The Editor's Desk

Thoughts on editing for print and digital media

Month: March, 2007

Is Cartman a newsman?

The Drudge Report routinely posts raw numbers like this for the cable news shows. One can make the usual arguments that audience share and demographics give a better picture than simple totals. What is notable here, however, is the inclusion of “South Park” in the list.

I appreciate the topical nature of “South Park” — especially its take on Scientology and its spoof of “World of Warcraft.” But I wouldn’t call it a news show. Why would Drudge?

This and more Drudge absurdity here.

For hire: youthful, dazzling ombudsmen

There’s a lot of talk about media ombudsmen this week. Apparently, they’re old and boring.

The chatter comes as George Solomon, the ombudsman at ESPN, signs off, and The New York Times looks for a successor to Byron Calame.

A matter of that

This headline from The Huffington Post is confusing, especially to those of us who have worked in the newsroom and seen “newspaper politics” in action. (Newsrooms are offices, after all, which is probably why many journalists like to watch “The Office.”) What this headline needs is a “that” in the right place:

FBI Agent Told To Keep Quiet
After Telling Newspaper That Politics

Were Involved In Firings

Sometimes “that” isn’t necessary — after “said,” for example. But it’s helpful and necessary in other situations.

Capital offenses

AP style doesn’t favor capitalization. When in doubt, lowercase a word, no matter how “important” it may seem.

Sometimes, of course, we should capitalize words — sometimes within a word. Proper names are among words we must capitalize. That seems obvious, but sometimes we go low when we shouldn’t. Here are two examples where we needed to go uppercase:

The Microsoft product is PowerPoint. Sure, making the second “p” uppercase is a marketing gimmick, but that’s what Bill Gates’ minions decided to call it. If we are going to use it in big type, let’s get it right.

This paragraph from an AP story isn’t the first time* a political figure has referred to the planet-destroying weapon from “Star Wars.” But that weapon has a proper name: the Death Star. “Jedi” should also be uppercase, but I will stop there at the expense of exposing my “Star Wars” geekiness.

* During the 2000 campaign, John McCain compared himself to Luke Skywalker fighting his way out of the Death Star.

The cliche defense

I’m not sure which is more odd about this interview with former House member Tom DeLay — that DeLay doesn’t seem to know the content of his own book or that he doesn’t know that cliches are to be avoided. Either way, his editor should have done a better job helping him with the book and preparing for questions about some of its phrasing.

Before and after

Headline at the Politico Web site before the news conference by John and Elizabeth Edwards:

Edwards to Suspend Campaign

Headline at after the Edwards’ news conference:

Edwards: ‘Campaign goes on’ despite wife’s cancer

The upshot: Sometimes it’s better not to rely on an anonymous source, as Politico did. And don’t link to a lone story with a lone anonymous source as Drudge did. Just wait for the news to happen. At least Wonkette has the courage and humor to admit that it didn’t know what was going on.

UPDATE: Politico’s blogger apologizes.

Alternative opinions

The Arizona Republic has changed its Monday editions to make it more fast and friendly. The new version includes more alternative story forms.

The comments here reflect that this sort of thing is still in the experimental stages. Some of it works; some of it doesn’t. But I do like this gamble on the editorial page. Unlike the dull pontificating in most newspapers, the Republic offers its views as a list. This is much more engaging than what I see in my daily paper, The News & Observer.

This and previous posts on alternative story forms are available here.

If it’s Saturday, where is everybody?

You’ve probably heard about the recent buyouts at the Star Tribune. As this story says, the move affects writers and people “behind the scenes” such as copy editors. Now get the inside story here. A key quote from a reporter:

There’s been some scrambling to fill slots for copy editing and designing on the weekend. They’re just discovering someone’s not going to be there.

Speaking of the Minneapolis paper, its public editor has an interesting column on the editing and trimming of wire stories — and the conspiracy theories posited by readers.

NYT copy editor takes your questions

Merrill Perlman, director of copy desks at The New York Times whom some of you may know from ACES, gets a turn to answer reader questions as part of the Talk to the Newsroom series.

She’s already been confronted with a cranky query about the lack of serial commas in the Times. An anonymous source tells me that Merrill would rather not discuss grammar and punctuation all the time, so send her questions about other things.

UPDATE: Be sure to check out this Q&A. Merrill does a great job discussing fact checking and style issues. She also talks about editing and the Web. I was heartened to read that the Times is recognizing the role of copy editing — a big issue as we all head toward online.

Fighting words

Can we all agree to end the use of “basket-brawl”? Has anyone really used that word in everyday conversation? It still pops up routinely in the sports media.

If you insist on using “basket-brawl,” then I get to write this:

Cagers in fracas in Big Apple as key tilt goes awry


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