The Editor's Desk

Thoughts on editing for print and digital media

Month: May, 2008

That’s entertainment

GraphJam is a fun site that consists of user-generated graphics that reflect song lyrics, movies and other elements of popular culture. Bar graphs, flow charts, Venn diagrams and the dreaded pie chart are all represented.

Anyone who has assigned, created or edited a graphic for a newspaper or magazine will likely get a laugh out of some of these. And you can make and submit your own.

Digital graffiti

Los Angeles has been tagged. The city is covered in graffiti: on vacant buildings, on street signs, on walls along the freeways, on park benches at bus stops — even on tree trunks.

Because graffiti is so much a part of L.A. life, it’s only natural that it comes up frequently in the news. In the past week, editors at the L.A. Times have had to deal with front-page stories that bear the mark of the graffiti artist.

In the first instance, graffiti was not the focus of a story; it was about red-light cameras. Yet the photo with the story included a graffiti-stained sign, prompting complaints from readers: Why would the LAT publish such an image? Wouldn’t doing so encourage others to commit the same crime? Could graffiti be scrubbed from such photos?

Jamie Gold, the paper’s reader representative, responded to their concerns. First, she made it clear that the newspaper cannot alter photographs by wiping them clean of graffiti. Second, graffiti is an inevitable feature of the street in Los Angeles. To reflect its existence is not to endorse it. Graffiti is difficult to avoid, and doing so in every photo assignment would be to deny reality.

In the second instance, the story was all about graffiti, particularly the practice of tagging. The story was about a man accused of being a “tagger” who was posting videos of himself leaving his mark on overpasses and and city buses. He did his work in broad daylight. The print story itself was a straight-ahead crime piece. Online, the L.A. Times site added a link to one of the videos of the tagger in action.

That’s where the AM copy desk, which edits stories for the Web site and posts for L.A. Times blogs, raised a question. The tagging video opened with a title slide that included profanity. Should the site warn readers that this video may not be safe work? Discussion led to the decision to put a warning about the strong language. The video itself would still be linked, and all agreed that it was an integral part of the story.

Graffiti is a fact of life in L.A. It isn’t going to disappear from the city’s streets — or from the coverage in its biggest newspaper.

Exclamations from L.A.

I’m nearly 10 days into my “internship” at the Los Angeles Times. So far, so good.

I’m splitting my time between the morning copy desk (editing blog posts, photo galleries and stories) and the Web site itself (moderating reader comments and putting together information for the site’s topics pages, among other duties). I’m already learning a lot about editing for the Web, and I am eager to take that knowledge and experience back to the classroom this fall.

I am also learning a lot about the history of the Los Angeles Times. That history greets visitors in its Globe Lobby, a stately room that, as the name indicates, has a huge globe in the center as well as artifacts, murals and photos. (Note: The globe labels the country in Southeast Asia as Myanmar, not Burma.)

Throughout the L.A. Times building, framed newspaper front pages line the walls, showing how the paper covered the big events of the past. They are mere decoration to most of the busy employees, but as a new person, I have found myself stopping and looking at these pages closely as I go from the newsroom to the cafeteria and back again.

One thing that pops out from these front pages is the paper’s use of exclamation marks in headlines from the 1940s through the 1960s, many in ALLCAPS. Here are some examples:

  • V-E DAY!
  • PEACE!

When it comes to displaying history, print is still the standard. A framed homepage from has not yet made it onto the main corridors of the L.A. Times. Perhaps that time will come sooner rather than later, as the paper is making a major push in that direction as the Web site takes center stage. Then, the interns of the future will stop and look at the famous homepages of the 21st century.

Interesting reading (Digital Edition)

  • David Sarno of the Los Angeles Times, on the difficulty of defining and measuring “views” of videos on sites such as YouTube.
  • Siobhain Butterworth of The Guardian newspaper, on the editing of digital archives.
  • Jock Lauterer of UNC-Chapel Hill, on a community newspaper’s efforts to add online content, including the deployment of the “Star Car.”

Appeasement in context

This loud exchange between Chris Matthews of MSNBC and a radio host from Southern California has been making noise on the Web. Matthews challenges the host to define “appeasement” and explain its historical context. He has no answer.

Sometimes this sort of thing can come off as a “gotcha” moment. (“Who is the leader of Uzbekistan? Why don’t you know that?”) But here, “appeasement” is crucial to the discussion regarding recent comments by President Bush and Barack Obama. Matthews was correct to press the point.

The “appeasement” discussion also presents an opportunity for newspapers to provide this context to readers. Why not include a textbox with stories about this news? Start with the dictionary definition, and then summarize what the word means in relation to Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler.

Highly stressful moments at High Times

Here’s an interesting quote from Mike Edison, a former publisher of High Times magazine:

I like things to be really sharp and real spot-on. A typo in High Times is much worse than a typo in The New York Times. At High Times, people will figure that you were stoned.

Who knew that editing at a magazine about marijuana could be so stressful? Read the whole interview with Edison here.

Wish you were here

This blog will likely be quiet for a while. I head out to Los Angeles this weekend and settle into my “internship” there next week.

Hillary Clinton on Burma/Myanmar

Deep into her speech in Indiana on Tuesday night, Hillary Clinton mentioned a country in Southeast Asia like so:

I would like to take a moment to express my deepest sympathies to the victims of the devastating cyclone in Burma. Our hearts and prayers go out to the people there. And I call upon the junta that has ruled Burma for so many years to please let the rest of the world in to help.

This segment of her speech was hardly mentioned in news reports, though James Fallows of The Atlantic made note of it. It’s interesting, however, to those of us who are aware of the ongoing Burma/Myanmar dilemma.

Related posts here and here.

UPDATE: Discussion of Burma vs. Myanmar at the ACES board.

Print media to the rescue!

A paperboy in Illinois is being credited with saving the life of a 92-year-old woman. He noticed that something was amiss while delivering the paper.

Is the paperboy a hero? Sure, and the print media can bask in his reflective glory.

I’m not sure my “paperboy,” a 40-year-old guy who tosses the paper on to my driveway while driving by at 15 mph, would have been as observant as this kid, however.

The last word from Denver

Since the most recent ACES conference came to a close, Andrew Knapp, a copy editor at Florida Today, has been posting nice recaps of sessions he attended while in Denver. He also served as a panelist.

Now he’s bundled those posts into this collection at his blog, The Offlede. He even put together a three-minute video summarizing his trip. Great work, Andrew!


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