The Editor's Desk

Thoughts on editing for print and digital media

Month: October, 2008

Redesign reactions

Anytime a newspaper goes through a redesign, some people are going to hate it, and they will be vocal. And the complaints are almost always the same.

Having just gone through such a revamp with this blog, I offer this list of the top 10 complaints about a newspaper redesign.

10. It looks like USA Today.

9. Why isn’t international news on the front page anymore?

8. The type is too small. I can’t read the stories.

7. The photos are too big. There’s less space for news.

6. Dumbing down the newspaper will not attract younger readers.

5. The weather map looks like the one in USA Today.

4. A redesign has never been shown to increase newspaper revenue. Never!

3. The colors are ugly and distracting.

2. I can’t find the Jumble.

1. Why are you turning into USA Today?

UPDATE: Thanks to links at Romenesko and elsewhere, this post is getting lots of traffic. It’s also being perceived in some quarters as a critique of the redesign at the Los Angeles Times. It isn’t about the LAT — it’s about typical reaction from readers to a typical newspaper redesign.

Thanks for reading.

Interesting reading

  • Chris O’Brien of The Next Newsroom Project, on the 10 things you can do right now to change your newsroom.

On the move

This is the new home for The Editor’s Desk. I’m still unpacking, so please pardon the unfinished feel and the occasional moving around of furniture.

Thanks for your patience during the move.

In search of Christopher Columbus

Columbus Day is confusing. What’s open? What’s closed?

Back in the day, newspapers ran textboxes (usually in a grid format) that listed holiday closings for banks, post offices, courts, libraries and schools. Information about garbage pickup was usually included too.

Copy editors and page designers lucky enough to work for newspapers with zoned editions had to deal with “closings boxes” tailored to specific readers in different circulation areas. This made sense for those readers, but they were often a headache for the copy desk. The problem was the size of the box changed from edition to edition, requiring changes to the overall layout of a page — the one for Rockingham County may be a lot smaller than the one for Guilford County, for example.

Readers still want this information, and nowadays many are looking online. The Hot Trends list at Google has these search terms among the top 100 on this Columbus Day:

  • columbus day 2008 calendar
  • is there mail on columbus day
  • columbus day bank holiday
  • us postal service holidays
  • is the post office open on columbus day

So, readers are looking for this information. Are they finding it easily? Not at prominent North Carolina news sites. Searches at WRAL.com and the Greensboro paper’s site were fruitless. The News & Observer’s site has this brief tucked away. A search at the Charlotte Observer’s site turned up this list.

None of these sites had Columbus Day information on its homepage. Was that the right call?

UPDATE: This post is attracting some readers looking for that elusive Columbus Day information. I’m sorry I cannot provide that, but be sure to let your local media know as they plan for the Veterans Day closings.

Carry on, newspaper carriers

Today is International Newspaper Carrier Day. A story from a West Virginia paper explains what it’s all about. And yes, some kids (like this one) still do this demanding work.

Related post here.

What it’s like to be an intern at The Washington Post

The Washington Post wants interns for summer 2009. If you are wondering about that experience, check out this Q&A with two former interns who are now full-time journalists there.

One is Caroline Hauser, a Post copy editor who earned her master’s degree here at UNC-Chapel Hill a few years ago. She has some great advice for students applying for internships at the Post and elsewhere.

Copy editors as moderators

Tom Brokaw has an accomplished career as a broadcaster. But if his performance as moderator in the “town hall” debate between John McCain and Barack Obama is any indication, Brokaw wouldn’t have made for a very good editor. Here’s why:

NEWS JUDGMENT: Brokaw got to pick the questions, which were submitted by the “town hall” audience and from others online. His task was to find the “front page” questions, focusing on the important news of the day while offering a range of topics. He got things going well enough on the economy, but he failed to pose questions about issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage and immigration. Instead he asked foreign policy questions on Iraq and Pakistan that were nearly identical to questions from the previous debate, hosted by Jim Lehrer. Those repeated questions drew the same responses from the candidates, making this segment of the “town hall” redundant. Brokaw is like the editor who doesn’t read his own paper and ends up running the same story on successive days.

LENGTH: Brokaw failed to rein in long answers. He occasionally chided Obama and McCain for exceeding the time limits — but only after letting them go on and on. Brokaw is like the assignment editor who talks tough about story length but then allows his reporters to write long, letting the copy desk and designers deal with the consequences.

WORD CHOICE: Brokaw picked an oddly worded question to wrap up the debate. “What don’t you know, and how will you learn it?” Both candidates were understandably stumped, with McCain’s response echoing Donald Rumsfeld’s famous “known unknowns” remark from a few years ago. Brokaw is like the feeble editor who chooses cuteness over substance when unsure how to end a story.

These problems would have been less likely to pop up under the watch of an assertive editor. Perhaps it’s time for a copy editor to moderate one of these debates. Candidates would have to speak within the time alloted — or else. Questions would reflect the interest of the voters and complement questions from previous debates. More information would be packed into the 90-minute “news hole” of the debate.

I nominate John McIntyre of You Don’t Say. His measured tone and bow tie make him a natural for the role. Plus, he’s good on camera.

UPDATE: In comments to this post, Mr. McIntyre has politely declined the nomination. We’ll open it up to suggestions.

Interesting reading (alternative media edition)

  • Fiona Morgan of The Independent Weekly, on why readers should not give up on The News & Observer and (presumably) other newspapers dedicated to investigative journalism.
  • J. Patrick Best of The Sunday Paper, on the bankruptcy filing of Creative Loafing and the outlook for alternative weeklies.
  • Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo, on the site’s evolution and how “balance” trumps “accuracy” in newspaper headlines.

For whomever likes Dwight Schrute

If you were among those miffed that the Biden-Palin debate pre-empted “The Office” last night, here’s something for you: the Scranton branch of Dunder-Mifflin discussing “whoever” vs. “whomever.”

Speaking of “The Office,” if you have ever wondered whether a copy desk is similar to a paper company, this video indicates that yes, it is. (Thanks for the link, Katie Schwing!)

ASFs in AJR

It’s nice to see alternative story forms (or “charticles,” if you must) getting some detailed attention in the latest American Journalism Review. This story provides a decent look at what newspapers are doing in this area, and it identifies pros and cons of alternative approaches.

I wish the story, however, had made more mention of the importance of collaboration in making ASFs work well. That’s a theme that runs throughout my NewsU course on the topic. It’s not all about design; all journalists can and should participate in the conception and execution of story forms. In addition, the role of the copy editor is overlooked. Not only can copy editors significantly improve the writing and presentation of a story form, they can generate ideas for them, as noted here.

Finally, the AJR piece makes this curious assertion:

Charticles rely on authoritative, punchy writing, leaving room for opinion to seep in. And when news and opinion mix under a reporter’s byline, well, you see where that could lead.

In my experience, the opposite is the case. Opinion is more likely to seep into a long-form narrative than an alternative story form. Punchy, authoritative writing is indeed an ingredient of story forms. This can be taken to an extreme, however, giving some ASFs a dry, almanac-like tone.

Of course, copy editors should guard against opinion words in any sort of news story, but the ASF is hardly a place where they proliferate. But copy editors also need to ensure that the writing is lively and interesting, regardless of the story form.

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