The Editor's Desk

Thoughts on editing for print and digital media

Month: June, 2009

Vacation, all I ever wanted

This blog will be on hiatus for the next 10 days as I go on a family vacation. Thanks for visiting, and see you in July.

Should we talk about the weather?

The News & Observer is shrinking its weather coverage.

For years, the Raleigh paper has devoted the top half of the back page of the local section to the weather. That has included color maps of North Carolina and the United States as well as the forecasts and data such as the ocean temperatures.

The paper wants reader feedback on the changes, posting a prototype of what the new weather package could look like. Here’s my reaction:

THE GOOD

  • The previously cluttered U.S. map is cleaned up and attractively presented.
  • The forecast is concise and easy to read.
  • The old page’s redundancy has been eliminated. No longer are Newark and New York listed separately, or Greenville and Spartanburg, S.C.

THE NOT SO GOOD

  • Orlando, Las Vegas and Myrtle Beach are major tourist destinations, but they don’t appear anywhere on this page. This is especially odd considering that El Paso and Billings made the cut.
  • The map locates Charlotte but not Raleigh. Indeed, the weather package lists Charlotte in the list of national temperatures and in the list of state temperatures. Is this another example of Charlotte creep in the N&O?

The larger question, of course, is whether the weather in print makes sense anymore. Like the stock listings, weather information in print can suffer from staleness.

In Greensboro, the News & Record has reduced its weather package in a more dramatic way, eliminating the map and the list of temperatures from around the world. A few readers complained, but not many. Perhaps that’s indicative of a change in the way people get this type of news.

It’s easy to get weather information online or “on the 8s” on The Weather Channel. A weather page in print and the meterologist/personality on the 6 o’clock news seem like anachronisms.

Google goes tabloid with Weekly World News archive

wwn-1980and2007

When the Weekly World News stopped publishing in 2007, the legitimate media noted its demise. No more headlines about Bigfoot, space aliens and miracle cures. No more Bat Boy.

Now, the people at Google Books have created an archive of the supermarket tabloid for all to enjoy. The searchable collection offers full issues of the newspaper from 1980 through 2007.

It’s interesting to see the evolution of the Weekly World News as it moved from celebrities to the supernatural. (That’s Catherine “Daisy Duke” Bach on the front page on the left.) The paper’s experiments with color on the front page and its increased use of doctored images are there to see as well.

It’s also entertaining to skim through the paper’s exclamatory, all-caps headlines, which amount to an alternative reality that may be more interesting than our own. Here’s a sampling:

  • ELVIS VISITS HIS NEW GRANDSON!
  • SPACE ALIEN MEETS WITH ROSS PEROT!
  • FAT IS CONTAGIOUS!
  • ANGRY TRUCKER FIRES 5 BULLETS INTO UFO!
  • BAT BOY LED OUR TROOPS TO SADDAM’S HOLE!

So what did in the print version of the Weekly World News? (It still exists online, but just barely.) My guess is The Onion, which took the idea of fake news in newspaper form to a more sophisticated level. It turns out that its focus on the mundane is more amusing than the preposterous.

Playing with style: LEGO or Lego?

lego

A recent letter to the editor took The News & Observer to task for the way it refers to this toy. The writer asserts that the proper way to refer to those colorful building blocks is LEGO. She also says that the plural form of LEGO is LEGO.

Not so fast, says my colleague Bill Cloud. He points to an entry in the AP Stylebook. Under “company names,” the stylebook advises: “Do not use all-capital-letter names unless the letters are individually pronounced.” So BMW, but not IKEA. Cloud argues that the style rule on company names should also apply to product names.

Some newspapers have their own style, of course, but The New York Times and Los Angeles Times are with AP on this one. Indeed, that’s how the LAT topics page on the toy does it.

Here’s what Henry Fuhrmann, assistant managing editor in charge of copy desks, standards and the library at the LAT, said in an e-mail about this question:

We do not have a formal style on the word itself. But our general style rule on acronyms would call for Lego. We capitalize the first letter of trademarks but otherwise follow our style rules in determining the capitalization of other letters. Similarly, in our style, NASA and ACLU are all caps, but the California Public Employees Retirement System is CalPERS.

Fuhrmann also said that a former colleague at the LAT would correct those who stuck an “s” on the word: “He is a traditionalist and a stickler and would always gently advise users that ‘Legos’ is incorrect.”

What do you think? Check out this discussion among Lego/LEGO fans for more.

(Creative Commons image by Craig Rodway)

When you search, please be good

GoodSearch is a search engine that donates 50 percent of its advertising revenues to charities designated by its users. It works like any other search engine, with Yahoo providing the results.

The American Copy Editors Society is raising money for its education fund using the site and its companion, GoodShop. That fund supports scholarships to students who are interested in careers in editing.

“Every time you use GoodSearch, the fund will get about a penny,” says Chris Wienandt, president of ACES. “If all 635 ACES members used the service to conduct an average of two searches a day (how hard is that for a copy editor?), the fund would earn about $3,300 a year.”

Next time you need to search for something online, consider using Goodsearch and selecting ACES as the recipient. Thank you for your support.

Q&A with David Millsaps, publisher of New Raleigh

New Raleigh is a news blog that focuses on life, politics and culture in North Carolina’s capital. In this interview, conducted by e-mail, publisher David Millsaps discusses the site’s objectives, editing process and outlook.

Q. What is the purpose of the New Raleigh site?

A. New Raleigh informs a downtown audience about what is going on with downtown businesses, city government, persons of interests and cultural events. The site reaches an audience that wants a discriminating opinion on local current events and insider information on the different people and factors affecting the growth and evolution of the city.

Q. The Triangle has a crowded media market. How does New Raleigh fit in with heavy hitters like WRAL.com and newsobserver.com?

A. New Raleigh is the largest independent publication in Raleigh. We often break stories weeks before the “heavy hitters” and are often driving the conversations that both of these outlets highlight on their own Web sites or other formats.

WRAL has gone so far as to show our site on their newscast multiple times, referencing conversations or articles on our site, but never our logo or name. The News & Observer isn’t much better — referring to our content as “essays on the Internet.”

If we are significant enough to be part of their stories, we deserve proper citation.  When our stories are more blog-like based around those outlets’ stories, we are sure to provide proper links back to the source material.  

I think our rapid growth and strong influence has intimidated the old media outlets. Our focus on local content and the fact that our staff is integrated into the communities that they are writing about — those are tough things for those outlets to duplicate. Clearly everyone is strategizing about what’s next, but what I don’t see much of is an understanding of what’s now.

Any media outlet should have a cohesive strategy for using the tools that information consumers are using. What I see from the big outlets is a lumbering effort at tech that is already passe.

Q. How does headline writing and story editing work at the site?

A. We have a basic strategy for headlines. Writers generally will suggest one, and then we may revise it based on our internal style. Longer stories are usually edited by one or more editors with our software managing that process and draft system. We use a variety of online tools to communicate throughout this process.

Q. Everyone’s trying to figure out how to make online journalism profitable, or at least sustainable. How does New Raleigh plan to thrive in the coming years?

A. The first thing we are doing is not trying to follow any of the existing models. I do believe in the possibility of a sustainable market-driven model for local news production. I see everyone trying to preserve the old models, and while I would hate to see the N&O die — in many ways they already have, as they have lost so many and so much of what made it great. Others believe in a non-profit or donation-based news format, but to me, this is a Band-Aid for a sliced jugular.  

New Raleigh has worked to build a strong audience and the type of information network that can help us inform our audience. As we refine our processes and build new offerings, all of that is in an effort to create something new that can be monetized without sacrificing the traditional tenets of journalism. So while we strive to have the same standards of traditional news, we are also throwing out the costly or inefficient processes that are killing them.  

You are going to see New Raleigh grow and adapt as new forms of media evolve. I think you are going to see opportunity in things like these nascent networks like FriendFeed and Google Wave that was previewed a few weeks ago and other new communication like it. Keeping an open mind to new platforms has got to be the key to survival. With the rate of change in information technology accelerating, assuming that things will stay the same is the worst way to survive.

UPDATE: In January 2013, New Raleigh announced that it was ending publication.

Do blogs count as news coverage?

I caught a bit of “The O’Reilly Factor” on Thursday. Bill O’Reilly, the titular host of the program, was talking about David Letterman’s recent jokes about Gov. Sarah Palin. Some of the punchlines mentioned Palin’s family, prompting some to say that the humor was out of bounds.

The O’Reilly segment included a list of newspapers that he said had failed to cover Letterman’s comments. The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times were among the newspapers named, and O’Reilly’s guest indicated that the lack of coverage was an indication of anti-Palin bias.

I went to the Web sites of the NYT and LAT to find out more. A couple of simple searches showed that each newspaper has covered the Letterman-Palin flap — in blog form, with several posts on several blogs. For example, the LAT’s popular Top of the Ticket blog has a long post with this headline:

Aging man, 62, jokes about girl, 14 (Letterman on Willow Palin)

This leads to the question: Do blog posts on newspaper sites count as “coverage”? Or is coverage defined as stories in print?

Perhaps O’Reilly and this reader would say the latter. But I think that as journalism expands online and shrinks in print, blogs should be considered a significant piece of a newspaper’s coverage plan.

Singing newspapers

TV journalism has “Dirty Laundry” by Don Henley. The magazine industry has “The Cover of the Rolling Stone” by Dr. Hook.

What about songs about newspapers? Paste magazine offered this list, which is pretty comprehensive. The inclusion of “Newspapers” by Stan Ridgway is essential. (Read the lyrics to that song here.)

But what about songs about other topics that mention newspapers in one form or another? Here are four five examples that come to mind:

ARTIST: The Bee Gees
SONG: “Staying Alive”
LYRIC: “We can try to understand The New York Times’ effect on man.”

ARTIST: The Clash
SONG: “The Leader”
LYRIC: “The people must have something good to read on a Sunday.”

ARTIST: The Who
SONG: “Another Tricky Day”
LYRIC: “What the papers say just seems to bring down heavier rain.”

ARTIST: The Smiths
SONG: “The Queen Is Dead”
LYRIC: “Charles, don’t you ever crave to appear on the front of the Daily Mail dressed in your mother’s bridal veil?”

ARTIST: Bob Seger
SONG: Night Moves
LYRIC: “Trying to make some front-page drive-in news, working on our night moves.”

Have other examples? Please add them to the comments.

Unasked questions about D-Day

The D-Day anniversary was front-page news in The News & Observer on Saturday. The centerpiece story in the Raleigh paper was a profile of a sailor who was there. He is now a retiree living in North Carolina.

As expected, the story weaves in the history of that day in 1944, when the Allies pushed into Nazi-occupied France. This background in the story, however, leaves out some crucial details.

For example, the story mentions Normandy, but never places those beaches in France. It’s risky to assume that readers know that. Another paragraph threatens to overwhelm readers with an avalanche of numbers.

All of this could have been better handled in a locator map and textbox, perhaps in a Q&A format. Here are some questions to answer:

  • What is D-Day? Why is it called that?
  • Where and when did it take place?
  • How many people fought on D-Day, and how many were killed and wounded?
  • What is its broader significance?

When newspapers remember D-Day next year, let’s hope they also remember to explain it to readers who need a primer on this important moment in history. Perhaps bookmarking this at the BBC site will serve as a reminder.

Memorable headlines: Scientology as a “ruthless global scam”

Copy editors at newspapers spend a great deal of time and energy on writing headlines. And for good reason — headlines attract attention, and some live on decades after they are written. This is the fifth in a series of posts on memorable headlines.

time-pg1THE HEADLINE: The Thriving Cult of Greed and Power: Ruined lives. Lost fortunes. Federal crimes. Scientology poses as a religion but really is a ruthless global scam — and aiming for the mainstream.

THE PUBLICATION: Time magazine

THE STORY: In 1991, Time magazine published a lengthy article on the Church of Scientology. The story accused the church of being a money-hungry organization that uses Mafia-like tactics.

ITS SIGNIFICANCE: In the days before the World Wide Web, information about Scientology was difficult to find, and the church regularly obstructed efforts by reporters to write stories about it.

Time’s award-winning story presented a view of the church’s operations to a national audience. “Ruthless global scam” became a shorthand for Scientology’s critics, and journalists such as Kurt Loder of MTV have referred to it in reports on the church.

The article led to a $416 million libel lawsuit from Scientology. The lawsuit was dismissed, and the “ruthless global scam” label lives on in search terms on Google.

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