has good reason to be upset, as Fortune’s list seems to have mingled data from UNC-CH with that of its rival, N.C. State University. The NCSU School of Management placed 25th. Here’s what the consulting company that helped Fortune put the list together says:

We pride ourselves on our content and are looking into possible inaccuracies that have recently been brought to our attention.

Perhaps this is a lesson about putting too much time, faith and energy into these rankings of colleges, places to live, etc. If magazines and newspapers insist on researching and reporting such lists or writing about those created by others, they should carefully examine the methods and disclose possible shortcomings to readers.

Naming rights and wrongs

You can say this about The Drudge Report: It’s consistent. Once again, Drudge offers a collection of links to reviews of a big (and boring) event. Once again, he uses last names of the TV critics in the headlines — except for Alessandra Stanley of The New York Times. She’s listed by her first name. (More on first names in headlines here.)

I stand by my previous post: Real consistency would be to use the last name of each critic.

The facts and Wikipedia

You may have already heard about Middlebury College’s new policy restricting use of Wikipedia as a source for student papers, but this New York Times story is worth a read because it goes deeper than previous reports.

My academic department, probably like most, has its share of Wikipedia champions and Wikipedia detractors. I’m in the middle, at least for now. I use the site on occasion, but with an increasingly skeptical eye.

In class, I tell my editing students that when checking facts, Wikipedia is OK as a starting point in a search, but it must not be the last stop. (The list of original sources at the end of an entry can be a good trailhead.) But as I see more errors — not just factual, but also grammatical — on Wikipedia, I wonder whether I should follow Middlebury’s lead and forbid any use of the site in the classroom.

Welcome to the machine

A professor at Kansas State has created this intriguing video that looks at text in our time. The key question: Who will organize all of this data? (Tip of the hat to Ryan Thornburg at the U.S. News & World Report site for pointing it out.)

For more video fun, check out this recent post at Common Sense Journalism.

Calling all collaborators

A good conversation is under way at Visual Editors: Who does the best alternative story forms?

It started as which designer does them best, but this comment broadened the discussion appropriately:

How can alternative story formats be attributed to an individual designer? I don’t know how it works anywhere else, but ANY alternative story format I’ve ever tried was born from the efforts of editors and reporters, not exclusively me, or even me at all!

Indeed, collaboration is essential for an ASF to succeed. This is where the word people and the visual people need to work together. It helps, of course, to be both a word person and a visual person.

This week’s misc.

  • Ted Vaden, public editor at The News & Observer, discusses the use of racial identification in news stories. Vaden appropriately touches on the themes of relevance and utility in making those decisions. Not everyone, however, is convinced, considering that someone compared Vaden to Stalin in the first comment.
  • C. Michael Curtis, editor of fiction and letters to the editor at The Atlantic, discusses editing, writing and teaching in this interview.

The Google factor

Look at the mug shot that goes with this collection of links on Google News. (Click on the image for a better view.) Google seems to be taking a cue from Bill O’Reilly, the Fox News host who likes to refer to Al Franken as Stuart Smalley. The image is Franken in character as Smalley, not as himself. In addition, the top link is an op-ed piece, not a news story.

Has Google News fallen into the spin zone?

More on mugs here and here.

Pay attention to graphics headlines

Many charts and maps have headlines, and sometimes they are misleading. Perhaps this is because sometimes graphics artists are writing them without seeing the stories they accompany.

Perhaps that’s the case here. This graphic goes with a New York Times story about how some radio stations are experimenting with video. (Think Howard Stern on E! back in the day and Don Imus on MSNBC.)

Despite the headline on the graphic, the story doesn’t indicate that radio listenership is down because people have shorter attention spans nowadays. It’s entirely possible that attention is simply being paid elsewhere. Headlines on graphics shoudn’t come to conclusions that are not backed up with facts within the stories they are paired with.

It’s up the copy desk to reconcile those contradictions.


My favorite part of the sports section is the agate page, and I love the “Misc.” category. Although I cannot claim to compete with fascinating items such as the hiring of an assistant volleyball coach at Valdosta State, I offer these miscellaneous items:

  • A recap of the recent meeting of the Southeast chapter of ACES.
  • The quiet launch of EditTrain, the online companion to the Institute for Midcareer Copy Editors, which is taking a break this summer.
  • The hijacking of a blog post at The News & Observer — does everything have to be about the Duke lacrosse case?

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