Guest post: Why that ‘furry’ headline isn’t funny

 

furry-headline

Forrest Brown is an editor who has worked at numerous news organizations, including CNN.com, The Charlotte Observer and the Greensboro News & Record. This essay, shared on Facebook, is reposted here by permission.

What’s easy: To get on Facebook or Twitter and make fun of this headline.

What’s not easy: To go into work every night in what’s probably the most high-pressure, least-appreciated job at a newspaper these days — editing stories and writing headlines.

I imagine the person who wrote that headline is probably doing an amount of work that was likely spread among five or more people back around 1995. And you’re flying without a net. After all, you are the net.

He or she may have gotten that story just a few minutes before deadline. The editor may have been past deadline by a minute or two and just had to shove the page on out from a pub center hundreds of miles away.

He or she may have caught numerous typos and mistakes the very same night that a double “r” was typed in haste. I’d imagine the person knows the difference between “fury” and “furry.”

I loved copy editing, but it can be a downright vicious job at times. Your many triumphs are never noticed. Your rare mistakes are paraded out for mockery, including by — and especially by — other journalists. And most especially by journalists who tend to turn in mistake-laden copy themselves. The sloppiest ones really do seem to be the people who pile on the most when there’s mocking to be had.

You’re on a team that’s always first in line when they’re sharpening the ax for the next round of cuts. Do well, and no one ever notices you. Do poorly, and you will get noticed.

It’s probably the only newsroom job where you never, ever want to be noticed. At all. Which is why your team is first on the chopping block for cuts because all they know about you and your team is you mortified the paper six months ago one time.

Copy editing is — at best — a zero-sum game these days. The very best you can hope for: Don’t screw up big. Because you can wipe out a thousand good deeds with an extra R.

And I’m pretty sure when the publishers and managers do the post-mortem, they won’t be looking in the mirror when they ask how this can happen.

Student guest post: Self-editing with our auto-correcting brains

Students in J457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the 14th of those posts. Kristin Tajlili is a senior who is majoring in editing and graphic design with a minor in creative writing. She has contributed to many on-campus publications including Should Does, The Daily Tar Heel and Blue and White. She gets excited over the most mundane of coincidences.

Why is self-editing hard? Blame our brains – the original auto-correctors.

Whenever I hit submit on a blog post that I have worked tirelessly on, I dread that it will be mangled with dropped words, wrong uses of there/their/they’re and sentences that don’t make sense.

It’s embarrassing, especially when people ask me: “If you want to be a writer, why don’t you know the proper use of there?”

Like many people, I can easily catch errors in other people’s work, but when it comes to correcting my own errors, I am useless.

The inability to self-edit can be attributed to our brain — the original auto-corrector, according to blogger Yuka Igarashi. Because our brains are very good at altering sensory information to be “correct” very quickly and unconsciously, it is difficult to catch our own mistakes.

In her blog, Igarashi uses this sentence to illustrate how humans perceive text:

Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 3.03.50 PM

Did you see the word “the” twice? Even though I knew there was an error, I had to look at the sentence five times before I spotted it. My brain automatically removed the second the.

This ability of our brain can be helpful in situations where we have to think quickly, but it also makes naturally poor copy editors. For example, after proofreading my resume — which I had worked on for several hours before — I read the mistake “second-more viewed article” as “second-most viewed article.” Because I knew the message beforehand, my brain corrected it. A couple weeks later, after using this resume for a few job applications, I caught the mistake.

In order to become stronger editors, we must acknowledge our brains, like spell-check and many of the new grammar checkers flooding the market, are not reliable. Once we acknowledge that our brains are no good, we can look to other techniques to meet our copy editing needs.

In a handout about editing and proofreading, the UNC Writing Center lists several solid techniques, such as reading the paper out loud, slowly. I found this to be good advice, but when reading a paper longer than a couple pages, my vocal chords — and eyes — get tired. Also this isn’t helpful when it’s 5:30 in the morning and I don’t want my roommate to wake up to a lecture about the Roman Empire.

Instead of reading my own papers out loud, I usually find a free text-to-speech translator such as Mike. Unlike me, Mike sees the text for what it is instead of what it is meant to be. But for those who find Mike creepy, the UNC Writing Center allows students to download Read&Write Gold, a text-to-speech translator which offers more flexibility than those offered for free online. Just stop by SASB and ask for a copy.

When I’m not in the mood to hang out with Mike, I like to play with formatting on my word processor. I change the font type and size so that the text looks different than my original draft. In doing so, the errors have less room to hide.

That being said, it took me years to find effective methods for self-editing. What may work for me may not work for other people. There are dozens of tools and techniques to circumvent our auto-correcting brains. Finding what works may be the difference between landing an interview or staring at an empty inbox.

Student guest post: Spelling in pop culture is less than sensational

Students in JOMC 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the ninth of those posts. Madeleine Loeb is a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill who is majoring in editing and graphic design. She is from Tallahassee, Fla., but Washington, D.C. will be her next home so that she can pursue a creative career in advertising or sports.

The concept of sensational spelling has taken hold of popular culture, starring in advertisements, song titles and branding. Sensational spelling, the deliberate misspelling of a word for special effect, started being used throughout the 1960s and ’70s for mostly musical purposes to create an edgy way of representing an idea or feeling for their music. For example, Sly and the Family Stone used sensational spelling in many of their song titles to change things up a bit.

While this popular way of spelling started in the 1960s and was propelled by artists such as Prince, The Beatles and Ludacris, it has become more and more normal for current artists to incorporate sensational spelling into their work. Much like quick and easy texting language, titles like Britney Spears’ ‘Slave 4 U,’ Macklemore’s “Wing$: and Beyoncé’s “Freakum Dress” have completely stepped away from grammatically correct titles and look more toward fun and simple representations.

But the question still stands: Is it OK for artists to use sensational spelling more so than they use correct spelling? And where does Associated Press style extend into this new style?

I believe that artists’ use of sensational spelling is an attempt at connecting with their younger fan base or trying to look “cool.” But I feel that there needs to be some consistency or at least a set of guidelines when it comes to using sensational spelling.

In hoping to create some sort of structure to an artistic view of spelling and grammar, I have found that it seems that there are two ways to create a style that could be consistent throughout sensational spelling.

The first rule being, any word that is shortened, but could be spelled out to have the same meaning, should be spelled out. For example, “Slave 4 U” would simply become “Slave For You.” Similarly, Macklemore’s “Wing$” would just become “Wings.”

The second rule would be to allow misspellings of words if that word could be considered jargon or necessary to be spelled that way. For example, Beyoncé’s “Freakum Dress” — you’re not going to tell Beyoncé to name her song “Freak Them Dress,” or tell Sly and the Family Stone to change “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” to “Thank You for Letting Me Be Myself Again.” Making those changes would take away the magic of the title and creativity.

So therein lies the problem. How do you suggest this change without taking away creativity?

While I say these would be rules, it’s more of a hope and suggestion. Much like the AP style, it’s a set of guidelines, not edicts. While sensational spelling is outside of the journalistic realm of control, I can only hope that it sticks to the artistic representations and doesn’t soon become acceptable within the journalism community.

Saving daylight, Google style

The good people at Copyediting.com posted a reminder today about daylight saving time. That’s right: no S and no hyphen.

As Copyediting points out, the legislation that prompts us to spring forward and fall back is inconsistent on this, but most stylebooks recommend “daylight saving time.” The lack of a hyphen bothers me, but I’ll play along.

But look at what Google suggests as you type in those words.

daylight-savingIts “style” prefers “savings” over “saving,” presumably because that’s what most people say in conversation and therefore type into search engines.

That makes me wonder whether some news organizations, in the quest for clicks, will disregard their stylebooks when telling readers about the time change this weekend. Some sites have already written headlines for the Academy Awards to accommodate search-engine optimization. Why wouldn’t they do the same for this event?

I also wonder whether Google will publish a stylebook at some point. Yahoo has one.

My nominee for the best correction ever

What is the best correction ever run in a newspaper? It’s an informal competition, with no objective way to determine a winner.

This one brought “My Little Pony” and The New York Times together to comical effect. And this one about a potentially druggy drummer has made the rounds on social media several times over the past month.

My nominee comes from The News & Observer. Earlier this week, the Raleigh paper published an editorial about bluegrass music. Here’s how the top of the editorial appeared:

The name of the band was the Dillards, not the Dullards. That simple misspelling turns the word into an insult.

It’s a particularly embarrassing error for the N&O because of the North Carolina connection to “The Andy Griffith Show.” The newspaper’s columnists have frequently referred to the show over the years, and Raleigh was mentioned and portrayed in some episodes.

The N&O ran this correction today. It hits the right notes of regret, humility and chagrin. That’s about all you can do with this sort of error: chuckle, correct and move on. A bit of bluegrass courtesy of the Dullards Dillards might help too.

From spelling and grammar to usage and grammar

UNC’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication is famous (infamous, some students would say) for its spelling and grammar test.

Since 1975, the journalism school has required students to pass the 100-question test with a grade of 70 or better. Few do so on the first attempt, but it’s offered numerous times each semester. Those who cannot pass may not graduate with a journalism degree.

According to the book “Making News” by Tom Bowers, the test made national news at the time of its introduction. It was mentioned in an op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal, and NBC News came to campus to do a story about it.

The test is still a true rite of passage, even though nowadays it’s given online and not on paper. It’s also still a topic of conversation and a part of the school’s identity. Everyday people in North Carolina sometimes ask alumni and faculty of the school: Do they still have that test that you have to pass or else?

The answer is yes, but its format is changing. Spelling will no longer be part of the exam.

The content of the test came up last fall when several faculty members were talking about the introductory News Writing course, which is where many students first take the exam. In those conversations, I suggested that memorizing a spelling list wasn’t the best measure of competence in our craft. Why not use a set of questions about word choice instead? Other faculty members agreed to the idea.

Spelling, of course, still matters. Students who misspell words on assignments will still be penalized. As journalism students at UNC will tell you, misspelling the name of a source is a bad idea. That error means an automatic F on that assignment. But the spelling and grammar test will become the usage and grammar test.

So starting this fall, students will be tested on grammar, punctuation and word usage. The usage section will draw from this list (PDF) and include sentences like this:

Its/It’s too late to add a class this semester. (The correct answer is It’s.)

The goal of the revised exam is to better test the students’ knowledge of journalistic writing and editing. In addition, the new test will also better reflect what some employers use in making decisions on jobs and internships.

Congratulations to those students who passed the old test. And good luck to those who will take the new one. I hope you pass!

Thanks to the Park Library for help researching this post.

Q&A with N&Oops

N&Oops is a blog and Twitter feed that launched this autumn to document mistakes in The News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C. The blog’s anonymous author is a “former journalist who left newspapers voluntarily several years ago and harbors no bitterness toward the industry.” In this Q&A, conducted by email, N&Oops discusses what inspired the blog’s origins and goals.

Q. What is the purpose of your blog, and what inspired it?

A. Basically the purpose of the blog is to point out obvious errors in the N&O, especially the ones that are amusing. For the purpose of the blog, an “obvious error” would be one that could be spotted with doing little or no research.

It’s also somewhat of a social media experiment and something to do for fun. The “Wake Cunty” error was the one that helped push it from an idea to reality.

Q. What types of errors do you see? Are themes emerging?

A. There seem to be a lot of errors in captions and subheadlines. The sports section also seems to have more errors than other sections, probably due to tighter deadlines.

Q. You’ve noted errors in email alerts from newsobserver.com and Tweets from N&O writers and editors. Do you think those should be held to the same standard as what appears in print?

A. Errors are errors and typos are typos, regardless of the medium. Readers expect the N&O to have names spelled accurately and correct punctuation, even in tweets and alerts.

Q. Your blog and Twitter feed allow you to remain anonymous. Do you see a time when you would identify yourself?

A. Likely not, as this is intended to be contributor-driven. So far, there have been contributions from at least 10 different people.

Q. What do you see as the endgame for the blog? In other words, is there a “mission accomplished”?

A. No endgame. How long posting keeps up at the current pace depends mostly on contributor submissions and the volume of errors.