Us and them — and her

Earlier this week, The News & Observer reprinted this editorial from The Charlotte Observer. The topic was judicial elections in North Carolina. It included this paragraph:

Imagine a voter getting toward the bottom of a long ballot and seeing 19 unfamiliar names for Martin’s seat, along with four Supreme Court races, two other contested appeals court races and a slew of district and superior court races. A rational person might just skip over them all and move on with her life, leaving the courts’ fates in the hands of an even smaller percentage of voters.

The last sentence caught the eye of a reader, who wrote a letter to the editor complaining about the use of “her.” The letter writer found it insulting to female voters.

I don’t think the editorial board of the Observer intended to use “her” as a slight. The writer likely intended the opposite: rather than use “him” as the default pronoun for a hypothetical voter, use “her” for balance. A quick edit to “pluralize” the sentence could avoid that issue, of course:

Rational people might just skip over them all and move on with their lives, leaving the courts’ fates in the hands of an even smaller percentage of voters.

That would have been my choice if I had been writing or editing that editorial. At the same time, I am increasingly open to the singular they in these situations. Most of us use it in conversation, and I have no objection to it in informal writing such as email.

Then again, I also like the royal we.

Student guest post: How coding is like copy editing

Students in JOMC 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the 10th of those posts. Katie Marriner is an aspiring designer/developer who enjoys copy editing. She is a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill and a member of the Reese News Lab team.

There is a huge push nowadays for everyone to learn how to code – women, men, children, journalists, family pets. Technology plays a huge part in our lives today, so I agree that it is important we understand what we consume daily.

Coding may seem like a completely foreign concept to those who are not constantly exposed to it. I am a developer who enjoys copy editing, and I see the overlap in both fields. There are five “C”s of copy editing – be clear, be correct, be concise, be comprehensible, be consistent. These five “C”s can be applied to coding.

How does code work?

First, it is important to understand the basics of coding. Don’t worry: I won’t go into the nitty-gritty details because there are tons of resources out there where you can learn the basics. Codecademy is a great one.

HTML is the structure of a Web page. It is where headers, paragraphs, images and other content are placed on the page.

CSS styles the content. Classes and IDs in HTML are named so they can be identified in a CSS stylesheet. Below is how you would name a class called “main-header.”

This is a Header

In the CSS stylesheet, the format will be this:

.main-header {
font-color: blue;
}

The “.” indicates that it is a class you are referencing. Inside the “{}” is where you write all of your styling – change the font color, size, family. In this example, the color of the text would change to blue.

The following are the five “C”s of copy editing, according to Jodi Cleghorn’s post on Write Anything:

Correct

No errors. This will be the first indication that your code needs some refining.

This one is pretty simple. HTML is picky. Even if a “>” is missing at the end of a tag, the code will be incorrect and not run as it is intended. Code has strict syntax. Every ;, {}, and <> is necessary. And they have to be in the right place. It’s like misspelling a word in the English language – it’s always incorrect.

Clarity

The names of classes must be clear, and it must be understood what these classes do to someone who looks at the code for the first time. If you are naming a class for introductory paragraphs, use an intuitive name such as “intro-paragraph.”

HTML

This is an example of an introductory paragraph.

CSS

.intro-paragraph {
text-decoration: italic;
}

Concise

Refactoring is the process of editing existing code in order to prevent errors from occurring in the future, make the page load faster and make it easier to read. Refactoring code does not change the appearance of what it outputs, but it changes the ease at which it is processed by the browser.

When editing text when you don’t change the meaning of what you’re trying to say but you improve the understand of the text by being more concise. A simple example would be using the world “use” instead of “utilize.”

Comprehensible

GitHub is a great, free service that allows coders to contribute to other projects by building off of what others have done. If others are reading your code, it needs to be comprehensible and in a form that others will be able to understand just as it is important for others to easily read a news article.

Consistent

Use the same naming conventions. If a number is spelled out once, spell out every other number. If you use hyphens, use hyphens. If you use camelCase, use camelCase.

It’s not “wrong” if the names are not consistent because the code will run, but it is not easy to read. This relates to using a stylebook to keep consistency. In AP style, numbers under 10 are usually spelled out, but numbers greater than or equal to 10 are written numerically.

Copy editors edit to help readers better understand the author’s words. Editing code can do just the same thing for others who read your code and when code is revisited to make changes.

Student guest post: Transitioning into understanding

Students in JOMC 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the fifth of those posts. Zach Freshwater is a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill double majoring in political science and reporting. He is a communications intern at the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention and a communication consultant for Planetary Emissions Management.

What’s blue and white and has over 50 gender identity options? If you guessed Facebook, you’re right.

Last week the site announced that it will now offer users 56 choices to indicate their gender identity. The options range from male and female to transgender, gender questioning, androgynous and non-binary.

While the change might leave some confused when they join the site, Facebook’s move denotes an important shift toward recognizing transgender individuals. And journalists need to pay attention.

Earlier this month, Janet Mock, a transgender author and activist, appeared on “Piers Morgan Live” to discuss her new book about her life and struggles as a transgender woman. The interview went well, and both seemed cordial and excited about Mock’s work.

But the conversation went sour soon after the interview when Mock tweeted that she was disappointed in how Morgan discussed her identity. As a transgender woman, Mock took offense to Morgan’s statements that she was “formerly a man.”

Morgan fired back, and the Twitter conversation culminated in Mock returning to Morgan’s show to discuss the issue several days later.

While the clip above is a bit lengthy, it marks an important note for journalists: Be informed and be sensitive.

Transgendered individuals and their struggles are growing in national prominence, and journalists need to keep up. Understanding and acknowledging someone’s identity doesn’t indicate political affiliation — it denotes accuracy and respect.

GLAAD (formerly the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) offers a media reference guidefor journalists covering transgender topics. The organization also offers a Transgender 101 guide that acts as an introduction to transgender identities and issues. Reading through these two guides only takes about 15 minutes and could prevent serious difficulty and embarrassment.

So, to all of the reporters, bloggers, editors and newsies out there, do your transgender homework. You’ll be better for it.