Language of layoffs

Radio Shack is cutting about 400 jobs, and the people who are being laid off got the bad news by e-mail. Here’s how the company phrased it, providing an interesting example of the language used in the business world:

“The work force reduction notification is currently in progress. Unfortunately your position is one that has been eliminated.”

Does a split make a difference?

Headline purists would recoil at this example from a newspaper Web site. The crime? A bad split from line to line. But do readers notice or care?

This advice, from a University of Missouri tip sheet, is typical:

“Don’t split nouns and modifiers or verb forms and prepositional phrases over two lines unless space is main consideration. Write “Faculty to vote (first line) on tenure policy” (second line).”

In this example, the headline would be more graceful if the “$1” and the “million” were together on the same line. Separating them invites a split second of misinterpretation. Did he win a dollar?

Put the message in the box

Textboxes — timelimes, glossaries, checklists, mini-biographies, etc. — are being used more and more by newspapers and magazines. Done well, these bite-size packages of information can give background or context to a story. They are especially handy when a “teachable moment” comes along.

That thought brings us to a Daily Tar Heel story about new professors on campus. These newbies are finding their way just like freshmen. Near the end of the story come these paragraphs on the tenure process:

Tenure-track faculty have a total of six years to earn tenure.

Assistant faculty members are reviewed internally by their individual departments after three years. If reappointed, a more encompassing review is conducted during their sixth year.

Those who earn tenure are promoted to the post of associate professor.

Yes, some editing is necessary. But the point here is this: Rather than bury this bit of information, why not pull it out of the story and reshape it into a textbox accompanying it? Many undergraduates are probably aware of tenure but aren’t sure how it works. Here’s a chance to explain that.