To the woodshed

This New York Times story on the firing of numerous U.S. attorneys includes e-mails from Bush administration officials. Here’s an excerpt:

“Has ODAG ever called Carol Lam and woodshedded her re immigration enforcement? Has anyone?”

ODAG is the Office of the Deputy Attorney General, and Lam is one of the ousted prosecutors. But what’s interesting here is the “woodshedded” reference. “Woodshed” can be a verb (as defined here, among other places), but I get the feeling that this e-mail was not talking about practicing a musical instrument.

The stories about the firing of the attorneys, by the way, are in need of context. Already we are reading and hearing the “everybody does it” rationale, but is that the case? Are the actions of the Bush administration different from others? If so, how? And how are U.S. attorneys selected, and what do they do? All of these questions would make for a great Q&A. Let’s hope that a wire desk puts one together.

UPDATE: A kind reader of this blog directed me to this Q&A from the Los Angeles Times.

Layer upon layer

Layering of information is important in display type, which includes headlines and cutlines. Each element can contribute to the storytelling and add facts before the reader gets to the text. This story package from The Daily Tar Heel doesn’t do that well.


The news is about an Iranian woman who has been in jail for overstaying her visa. She was freed Tuesday and reunited with her daughter. It’s a story that’s been in the news off and on for several months.


Readers who may not be familiar with this woman’s case are likely baffled about what this story is about. This problem is worsened by the fact that the story itself takes six paragraphs to get around to the reason for her detention. The display type never explains why she was in jail. This is a missed opportunity to refresh memories of those who have some recollection of the case and introduce it to newcomers.


Copy editors can fix these things. It’s why we are here, after all. With this story, the copy editor had three chances to pull this package together: in main headline, though that would be tough given its size and shape; in the drophead; and in the cutlines. The cutline under the main photo is probably the easiest place to include the “why” of this story.

Bono, the singing editor

U2 singer Bono is stepping into the editor’s role for an issue of Vanity Fair. His issue, which will hit newsstands in July, will focus on Africa. (The photo of him and Graydon Carter is worth clicking on the link.)

Bono proposes that the magazine change its name to Fair Vanity, and he argues that stories should be more like 45s: “I don’t want the reader to be weighed down.”

But what if the writers want to do double albums?

Slanted story

Fellow editing professor Bill Cloud passed this one along. It’s from the Times-Dispatch in Richmond, Va.

I’ve heard of putting an angle on a story, but this is ridiculous — and hideous. I blame the ad department, not the page designer.