The Editor's Desk

Thoughts on editing for print and digital media

Month: October, 2008

Interesting reading (election edition)

  • Mike Feinsilber of The Associated Press, on the cliches of the campaign.
  • Greg Sargent of Talking Points Memo, on the decline in the influence of The Drudge Report.
  • Jed Lewison of The Jed Report, on how The Onion foretold the rise of Joe the Plumber.

We like stylebooks and coffee — what else?

My friend and former colleague Joyce Garcia, now at the Chicago Tribune, points us to a blog called Stuff Journalists Like. It’s a sendup of Stuff White People Like, a blog that became a book.

Copy editors will identify with some of the items listed at Stuff Journalists Like, especially stylebooks and coffee. (Both could always be improved, of course.) And I’ve known some copy editors who seem to like dressing differently.

Here is some other stuff that copy editors like:

  • Stories that get to the desk at the budgeted length and before deadline
  • Reasonable headline counts
  • Reliable cutline information from photographers
  • Remembering the days of sizing wheels and pica poles
  • Free pizza

What else do copy editors like?

How copy is flowing differently at The New York Times

An interesting mention of the copy desk comes deep in a recent talk by Bill Keller, the executive editor of The New York Times. In a meeting with the staff, Keller explains changes in deadlines and story flow, based on the need to get more stories on the NYT site quickly:

Here’s one example, from Susan Edgerley’s copy flow committee, which aims to move early-breaking news and non-deadline enterprise through the system in a timelier fashion. Over the past several weeks, the committee has worked with Metro, shifting some copy editors to day shifts so that more stories get posted to the Web site earlier, vetted by the best copy editors in the business, and more pages get set earlier for the print paper.

Keller goes on to say that the effort will go to the foreign desk next. Read more, including comments from a New York Times slot editor, here.

Monitor to go weekly but stay newspaper-y

The venerable Christian Science Monitor has announced that it will scale back its print operations, going from five days a week to one. It will increase its Web presence and offer a daily “electronic” edition as a .pdf.

The newspaper apparently tested a glossy, magazine-like approach, but it didn’t go over well. Says the editor: “Our readers wanted something that felt a little more newspaper-y.”

Go here to see what the weekly edition will look like.

UPDATE: Rick Edmonds of The Poynter Institute tells us more about the Monitor’s plans and what they may mean for other newspapers.

Are you stumped by stump speeches?

Last week, students in my editing classes worked on a story about a Joe Biden appearance in Ohio. The assignment was based on an Associated Press story and included a reference to a “stump speech” by the senator.

About half of the 30-odd students who edited this story deleted “stump.” A few replaced it with “campaign.” Others eliminated the adjective altogether. One left a note in the InCopy file: “Not sure readers know what this is so I took it out.”

Dictionary.com defines a stump speech as “a political campaign speech, esp. one made on a campaign tour.” A sketchy Wikipedia entry offers the legend of how politicians once stood on tree stumps so those in the crowd around them could see better. (Some still do it that way.) Wikipedia also includes a useful link to a Washington Post analysis of how a stump speech by Barack Obama changed over time.

Are the students correct? Is “stump speech” political jargon used only by politicians and the writers and editors who report on them?

Interesting reading

  • Roy Peter Clark of The Poynter Institute, on finding a voice as a blogger.
  • Tim Johnson of Quill & Quire, on the delicate art of writing and editing of jacket copy on books.

Let’s be fair

Is it fair to poke some fun at a sign at a state fair? Perhaps not, but I couldn’t resist taking a picture of this one because it has a misspelled word (“avaliable”) that could be a new legal term as well as “unnecessary” quotation marks. (For more of the latter, try here.)

This one doesn’t have an error, but its blunt wording made me chuckle as I walked into this building to look at the swine, mules and goats.

Burning down the house — but not town hall

Readers see headlines and images, and then (we hope) read the text of the story. That’s why it is important for that combination of headline and photograph to make the correct impression.

That doesn’t happen here. The “steady pace” headline is at odds with the image of destruction. The story mentions that a house was burned down by firefighters to clear the site for the new town hall, but that’s pretty far to ask the reader to go to reconcile this unfortunate juxtaposition.

Solutions to this sort of problem include changing the headline or selecting a different photo. Another option is to write the cutline in a way that clearly connects the image to the story. In this case, perhaps revising the second sentence of the cutline to mention that this is the town hall site would help.

Here is another example. And here.

Farewell, Mr. Blackwell

Fashion critic Richard Blackwell has died at age 86. Known as Mr. Blackwell, he was best known for his lists of the worst-dressed celebrities.

Blackwell, presumably with help from his editors, was the master of the sartorial insult as well as the list format. His well-worded zingers included pop culture references, alliteration and internal rhyme. Here are a few examples:

  • Camilla Parker-Bowles: “The Duchess of Dowdy.”
  • Sharon Stone: “An over-the-hill Cruella DeVille.”
  • Lindsay Lohan: “From adorable to deplorable.”

Read more here.

The duck gets one right

With nonsense like this, “Mallard Fillmore” doesn’t get much right when it comes to how journalism works. But today I strongly agree with the duck’s take on excessive references to “Main Street and Wall Street.”

Take a look the strip here, and read commentary on it here.

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