The Editor's Desk

Thoughts on editing for print and digital media

Month: March, 2007

The eyes have it

Poynter Institute is nearly ready to release its latest EyeTrack study, and the findings will be presented at the ACES conference in Miami, among other places. This column at the Poynter site gives us a preview and includes a Q&A with noted designer Mario Garcia.

UPDATE: Here are some results from Poynter. And here’s some reaction.

Is this the best they can do?

Spammers need some editing help. Do they really expect us to believe their ploys when they write like this?

Because of unusual number of invalid login attempts on you account, we had to believe that, their might be some security problem on you account. So we have decided to put an extra verification process to ensure your identity and your account security. Please click the link bellow:


It is all about your security. Thank you. and visit the customer service section.

Check your headlines

A few headlines that need tweaking:
PUBLICATION: The Drudge Report.
PROBLEMS: Poor word choice. “Credit” isn’t the right pick here because it has positive connotations. The killing of Daniel Pearl wasn’t a good thing. And why is “confesses” in quotation marks?
SOLUTIONS: Change “credit” to “responsibility.” Delete quotation marks.
PUBLICATION: The Huffington Post.
PROBLEMS: Punctuation error; photo looks odd.
SOLUTION: His last name is Edwards, so put the apostrophe after the S. Check under “possessives” in the AP Stylebook. Also, ask the photo desk whether the image has been flopped, which would be a no-no.

PUBLICATION: The Charlotte Observer.
PROBLEM: Run-on headline.
SOLUTION: Put a comma after “down” — it’s necessary because the headline has two independent clauses.

Walking on sunshine

Ted Vaden, the public editor at The News & Observer, asks the same question I did this morning: Why does a story about access to public records have unidentified sources?

To its credit, the N&O has been doing some excellent work for Sunshine Week. Too bad its collection of stories on the topic requires registration, which seems ironic.

UPDATE: The Daily Tar Heel offers its take on Sunshine Week.

To the woodshed

This New York Times story on the firing of numerous U.S. attorneys includes e-mails from Bush administration officials. Here’s an excerpt:

“Has ODAG ever called Carol Lam and woodshedded her re immigration enforcement? Has anyone?”

ODAG is the Office of the Deputy Attorney General, and Lam is one of the ousted prosecutors. But what’s interesting here is the “woodshedded” reference. “Woodshed” can be a verb (as defined here, among other places), but I get the feeling that this e-mail was not talking about practicing a musical instrument.

The stories about the firing of the attorneys, by the way, are in need of context. Already we are reading and hearing the “everybody does it” rationale, but is that the case? Are the actions of the Bush administration different from others? If so, how? And how are U.S. attorneys selected, and what do they do? All of these questions would make for a great Q&A. Let’s hope that a wire desk puts one together.

UPDATE: A kind reader of this blog directed me to this Q&A from the Los Angeles Times.

Teaching tips

Tom Bowers, a former colleague at UNC-Chapel Hill who retired last year, has started a blog about teaching. It promises to be a valuable resource for those in the classroom now, either full time or on the side, and those considering it.

Sorry, wrong number

Here’s why it pays to doublecheck phone numbers, e-mail addresses, etc. It’s one of those things copy editors have done forever, but the practice is being pushed aside as editing is pushed aside in the rush to post to the Web.

Layer upon layer

Layering of information is important in display type, which includes headlines and cutlines. Each element can contribute to the storytelling and add facts before the reader gets to the text. This story package from The Daily Tar Heel doesn’t do that well.


The news is about an Iranian woman who has been in jail for overstaying her visa. She was freed Tuesday and reunited with her daughter. It’s a story that’s been in the news off and on for several months.


Readers who may not be familiar with this woman’s case are likely baffled about what this story is about. This problem is worsened by the fact that the story itself takes six paragraphs to get around to the reason for her detention. The display type never explains why she was in jail. This is a missed opportunity to refresh memories of those who have some recollection of the case and introduce it to newcomers.


Copy editors can fix these things. It’s why we are here, after all. With this story, the copy editor had three chances to pull this package together: in main headline, though that would be tough given its size and shape; in the drophead; and in the cutlines. The cutline under the main photo is probably the easiest place to include the “why” of this story.

Bono, the singing editor

U2 singer Bono is stepping into the editor’s role for an issue of Vanity Fair. His issue, which will hit newsstands in July, will focus on Africa. (The photo of him and Graydon Carter is worth clicking on the link.)

Bono proposes that the magazine change its name to Fair Vanity, and he argues that stories should be more like 45s: “I don’t want the reader to be weighed down.”

But what if the writers want to do double albums?

Launch and relaunch

  • A weekly newspaper for Carrboro, N.C., is one of several publications launching soon in the Triangle (also known as “Raleigh-Durham” to those outside North Carolina).
  • The Star-Bulletin in Honolulu launches a redesign that eliminates jumps from the front page.

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