Thursday, August 28, 2008

Pollster Reports Nightmare

Pollster Reports Nightmare

by Bruce McCall August 11, 2008

A CBS/Pravda/Farmer’s Almanac/“Avatar: The Last Airbender” poll released today indicates that yesterday never happened for seventy-two per cent of all respondents, but, if it had, thirty-two per cent more Independents believe now than just last May that Barack Obama and John McCain are both leading in a race now too lopsided to call. Analysts observed that the poll was taken in a light drizzle at 4 A.M. E.D.T., before the high-income segment is awake, prompting observers to analyze the results as skewing in favor of CBS.

McCain pollsters claimed that the same survey, conducted five minutes after a New Orleans Times-Picayune/Bravo/Popular Mechanics poll among women age twenty to twenty-one who are not men, found that ninety-seven per cent of respondents were too far away to be interviewed. The impact of current economic concerns on Obama’s popularity among bipolar white prison inmates with less than a kindergarten education was not measured, but the person responsible for designing the poll has been fired because prison inmates cannot vote.

Surprising many veteran pollsters as these results were tallied—given that it has yet to be conducted—was a Hartford Courant/CNN/Starbucks poll to be taken by qualified voters who, an earlier ABC/Sacramento Bee/Publishers Clearing House straw poll predicted, expect a win for either the Democrats or the Republicans come November, unless Congress acts. Recent polls show that more women than men believe otherwise, by a majority of at least three to one.

Yet, in answer to the question “Would you go before a firing squad to protect higher pollen counts?,” fewer than .03 per cent of those who identified themselves as likely McCain voters understood the question. By a plurality of four to one and counting, not counting those who did not, the Undecideds squared off in a donnybrook with the Don’t Knows, broken up by the Have No Opinions Worth Mentioning. The I Forgets stood on the sidelines.

In sharp contrast to last year’s similar polling question, conducted by the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles for Indiana State University, only seventy-five per cent of respondents this year thought “with certainty” that they were being interviewed. The same seventy-five per cent also reported “moderate to severe” memory loss, a seeming rebuff to the well-financed pro-forgetfulness lobby.

Cheering the Obama camp, particularly after his Middle East visits, a Fox News/Toronto Star/Amway poll, released but not yet caught, charts a severe downturn in support for efforts not to not repeal the NAFTA treaty. But the influence on French public opinion of the marriage of President Nicolas Sarkozy and international hottie Carla Bruni will have to wait until tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the normally reliable Quinnipiac University poll was travelling and was unavailable for comment. ♦

On Copy Editing

On Copy Editing

Sunday, August 24, 2008; 12:00 AM

Ombudsman Deborah Howell recently sent an all-newsroom e-mail asking Post staffers what they thought about copy editing and its worth at the paper. The following reply came from Metro copy editor Jeff Baron. Howell says, "It was such a good and succinct description of how copy editors see their work that I thought it was worth sharing with readers."

We all need editors. When we write, we might know what we mean to say, and we become blind to the looseness in our language and the gaps in our facts. Friends will ignore slips in e-mails, but newspaper readers should be able to expect a higher standard.

There's more involved than running a spell check. The copy editor needs to be a critical reader: Is the story missing necessary background or other information? Is it unfair? Is it libelous? Have crucial questions gone unasked? When the answer is yes, the copy editor is on the phone with the reporter or researching on the Internet to make things right, and to do it on deadline.

We have to be alert to ambiguities in the writing; if even five in a hundred readers are misled or baffled by the phrasing of a sentence, we have failed. Their lives are tough enough, and understanding a newspaper article shouldn't be hard work. We have to be the reader's advocates, straightening out twisted syntax (no matter that it's correct) when it does not serve the reader. We guard against cliches and jargon: When a police reporter mentions "an adult female," we turn her back into "a woman." We watch out for the badly strained figure of speech, that reference to "the inquiring eyes of Congress's investigative arm" that sounded right to the writer but would give a literal-minded reader nightmares.

We check the facts, to the extent we can. No obituary subject ever worked for the Institute for Defense Analysis -- it's the Institute for Defense Analyses.

And we are the defenders of proper grammar, usage, spelling and what publications call style: when to capitalize, when to use numerals or spell out the numbers, etc. Copy editors might be the only people who can discuss, cheerfully and seriously and on their own time, when to hyphenate a compound adjective. Normal people, I have found, deeply do not care.

Some mistakes jump out: I love finding the comically wrong homonyms, the core for corps, the pour for pore, the ordinance for ordnance. Some are more subtle: It's easy to miss errors in quotations because our training tells us to leave quotations alone, but if the reporter has left out or misinterpreted a word or two, it's the copy editor's job to notice and ask.

I consider my workday worthwhile if I've made one especially good catch or written one sterling headline.

Yes, let's not forget, we're the ones who write the headlines. The best of them draw the reader and capture the essence of the article. They can be lyrical or hard-hitting, as appropriate, but they have to make sense while fitting the space constraints laid down by our dear but slightly sadistic page designers. The headlines satisfy our love of word games, allowing us to play with the rhythm and the look of the language. We spend far more time editing the articles, but headlines give us more latitude, more of a chance to be creative. In sports terms, the editing is the dependable defense that wins games, but it's the best headlines that make the highlight reel.

We do this work, generally, at night, with no stopping for holidays or weekends. We do not have social lives. If we have families, we do not see them much. We get precious little personal glory: The work is strictly anonymous. And we don't get much in the way of money, either: A chart just released by our union shows that The Post's copy editors earn noticeably less than its reporters, photographers, page designers and graphic artists.

We have the satisfaction of helping turn rushed prose into a great newspaper. We have the respect of the superb reporters whose butts we sometimes save. And as The Post and other newspapers make do with fewer of us, putting fewer pairs of eyes on each column of type, I'm afraid readers will notice us by the mistakes we no longer keep out of print.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Grammar Books

Need a good grammar book that you could keep as a professional text?

Some good options are:

Working With Words: A Handbook for Media Writers and Editors by Brian S. Brooks

When Words Collide: A Media Writer's Guide to Grammar and Style by Lauren Kessler & Duncan McDonald

Grammar for Journalists by E. L. Callihan (out of print, but you could probably find it used)

Some links to online book stores:

abebooks: by ebay
List of Bookstores on the Web

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Letter From a Former Student

Dr. R.,

I wanted to write you an e-mail because I just had a great work experience and have you to credit for it.

At my internship, I told one of the managers I have an interest in editing and she proceeded to give me a few writing samples to edit. I had a meeting today with the writer, who is himself an editor for his department, and he praised and complimented the work I did. He commented that I was able to eliminate needless words (concision) and was surprised I noticed that some of his figures were inconsistent (always check the math).

I told him about a lot of the exercises we did in class, and he wanted me to pass along praise to you for teaching us all that you did.

While I realize I am tooting my own horn a bit here, I wanted to let you know that all the exercises and activities we did are extremely helpful for what I am doing now. If any of your students ever ask why they have to do them, simply tell them you never know when you're going to need to use that skill in the real world – I certainly never thought the editing exercises done in class would be as similar as writings I am doing in the big, bad corporate world.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Wire Terminology

Read Wire Terminology at link below.

This is a summary distributed by AP. Read it for basic understanding of the coding in wire stories.

Writing Cutlines

Cutline Checklist*

Here are some tips for writing good cutlines:

  • Is it complete? Is there anything unusual in the picture that is not explained in the cutline?
  • Does it identify? Identification is the basic purpose of a cutline.
  • Does it tell when and
  • Where the picture was shot?
  • Does it tell what is in the picture, not what is in the story? (In other words, don’t repeat the lead of the story.)
  • Does it avoid repeating word for word a sentence or passage directly from the story? (Just as a headline should not echo the lead of a story, a cutline should not repeat verbatim sentences or passages from story. That is lazy editing.)
  • Does it have the names right? This means are they spelled correctly and in correct order (from left).
  • Is it easy to read? The sentences must be short, direct and in proper sequence.
  • Is it specific? Does it give information on specific points of interest in the picture, or does it merely echo the obvious?
  • Does it have adjectives? Let the reader decide whether the subject is “middle-aged,” “glamorous” and so on. Also, don’t interpret emotions.
  • Does the picture suggest another picture? Going to press without the other picture is like running a story before getting all the facts.
  • Use present tense in the first sentence that gives identification, the who and what in the picture, and what is happening.
  • Use another tense in following sentences and use time element.
  • Be clever, but not cutesy
  • Try for identification, but don’t stress fact it is unknown. Find a label for those pictured.
  • Identify from left to right, and indicated with left if it is not obvious.
  • Use full sentences.

*Some of this comes from the Associated Press Managing Editors’ Newspaper Committee under the leadership of Emmett Dedmon of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Monday, August 11, 2008

A Note to Dr. R's Labs

Key Words & Online Heds
  • KEY WORDS: For every headline you write in this lab you are expected to put above the headline several key words. I will take off points if they are missing.
  • For purposes of this class, one column = 2 inches
  • Also, every story you edit should also include an online headline of about 12 to 15 words labeled as the "online hed."

Finding Key Words For Headlines

Finding key words for headlines

By Frederick Vultee • University of Missouri •

After “semester upon semester of saying ‘The news isn't in the relative clause. The news isn't in the relative clause,’” Frederick Vultee devised this approach for helping his students find key words for headlines.


How to find key words for a headline

Find the first independent clause in the story and list the simple subject, simple predicate and direct object. In other words:

WHO _______________
did WHAT _______________
to WHOM ________________ ?

WHERE was it done? ______________________ ?

Now look for dependent clauses and participial phrases.

A participial phrase might tell you WHY
you care about the verb: _________________________________________

(A car bomb exploded in Beirut today, killing a former prime minister.)

A relative clause often tells WHY
you care about the subject or object: _______________________________

(The man who performed the world’s first heart transplant died today.)

REMEMBER: If your headline’s verb comes from a relative clause, you have the wrong headline:

Man performs heart transplant
– vs. –
Heart transplant pioneer dies

Which noun is more important to your story:

SUBJECT (think active voice)
OBJECT (think passive voice) ?

Can you omit any grammatical steps?

Smith files a lawsuit against Jones
subj verb direct object indirect object

Smith sues Jones
subj verb direct object

A man who was charged in last week’s robbery
subj relative clause prepositional phrase

A suspect in last week’s robbery
subj prepositional phrase

Science of Headline Writing

The Science of Headline Writing

1. No. 1 Rule: Headlines must tell the reader what the story's about

2. Headlines must be accurate

3. Headlines must be fair

4. Headlines must fit and fill the space allotted

5. The headline’s tone must be consistent with the nature of the story

6. The headline’s tone must be consistent with the personality of the publication

7. The headline can't say more than the story says

8. In other words, the story must support the headline

9. The headline needs to persuade the reader to read the story.

Headline Checklist – Things to Avoid

1. Inappropriate language or a tone that doesn't fit the story.

2. Exaggerating conflict, danger, criticism, etc.

3. Editorialization or words that suggest an opinion of the head-writer.

4. A "negative" head using the word "not.“

5. Conclusions the story doesn't back up.

6. Inappropriate assumptions or interpretations.

7. Piled-up adjectives or other modifiers that detract from clarity.

8. A "label head," unless omitting the verb helps the head or the count is so short that a "book title" head is the only way out.

9. Assumptions that the reader has been following the story daily.

10. Obscure names that readers won't instantly recognize.

11. Undue familiarity, often by using a person's first name.

12. Abbreviations or acronyms that are not instantly recognizable.

13. Jargon, which clouds the meaning for readers.

14. Cliches, which are neither creative nor compelling.

15. Meanings the reader won't "get" until the story is read.

16. Echoing the lede or stealing the punchline.

17. A hard-news head based on facts far down in the story.

18. Puns in heads on serious news stories.

19. Putting first-day heads on second-day stories.

20. Using "question" or "colon" heads routinely.

An Interview With John McIntyre

John McIntyre, former president of the American Copy Editors Society ACES and an assistant managing editor at the Baltimore Sun. He likened writing headlines to a combination of playing Scrabble and completing a crossword puzzle.

Q: What should readers reasonably expect from headlines?

McIntyre: Accuracy, clarity and precision. Liveliness and originality are important to capturing the reader's interest, but they are secondary to accuracy.

Q: What challenges do copy editors face in meeting those expectations?

McIntyre: There is seldom enough time to polish and refine headlines as much as copy editors would like. And the lack of time also comes up against the fundamental challenge: distilling the sense of an entire article into half a dozen words.

Q: What are the uppermost cardinal rules of good headline writing?

McIntyre: Try to follow the vocabulary and syntax of conversational English insofar as you can. Avoid headlinese ("Solons slate parley") and wretched, obvious wordplay ("purr-fect" for any story about cats).

Q: What was the worst headline?

McIntyre: You want to write a famous headline? Write a bad one. "DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN" is still the most famous headline in American journalism.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

AP Style Practice from Doug Fisher: Journalism Instructor at University of South Carolina

AP Style Practice Quizzes No. 1:

AP Style Practice Quizzes No. 2:

New citizen journalism site, Demotix

via editorsweblog on 7/30/08

Nicolas Kristof, of the New York Times, recently posted in his On the Ground blog, "Here at The New York Times, we still have all of our foreign bureaus -- partly because our strategy is to compete for readers who seek international news and analysis -- but most newspapers and TV networks have been pulling back. Only four American newspapers now have foreign desks."

, a new citizen journalism site, has been launched to fill the gap created when the vast majority of news outlets rely on press releases and wire services.

The site, somewhat uniquely, is trying to position itself as an intermediary for photojournalists, a source bank where media outlets can select images, buy them (for between $80-$1,600) and the site splits the revenue from the photo with the citizen photographer who uploaded it.

Source: On the Ground, New York Times blog

E&P's "10 that do it right" for 2008

via editorsweblog on 7/30/08

This week, Editor & Publisher announced its 8th annual, "10 That Do It Right," a top ten not for the top ten best newspapers, but for ten who are doing exceptionally well in one particular aspect - from marketing to online video, investigative journalism to interactive features - "that merits consideration and maybe even emulation by their peers."

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The Journal Sentinel's top leadership is commited to maintianing their 10-person, investigative journalism team, huge for this economic climate.

Carlsbad (N.M.) Current-Argus

The Current-Argus recently implemented a new recruiting strategy for carriers -- recruit people who don't need the job (but will take it on to earn the extra $500-$700 a month). Not only did attrrition drop from almost 20% a month to nearly zero, but the paper is actually saving money.

Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch

The Times-Dispatch holds regular "Public Square" community discussions and have also hosted eight News Roundtables to hear criticism, observations, and recommendations about the paper's coverage. That's on top of the monthly Listening Tour, when Silvestri and other top executives and editors visit one of its 20 core communities to get to better know newsmakers and readers."

USA Today

USA Today's has created a social media site, "Cruise Log." "Everyone can be an author and distribute content easily, but USA Today adds the judgment and guidance that traditional journalists have always provided."

Las Vegas Review-Journal

The Las Vegas paper has launched hugely successful industry-specific job sites. Almost immediately the sites exceeded revenue projections by about 40%, earning about $40,000 a month. They paid for themselves in the first month, said Chelle Bize, the paper's recruitment advertising manager.

The Huntsville (Ala.) Times

Jon Busdeker and Chris Welch, two A&E writes for The Huntsville Times have developed a comedy routine, of sorts. The Wednesday webcast previews the Thursday addition and helps drive print sales.

"Busdeker and Welch perform parodies of Blue Man Group performances, wield mops as swords to preview movies, and exchange white-trash talking with actors from "The American Trailer Park Musical."

Portsmouth (N.H.) Herald

The Herald recently introduced The Daily Beachcomber, a free tabloid for the Hampton beach season. Hampton's beaches are a big market between the end of the school year and Labor Day. As many as 120,000 show up on a good day; the free paper has turned a 28% profit margin.

Chicago Journal

"'It's a mix of hard news reporting, a little boosterism, some editorial leadership, some calling people out,' Dan Haley, the paper's founder explained. 'We're not apart from the community, we don't hold ourselves apart or above [it].'"

Haley founded the Journal to provide a voice and shape the identity of the inner-city community that was establishing itself in Chicago.

The Times, Ottawa, Ill.

"Starting a newspaper subscriber loyalty program is a no-brainer. Unfortunately, that's often as much brain power as many papers invest in creating and operating the program." The Times established a unique rewards program that actually works.

Santa Barbara (Calif.) Independent

When newsroom conflicts at the rival News-Press left the Santa Barbara community looking for a new news source, the Indepdendent stepped in. "Since the summer of 2006... the News-Press has slipped in daily circulation to 35,000, while the Independent's audited pickup every Thursday is 40,000."

Source: Editor & Publisher

How Well Do You REALLY Know The Newspaper Industry? Take Economist Robert Picard's Test

via Editor And Publisher on 8/1/08
By E&P Staff

Published: August 01, 2008 12:58 PM ET
CHICAGO Robert G. Picard, the well-known media economist, has developed a test about the economic and financial conditions of U.S. newspapers that he gave to attendees at a recent industry conference.

Take it yourself, and see how you do:

1. The average newspaper circulation is about
(a) 150,000
(b) 110,000
(c) 85,000
(d) 50,000
(e) 35,000

2. Newspaper penetration per population
(a) Has remained relatively stable
(b) Dropped suddenly in after 2000
(c) Dropped suddenly in the mid 1990s
(d) Began declining steadily beginning in 1980s
(e) Has declined at a steady pace for 50 years

3. Newspaper advertising income reached an all time high of $49.3 billion in
(a) 2006
(b) 1999
(c) 1993
(d) 1989
(e) 1984

4. Adjusted for inflation, advertising income in newspapers is
(a) About the same as in 1950
(b) 1.5 times lower than in 1950
(c) 2.5 times lower than in 1950
(d) 1.5 times higher than in 1950
(e) 2.5 times higher than in 1950

5. Since 2000, classified advertising has declined about
(a) 10 percent
(b) 25 percent
(c) 50 percent
(d) 75 percent
(e) None of the above

6. Income from online newspaper advertising has replaced which portion of lost income from print classified advertising
(a) 15 percent
(b) 30 percent
(c) 45 percent
(d) 60 percent
(e) 75 percent

7. Newspapers are primarily dependent upon which type of advertising
a) National
(b) Retail
(c) Classified
(d) Preprint
(e) Legal

8. The return on sales for newspapers is now
(a) Below pharmaceutical companies
(b) Below automakers
(c) Below department stores
(d) Below banks
(e) None of the above

9, The number of journalists working in papers is
(a) About the same as in 1970
(b) 25 percent lower than in 1970
(c) 50 percent lower than in 1970
(d) 25 percent higher than in 1970
(e) 50 percent higher than in 1970

10. The overall financial conditions of the newspaper industry is
(a) Worse than in the 1990s
(b) Worse than in the 1980s
(c) Worse than in the 1970s
(d) Worse than in the 1960s
(e) Worse than ever in its history

The correct answers: 1) e; 2) e; 3) a; 4) e; 5) b; 6) d; 7) b; 8) e; 9) d; 10) a

Here's Picard's rating of your score:

8-10 You have a realistic view of the industry's situation
4-7 You have an incomplete understanding of the
industry's situation
0-4 You have an unrealistic view of the industry's situation

Former Students' Work

To see some work by former students, click this link.