The Editor's Desk

Thoughts on editing for print and digital media

Month: December, 2007

‘War on Terror’ is over (If you want it)

Britain’s government is apparently dropping “war on terror” from its vocabulary. The Daily Mail reports that “Islamic terrorist” is also out. You can sample the reaction in these comments at BoingBoing.

As discussed in this post, “war on terror” has become so overused as to become meaningless. Here’s a resolution for the new year for writers and editors: When tempted to type this into a story or label a page with it, ask whether it’s accurate and informative. The answer is likely no.

Interesting reading

  • Michael Roehrman, copy desk chief at The Wichita Eagle, on the lingo of the desk.
  • Linton Weeks of The Washington Post on how some people take offense at “OMG” — as in “Oh my God.”

Southeast ACES to gather

The next meeting of the Southeast chapter of the American Copy Editors Society is set. Here are the details:

WHEN: Sunday, Jan. 27, from 1 to 5 p.m.

WHERE: The Herald in Rock Hill, S.C.


  • Moderating a Web site and what it means for copy editors.
  • Sports as news: When does a sports story need to move into the news section? Who should handle the copy editing? Is a knowledge of sports necessary to properly handle such a story?
  • Lost on the campaign trail: With so much copy being generated in this election cycle and too little space, how can a copy editor find the wheat among the chaff? What can the copy desk do to help give readers the information they need in forms they can easily digest?
  • What’s Your Beef: A chance for copy editors to talk about what worries them or makes them angry.

For more information, contact Holly Kerfoot at hkerfoot (at)

And if you haven’t visited the ACES site lately, check out its spiffy redesign. It will make a copy editor proud, as form follows function.

Bracket madness

The examples of unnecessary brackets in direct quotes keep coming. This one is especially noteworthy because it shows us how one quote can go in different directions.

Here’s the original quote from UNC basketball coach Roy Williams, promising to work his players hard after an ugly win against Nicholls State:

“They may be tired of me, but they’ll be a hell of a lot more tired of me after tomorrow.”

Here’s that quote in The News & Observer:

“They may be tired of me,” said an irritated Williams after his team allowed the Colonels to shoot 47.3 percent overall, and 50 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. “But they’ll be a [heck] of a lot more tired of me after tomorrow.”

Here it is in the Durham paper, The Herald-Sun:

“They may be tired of me, but they’ll be a hell of a lot more tired of me after [today].”

Thanks to brackets, N&O readers were spared the unpleasantness of seeing “hell” in print. Thanks to brackets, Herald-Sun readers were spared the trouble of figuring out what day it is.

My hunch is the readers could have dealt with these issues without the distracting doctoring of the Williams quote. If that hunch is wrong, a partial quote or paraphrase would have dodged those issues. After all, dodging is OK sometimes.

Coming soon to a computer screen near you

The kind and creative people at NewsU have added my course on alternative story forms to the site’s “coming soon” list.

That has been sending some traffic to this blog, and perhaps some of you are landing here for the first time and asking: “OK, pal. Where are the story forms?”

Please try this post for starters, and here for a collection of posts on this topic. Thanks for your interest, and I hope you enjoy the course when it’s released, which will probably happen in January.

Caught on tape

This headline from falls into a familiar trap — including words that can be read as either nouns or verbs. That ambiguity leads to reader confusion. The pileup of adjectives doesn’t help matters.

Here are two ways to interpret this:

  • CIA agents are recording questions that they expect will come up at a White House briefing.
  • Videotapes made and destroyed by the CIA are expected to be a topic at a White House briefing.

The second option is the meaning intended here, although it’s possible that the first is true as well. These days, who knows?

On a related note, the White House is unhappy with this New York Times story on the CIA tapes.

Remarks from Dana Perino, the White House press secretary, took a journalistic tack. She criticized the headline package as well as the use of anonymous sources.

A correction on this drophead is reportedly in the works.

UPDATE: Read the correction here.

Interesting reads

  • David Byrne of Talking Heads on his tour of The New York Times, including a stop at the afternoon news meeting.
  • Tim Shea, a copy editor at the Herald-Mail in western Maryland, on how his visit to The Poynter Institute made a real splash.

Googlepedia vs. Wikipedia

Google is entering the encyclopedia game with “knol,” which is short for “unit of knowledge.” Unlike Wikipedia, authors of each entry will be identified. Here is how Google explains its decision:

We believe that knowing who wrote what will significantly help users make better use of Web content.

In addition, readers can rate entries and comment on them. Fair enough. Knol, however, may still suffer from the accuracy problems that have plagued Wikipedia because Google won’t deploy editors to look over its content. Larry Sanger, editor-in-chief at the rival Citizendium, says that could lead to trouble:

Knol is apt to produce precisely the same sort of uneven content, with many of the same abuses, that Wikipedia has. Without actual editors, the same sort of problems about misleading and damaging information are apt to plague knol.

For more, check out:

[Eric] Clapton is God

Bracketing is back. Here’s a quote from the Associated Press story about the death of Ike Turner from the man himself:

You can go ask Snoop Dogg or Eminem, you can ask the Rolling Stones or [Eric] Clapton, or you can ask anybody — anybody, they all know my contribution to music.

For some reason, the AP feels the need to clarify which Clapton is mentioned here by inserting his first name into this direct quote. No, Turner wasn’t talking about Bruce Clapton, Ashley Clapton or any random Clapton on the planet. He was talking about Eric. Readers everywhere are saved from possible Clapton confusion. Whew!

As my colleague Bill Cloud asks: If it were Mozart, would you add [Wolfgang]?

Previous posts on this topic here.

Busted headlines on blogs

If newspapers decide that blog posts on their sites don’t need editing, what about the headlines on those posts? Who will write them, and who will check to make sure they accomplish what headlines are supposed to accomplish?

This example of a misspelling in a blog headline is especially unfortunate because the post after this one is from the newspaper’s expert on grammar. And yes, readers noticed, as evidenced by the first comment here.

Previous post on this topic here.


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