The Editor's Desk

Thoughts on editing for print and digital media

Month: September, 2007

A fumble online

Sure, anytime LSU plays in the Louisiana Superdome, Tiger fans will show up. LSU has fans statewide, and the drive from the Baton Rouge campus to New Orleans takes about an hour. But for this game, the dome is the home of Tulane, despite what the Web site of Sports Illustrated says here.

The Bayou Bengals took over in the second half and won the game, 34-9. The Green Wave will claim a moral victory, however.

Interesting reads

  • Roy Peter Clark of The Poynter Institute on his crusade against “crusade.”
  • Carl Sessions Stepp of American Journalism Review on the big changes in the newsroom, including what this transformation means for editing and wire news.

Quoting the president in style

It’s not often that the Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar gets a mention on the front pages of U.S. newspapers, especially those regional papers that increasingly focus on local news.

But the protests in Myanmar percolated from the back pages to 1A in The News & Observer today. The centerpiece package includes this promo to a related story inside. Look closely, and you will see that President Bush’s quote has been altered. An editor has placed “Myanmar” in place of “Burma,” the country’s former name.

Certainly, some readers may know “Burma” better than “Myanmar.” Stories should reflect that the country’s name has changed and that some people continue to resist that change. A Wikipedia entry is dedicated to the naming controversy. The AP Stylebook, however, recommends “Myanmar.” As posted here, I had to deal with the Burma/Myanmar question before the AP got around to it.

Here’s the problem with inserting brackets into this direct quote: Bush almost certainly used “Burma” for a reason. He is using the word that opponents of the government prefer, and by saying “Burma” before an audience at the United Nations, he’s making his allegiance clear. To splice in “Myanmar” alters the meaning of what Bush said in significant way.

Editors should not impose AP style on direct quotes in a manner that warps meaning, even in the interest providing clarity to the reader. Keep the quote as is, pick another one or paraphrase it.

Coach vs. columnist

The football coach at Oklahoma State is unhappy with a column in The Oklahoman, saying it was full of fact errors. He also described the unidentified editor of the column as “garbage.” The columnist and others are fighting back, calling the coach’s tirade inappropriate.

Judge for yourself by reading the column and then watching a clip of the coach’s news conference. Finally, read the columnist’s response.

Bush becomes Saddam?

Canadian news magazine Maclean’s has this striking image and headline on the cover of the latest issue. It seems certain to be fodder for cable TV news and talk radio here in the United States.

The Senate took time to officially condemn the for the Petraeus/Betray Us headline on a full-page ad. Will Congress now consider a declaration of war over this cover?

When in doubt, why not blame Canada?

UPDATE: Here’s the story behind the cover along with some reaction to it.

Newspapers as animal art

A sculptor uses copies of The New York Times to make eye-catching (and somewhat spooky) artwork. The city’s streets serve as the gallery.

Related post here.

Alternative traffic

Returning from the rewarding EyeTrack seminar at Poynter, I find myself again contemplating what works and what doesn’t when it comes to alternative story forms — and just what is an alternative story form.

Here’s an example from The News & Observer’s front page. (To get a better view, click on the image.) Most journalists would agree that this “traffic misery” story is being told in an alternative format. Let’s assess:


— It’s a great idea to tell this “report” story as an ASF. The news matches the form.

— The main image is strong and manages to catch the eye even though we have seen this type of photograph before.

— The presentation is effective; the story is easy to follow and understand. The placement and “square footage” on the page indicate that the N&O thinks this story is worth spending some time with.


— I found myself looking for a graf or two of intro text to tell me what I am looking at and why it’s a front-page story. Headline text alone can’t do this.

— I asked myself: “OK. Says who?” A “methodology” textbox on the Texas Transportation Institute and its authority on traffic in North Carolina would be handy.

— The smaller, “iconic” images are OK, but the dollars coming out of the gas container are a little over the top.

— The numbers need more context in some cases. Is “commuter time in congestion” a measurement by year, by month or by week? This is often a hazard of the “big numbers” approach — the numbers become mere numbers detached from their reality.

CONCLUSION: This is a good effort that could have been better with another round of polish and editing. The idea is ahead of the execution. Despite its faults, this is more engaging than 28 inches of gray, number-encumbered text under a headline that says “Report: Local traffic snarls worsen.”

Related post here.

Wish you were here

This blog will likely be quiet for the next several days. I will be at The Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla., for a workshop on putting its EyeTrack research into action.

Go fish

Barry Saunders, a columnist for The News & Observer, is being accused of anti-Catholic bias. At issue is a sentence in a piece about the Duke lacrosse case. Here’s what Saunders said about the three players who were falsely accused of rape and are now apparently seeking a lot of money for their trouble:

How about a compromise figure? Instead of $30 million, how about a fish sandwich, a Yoo-hoo and a one-way Greyhound bus ticket?

The reference to a fish sandwich and the fact that two of the three players are Catholic has set off an angry reaction from the lacrosse crowd. Here’s an example:

Does the News & Observer endorse anti-Catholic remarks? “Fish sandwiches” sounds an awful lot like “fish eaters”!

Linda Williams, an assistant managing editor at the paper, says it’s a cultural misunderstanding. Perhaps, but selecting a main course without religious connotations may have avoided the whole issue and kept the focus on Saunders’ message.

UPDATE: Here’s what one of my colleagues, a Catholic from Wisconsin, told me after I mentioned the column to her:

I am absolutely positively sure that I never ever ever would have read the reference to a fish sandwich as anti-Catholic (macaroni and cheese, maybe; fish sandwich, never). Seems to me that some folks have way too little to think about and do.

The more I think about this, the more I think the outrage is a convenient contrivance, picked up and spread by those who are still miffed at the media coverage of the lacrosse case.

Interesting reads

  • Sara Quinn of The Poynter Institute tells us what EyeTrack research has found about alternative story forms.

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