The Editor's Desk

Thoughts on editing for print and digital media

Month: April, 2007

Comical effect

A metaphor or simile has to walk a fine line. One false step, and it can fall over the edge. This line from a restaurant critic was on the right track until it confused the comic strip “Family Circus” with the magazine Family Circle.

“Circle” and “circus” do sound similar and have common origins. Plus, “Family Circus” is typically told in a circular format. It’s an easy mistake to make. But once in print, the error stands out.


  • The liberal blog Talking Points Memo shows how The New York Post edits Associated Press copy.
  • CNN commentator Lou Dobbs doesn’t like how newspapers use the term “undocumented immigrants” rather than “illegal aliens.”
  • Chip Scanlan of the Poynter Institute has merged his blog and columns about writing — with a vow to post every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

The 40-Year-Old Intern

The move to online media was the big issue at the recent conference of the American Copy Editors Society, with an entire track of workshops dedicated to the topic. (Read all about it here.) As ACES leader Chris Wienandt pointed out in the conference’s program, the major concern 10 years ago was the switch to pagination — if only that could be our big problem now.

One of the ACES sessions brought editing professors into the same room with editors at news Web sites. Some of these Web editors were former newspaper copy editors; one was a former TV reporter. At least one was Web-only his entire career.

The lively discussion, moderated by Deborah Gump of the Committee of Concerned Journalists, touched on issues such as editing of wire copy (it’s not done much for the Web) and teaching software (it’s not all about Dreamweaver). Listening to this give and take, which at times was contentious but always courteous, I was struck that what we professors needed was some old-fashioned newsroom training. I’ve been out of newspapers for only two years, but I feel the need to return and learn more.

For 12 years, the American Society of Newspaper Editors ran a program that sent educators for a summer in the newsroom (usually print, but some online). There, they could brush up on their skills and learn some new ones to take back to the classroom. Unfortunately, the program ended in 2006, just when it seemed that we needed it the most.

Without ASNE to turn to, I am going to be my own agent. I want to work as a copy editor at a news Web site, continuous news desk or similar operation in the summer of 2008. (I’ve already got several projects lined up for this summer.) Like any intern, I will work late and work cheap. Just let me learn so I can better teach my students how to prepare for the changes ahead.

You can find my contact information here. References available upon request.

UPDATE: Poynter offers a good recap of the ACES conference.

Wiki kudos

As mentioned here, many of us on the editing side are wary of Wikipedia. Those concerns about accuracy stand.

It wouldn’t be fair of us, however, to ignore this article in The New York Times that discusses how Wikipedia is getting credit for the way its contributors have reported on the Virginia Tech shootings.

One of those contributors describes herself as “an obsessive copy editor and spellchecker.” Wikipedia could use more like her.


I am sad to report that Atlanta Journal-Constitution books editor Teresa Weaver is no longer in that role because of a newsroom restructing. (Read the reaction to the news here.) She’s a good editor who deserves better.

Many years ago, Teresa and I were on the copy desk together at the News & Record in Greensboro, N.C. Last year, I wrote a review of a Hal Crowther anthology for the AJC that Teresa edited.

Other news from the AJC here.

UPDATE: University presses and librarians are urged to act to save book reviews in newspapers.

Google dummy

It appears that Google News isn’t immune to the dreaded “dummy” headline. At least this one just names a font and doesn’t offend anyone. Here’s some discussion of ones that did offend.

More on how dumb things happen here.

Wish you were here

This blog will likely be quiet for the next several days as I head to Miami for the national conference of the American Copy Editors Society. If you can’t make it to the meeting this year, you can follow it at the conference blog.

Where the news is

Here’s an interesting paragraph from the story on the frightening news from Virginia Tech:

Madison Van Duyne said she and her classmates in a media writing class were on “lockdown” in their classrooms. They were huddled in the middle of the classroom, writing stories about the shootings and posting them online.

UPDATE: The Huffington Post recaps some of the new ways this story is being reported as it unfolds.

Good sports

Having worked on the sports copy desk now and then, I know and respect the effort that goes into putting together a solid sports section. As copy editors in sports are quick to point out to their colleagues on the news side, they are putting out “election night” sections every day. Increased deadline pressure and significant page remakes between editions are routine.

On Sports is a blog that I’ve just recently discovered (thanks to the NewsU blog), and it’s reminding me of the hard work of the sports copy desk. The blogger is Joe Gisondi, who teaches at Eastern Illinois University. A former copy editor for numerous newspapers in Florida, Gisondi has some great tips for those interested in writing, reporting and editing about sports. In this recent post, he asks whether it is accurate to say that a women’s basketball team played man-t0-man defense.

Duke case here and there

Different places have different stakes in news stories. The Duke lacrosse case is one of those — a university in North Carolina, accused players from elsewhere. Print and online media in those places try to gauge their coverage accordingly.

Here’s how two North Carolina papers presented the collapse of the case:

And here’s how two papers in the New York area presented it:

UPDATE: The News & Observer’s site offers a slide show of selected front pages on the case. The Philadelphia Daily News is especially interesting in the way it links Duke and Don Imus.


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