Editing “Mallard Fillmore”

The News & Observer publishes “Mallard Fillmore” on its comics pages each weekday and on Saturday. The politically oriented strip has been the subject of debate among readers, with many stating that it should be on the editorial pages along with “Doonesbury,” not in the features section.

I won’t step into that broader discussion. I would, however, question the decision to publish one of the “Mallard” strips this week.

On Wednesday, “Mallard” poked fun at Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker. That’s fine, but the strip has three problems:

  • It is ungrammatical. In the text of the first panel, the subject and verb “outrage” and “have” do not agree. (Thanks to Grammar Monkeys for pointing this out.)
  • It does not follow AP style. The strip refers to the “Ground-Zero Mosque.” As the AP recently advised, that is inaccurate. The N&O’s editors use the Associated Press Stylebook as their primary reference.
  • It uses anonymous sources. The N&O shuns anonymous sources. Sure, “Mallard” is using them in an attempt at humor, but is that an exception to N&O policy?

If a story from a wire service or a staff writer landed on an editor’s desk at the N&O in this condition, it would not be published on its news pages. Why was this comic strip?

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One thought on “Editing “Mallard Fillmore”

  1. I’m no fan of “Mallard Fillmore,” but I do think that comic strips run under different sets of standards than news articles. (After all, they dabble in vampires living with monsters, pigs living with rats, and Cathy living with … anyone.) So I don’t find the grammar and AP style arguments too compelling. But I completely agree with you on the anonymous sourcing. The strip is free to do what it will; lots of papers that use it have no problems with anonymous sources. But The N&O should follow its own internal policies and be consistent on anonymous sourcing throughout the paper if it feels the use of such sources weakens credibility.

    That said, with a news staff half the size of what it had five years ago, The N&O may not have anyone proofing the comics — or at most a quick, cursory look. Even five years ago, I don’t think anyone looked at strips several days out, which is what it would have taken to catch the “Fillmore” strip, yank it and figure out a suitable “Plan B.”

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